Cowichan NTFP Conference
Exploring Opportunities for the Cowichan Region
The conference was organized around a concept of showcasing wild-harvest income and entrepreneurship opportunities available to underemployed regional workers. As A Cowichan Tribes initiative, their First Nations perspective provided a down-to-earth balance in academic and experiential presentations and discussions. The 70-90 participants included academics, business people/ entrepreneurs, representatives from other communities and notably, several local high school students who were given time off from their studies to attend.
The meeting area was flanked by more than a dozen poster and product display tables provided by academic, financial and community support agencies as well as successful entrepreneurial organizations and individuals, all of which provided an atmosphere of REAL possibilities.
The agenda began with an elder’s prayer and opening introductions to Cowichan/ academic perspectives on the mostly untapped opportunities in regional non-timber forest products (NTFPs).
Definitions of NTFPs, monetary statistics and community organizations were then presented followed by talks given by two elders who reminded us that “none of this NTFP stuff” is new to First Nations, discussed cultural concerns around commercialization of traditional materials, nutriceuticals and medicinals, and finished up on the affirmative: “we always used the forest to survive” and “that’s us, we are the forest”.
Following a break, speakers experienced and involved in community development told their stories of evolving successes on Vancouver Island and Northern Manitoba.
In the afternoon, Two successful entrepreneurs teamed up to tell their personal stories of business development success stressing that – anyone that has the will to succeed can succeed and here is what we did and how we did it!
Well fired up, we broke into several round-table groups to identify key factors and challenges involved in successfully developing NTFPs and bringing economic benefits to communities. Discussion grid-locked over guaranteed access to harvest materials (perhaps a new system of tenures is required), supportive policy environment from government and forest industry, and business know-how: access to training, capital and markets, marketing strategies, packaging and regulatory barriers in food, nutriceutical and medicinal realms.
The day’s sessions ended with a slide presentation featuring the use of native plants in restoration of natural systems and also in creating naturalized horticultural landscapes that require far less maintenance and irrigation than the more exotic species previously imported for this purpose.
Betty Shore and Dawn Cranmer demonstrated the ease of operation of the wreath and garland making machine by making one of each product during the break before dinner.
Dave Buck, founder of the Northern Forest Diversification Centre, widely credited with creating the NTFP industry of Northern Manitoba, as the keynote dinner speaker, discussed the challenge to survive in northern Manitoba communities, the paramount role of a community agency in developing NTFPs in depressed economic regions, the successes they have had, and the range of products and ideas they are now working with.
Day 2 was broken into concurrent morning sessions, with topic streams of academic research & training, sustainable community based management, and policy challenges for the NTFP industry being presented in one room. Meanwhile, I attended the practical stream: floral greens story; Siska Traditional Products story on cultural/community branding success; and commercial mushrooms told in an adjacent building.
Closing ceremonies were highlighted by giving of gifts to organizers and key presenters followed by door-prize draws for numerous NTFP products from the display tables.
Central Ideas From the Speakers
Stella Johnny (Cowichan Tribes Environment Department – Conference organizer and Cowichan weaver)
There are NTFP opportunities for the undereducated and under employed to become self sufficient through adapting traditional harvesting and value added activities to modern markets and still maintain cultural traditions or obligations to the land without harm. Most people already have skills readily transferable to NTFP industries.
Tim Brigham (Royal Roads NTFP Instructor- North Island NTFP Project, NTFP Business Coordinator)
NTFP business is gaining momentum worldwide with markets and demand constantly growing, creating an open door of opportunity here in BC where we have incredible material resource pools.
Wendy Cocksedge (Royal Roads – NTFP Coordinator, North Island NTFP Project)
NTFPs include: floral greens, medicinals, nutriceuticals, foods, plants for landscape, horticulture and restoration purposes, tourism & educational values and have a long history in both use and trade. NTFPs have terrific potential for those looking for supplemental or alternative income sources. NTFPs accounted for $270 million in economic benefits for BC last Year with 13,000 employed with an estimated $20-$50 million paid to harvesters last year. Best successes have been achieved through collaborative partnerships with communities and industry and maintained through good communications and mutual awareness. Wendy’s M.A. thesis research involved salal harvesting, management and related issues. Although floral greens (salal) harvesting is extremely competitive on East Vancouver Island, there is virtually no harvesting done in the Bamfield region. She is a major source of information regarding harvest training and contacts within the industry. I have lots of her notes on salal harvesting.
Arvid Charlie (Luschiim – Cowichan elder, Cowichan Tribes Environment Department)
“We have always used the forest to survive” and now is the time to adapt traditional harvesting, foods and medicinal preparations as a route to survival for both people and forests.
Christine Joseph (Wa ata – Namgis elder and NTFP herbalist)
“We are the Forest”, “Forest is our drug-store”, “We used to keep special places where trees for canoes and big house logs came from – now that’s all gone to clearcuts – we have to get the control of that back”, emphasis on First Nations’ bond with the land and forest – loudly echoes Luschiim.
Iris Lucas (Clayoquot Sound Wild Foods – Mamook Development Corporation)
Partnering with community, environmental groups and support from the Central Regional Tribes was a major factor in their success. They recently landed a contract to supply their products (high-end gourmet berry vinaigrette, marinade and juice concentrate) to the Hudson’s Bay company and recently they received an invitation to participate in the prestigious Kris Kringle craft fair which generates buying traffic of 10,000+ people each year. They have plans now to proceed with oyster and salmon value added products.
Joanna Winter (Business and Community Development expert – Future Corp Cowichan – Community Futures)
Help in parleying opportunities into viable businesses – business financing – start-up and expansion, Business plan development workshops, Business management training, one on one business counseling, Facilitate action planning for Business opportunities. Supported 1200 businesses placing 10 million into local economies with an 80% success rate after 2 years.
Betty-Anne Shore (Betty’s Best Mushrooms, Hilltop Florals)
Founder of the wild mushroom industry in BC and Canada which grew to 30/40 workers, 50 to 60 buying stations at two processing sites and an annual volume of $1.5-2.0 million in product – not bad for a single mom!
“First get your market” be dependable to your markets and learn to add value to your harvest (salal, boxwood, cones of all kinds, twigs boughs, pussy willows, evergreen huckleberry) – wreaths and garlands. “use your own imagination, create a new product and a new market”.
Dawn Cranmer (Namgis Forest Creations – Namgis Nation)
Wreaths, dried floral arrangements, garlands, herbs and medicinals. “some things I will never stop doing – training, updating my business plan, market research…” There is an insatiable market for wreaths and garlands – lots of room for expansion.
Richard Porter (Cowichan Tribes, Environment Department – Habitat Steward)
Wild Native plants can be salvaged or harvested from roadways and planned roadways where they would have been destroyed anyway. There is a ready market in restoration, and horticultural landscaping for such plants.
Dave Buck (Director – Northern Forest Diversification Centre [NFDC], The Pas, Manitoba)
Northern Manitoba has few people and very small southern markets. There are 50 or so First Nations communities with lots of unemployment troubles not unlike those of BC and elsewhere. He see NTFPs as part of the answer for these Northern peoples and adding value through low-tech processing and packaging as a way to maximize benefit from harvests and limited markets. At present, he is looking for ways to get NTFP training into the schools so that local youth have a way to earn money without having to move away to cities thus maintaining intact families and communities. “You have to reach people to get them in – Don’t talk ‘NTFPs’- Talk what its about”. “Its hard work developing awareness of possibilities and what its all about”. “If your goal is to assist, you need to create a support system – you can’t just provide training and cut them loose”. “This is a practical beginning to community based forest management”. NFDC provides training in outlying communities, provides access to markets, facilitates product development and business planning, workspace, mentoring – “whatever it takes” (I think his inspirational attitude has taken him a long way).
Christine Oliver (Siska Traditions – Siska Indian Band)
This is a Band administered business and everything to do with the products is Siska through and through. There is no assistance from science, yet their poster presentation that accompanies their terrific display would do credit to and post-grad science presentation at any science conference. They show that they have done their homework and know where their costs and profits lie. They are justly proud of their NTFP business.
Allison McCutcheon (UBC ethnobotanist)
Medicinal plants account for more than $2 billion in North American pharmaceuticals with a continuing 15% annual growth. Outlined ethical issues – intellectual property rights, sustainability, community capacity. Globally 80% of the population still rely on traditional medicines. Dried herbs can be sold to local buyers, brokers, health-food stores and manufacturers. New changes in NHP(?) regulations will allow labeling previously forbidden, e.g. “Traditionally used for….” Will become acceptable whereas customers previously had to study herbalist publications before purchasing items by name only. Allison spoke very briefly on “Good
Wildcrafting Practices (GWP) – guidelines, principles, certification – as something to consider looking into. She suggested contacting BC Herb Growers Association (she is President) which includes wildcrafters, buyers and a food network..
Darcy Mitchell (Royal Roads – Director: North Island NTFP Project)
“Any community that is trying to diversify its economy while maintaining its quality of life can learn from this project”, the project focuses on the unifying theme of economic, social, organizational and environmental sustainability. “What we are learning is transferable – how to harvest, when to harvest, what the prices are, where the markets are and how to reach them”, “The first two years of project research have shown that people can make a living from the forest without harming the environment”. “If we are careful, there is no reason theses resources cannot be harvested forever”. The number of people working in NTFP industries on the North Island has grown by 400% in the last 3 years. The people of Mount Waddington are working with Community Futures, Royal Roads, First Nations and interested persons towards creation of a North Island Innovation Centre for NTFPs that will provide a focal point for gathering and sharing information on NTFPs, as well as a central place to bring them for processing and shipping. Darcy has envisions a network of such regional and community centres throughout Vancouver Island and eventually resource communities across BC.
Shannon Berch (Mycologist – BC Ministry of Forests, Victoria)
Academic and taxonomic presentation on commercially collected species of Mushrooms with samples, some of which I provided.
Note: I had planned to jump over to the concurrent session on “Policy Challenges for the NTFP Industry” at the end of the McCutcheon session but learned that unfortunately, due to much abbreviated presentations, the other stream of topics had finished early.
Poster Presentations and Displays
Royal Roads: Academic poster elucidating certificate, undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in NTFP study with many NTFP and guidebook publications on display.
Cowichan Tribes Community Forest: Pilot Agreement document and poster display with maps and photos.
Future Corp/Community Futures: poster display with brochure handouts.
Stella Johnny: Traditional basket weaving display showing raw materials as well as finished products. An important feature was the adaptation of traditional weaving to produce coverings for modern items such as lighters, pill bottles, match holders and coffee mugs.
NTFPs from Southeast Asia: Display of exotic Jams and jellies as well as bags and book-covers woven from grasses.
Betty Anne Shore (Hilltop Florals) “hands”(harvest units) of salal, boxwood and equisetum stalks, wreaths, garlands, moss bells and chairs, cones of all kinds and sizes, and tree bough swags for festive decoration.
Dawn Cranmer (Namgis Forest Creations) garland and wreath making machine with raw materials at hand for demonstration purposes.
Christine Joseph (Wa ata – Namgis elder and NTFP herbalist): Display of a variety of herbal collections and teas along with several examples of Namgis wood carvings.
Siska Traditions (Siska Band); Crisp poster display outlining their business operation supported by merchandising display racks with soap, tea, jam and jelly products on display and for sale. Handout brochures were also available.
Northern Forest Diversification Centre: Display of enlarged photographs and products: Diamond willow talking stick, driftwood candleholders, wood and herb soaps, birch-bark baskets with herb teas, assorted tree-based salves, craft kits, Christmas ornaments, smudge box and soap box gift packs, sage and sweetgrass braids and more.
Finally, A conference that goes beyond lectures, slide shows and small group debate. These elements are certainly important and were there, but the displays and presentations by people who are actually involved in the for money organizational, entrepreneurial, harvesting aspect of NTFPs made it all real for once. People left this conference revved up with a sense that things are happening, people are starting to earn some money and we are only limited by our own imagination and energy commitment. The glimmerings of hope beyond the resonance of words. Not only that, but NTFP industry is environmentally sustainable so that anyone who wants to invest in this sector can have the satisfaction of being part of the solution to environmental ills perpetrated by business in the past.
In our Bamfield region, there is little or no NTFP harvesting or industry at the present time, probably due to our small population, lack of organization on the community level and difficulty in reaching markets. We just don’t have the critical mass to kick-start the chain reaction that could cause a local explosion in NTFP activity. On the plus side, we have this clean slate, practically untouched resource base to work with and this means an opportunity to set up an infrastructure here that would be impossible elsewhere on the Island where it is already a free-for-all commons with serious competition for access to resources (I see a “tragedy of the commons situation developing that may already be unavoidable). Stewardship of resources can’t happen because there is no way to ensure harvest rights over an area you have put your efforts into. In Bamfield, we just might be able to work with several entities to create something not seen since First Nations were the sole stewards of the area.
I would like to see the creation here, of a coalition of communities (Huu-ay-aht and non-Native), timber industry, and both levels of government working together to create new systems of tenure areas for individuals or groups so that they would have the long term certainty required in order to put time and effort into stewarding renewable NTFP resources, thus eventually ensuring highest quality for the lowest unit effort. Simultaneously, we need to establish an agency which organizes local training, locates markets, arranges shipping to buyers (ultimately acts as a local buyer so that once up and running, there is no further community sponsorship required), and facilitating new ideas and initiatives, maintain networking connections with other community NTFP centres – As Dave Buck would say – “Whatever it takes”, that is what our community agency must do.
Our next step here is to bring in people who are creating community NTFP agencies elsewhere and utilize their presence to motivate and inspire levels of government, forest industry and local people to be involved at their own levels from harvester to fundraiser to organizer to regulator. Most of all, we need to get people into the forest making money ASAP – money and employment are the only way to provide the credibility we need to gain attention and get the show on the road.