In the Real World:
This case study has been provided by Sustainable Northwest.
Endless Rhodes is a fitting name for Darci Rhodes’ business. Darci has harvested non-timber, or so-called “special” forest products for most of her adult life. But she has now managed to turn the work she loves into a new valueadded business that is kind to the earth, while supporting the best instincts and aspirations of landowners, harvesters, and others in the industry. Once on the receiving end of training in sustainable harvest methods and value-added manufacturing of special forest products, Darci is now a stewardship instructor and an advocate for harvesters.
“With the decline in opportunities for harvesters, most of us have adapted to diverse seasonal markets and various jobs. It’s very difficult to live off just the income from harvesting and selling fresh, because the price per pound for most products has not changed much in 20 years. I try to get as much as I can for the highest quality wildcrafts and stay working year round as close to home as possible.”
Darci started collecting floral greens for local buyers about 20 years ago. Throughout the woods of the Northwest, this silent, nearly invisible industry has been growing for years. Special forest products encompass a range of goods other than timber, including: floral greens, Christmas ornamentals, wild edibles like mushrooms, medicinal herbs, and a variety of craft products. They are harvested for a host of personal and commercial uses.
Over the years Darci has seen enormous changes. In the early 1980s, the industry went through a rapid period of growth, contributing millions of dollars annually to the Pacific Northwest’s economy. While she believes special forest products have great potential to reduce pressure to cut timber from important forest ecosystems, Darci has also watched overharvesting lead to environmental degradation in many of the region’s forests.
The basic structure of the industry, where harvesters get access to land through permits and leases secured independently and with processors, has created a “cash and carry” element. Bad press and poor business practices have helped fuel the perception that the special forest products industry is an underground economy that often employs destructive harvesting practices.
Darci has also been saddened by the racial tensions and sometimes violent confrontations among the culturally diverse harvesters. “I have witnessed exploitation and mistreatment of minority harvesters by leaseholders, contractors, and law enforcement agents.”
Darci, who describes herself as “a student of the forest,” took a course in 1996 and earned a Special Forest Products Stewardship Certificate from Northwest Natural Resource Group (NNRG), a non-profit conservation organization based in Port Townsend, Washington. She believed so strongly in the concept of ecologically sustainable harvesting that she decided to become an instructor herself and went to work for them. She helped NNRG develop and deliver a successful Harvester Stewardship Training and Certification program that is aimed at improving special forest products harvesting practices, while developing economic opportunities for the harvesters.
The training course provides harvesters with species-specific best management and harvesting practices and a set of related skills to ensure land stewardship. By harvesting in the proper seasons, and using percentage harvesting and species-specific techniques, the harvesters can help protect and improve forest health. “The course itself consists of four hours in the classroom where we instruct harvesters in best practices and competencies such as forest landowner relations, rules, regulations, safety, and map reading. Then we do four hours in the field for general and species-specific best harvest practices.”
Darci’s involvement does not end at the conclusion of the course. “We give the harvesters several months to get their certification and apply the best practices outlined in the Stewardship Training Manual (published by NNRG). Then I do a follow up visit with harvesters at their work sites and evaluate how they are doing. If they have complied with the requirements and are competent in all practices, then NNRG sends them a certificate.”
In addition, Darci and NNRG monitor the longrange ecological effects of the best management practices, and continue to assist and support the harvesters in their stewardship efforts.
Specialty Forest Products
Stewardship Service and Supply
P.O. Box 723
South Bend, WA 98586
NNRG program director Larry Nussbaum says that Darci’s experience in the industry is invaluable. “She brings a lot to the training beyond what’s in the manual, providing tips on harvesting, cultivation of plants, and marketing through creative channels. She actually encourages harvesters to do direct marketing, skipping the middle man altogether to get a better return for their efforts. She also encourages them to do value-added manufacturing instead of selling high volumes of low-value product. That’s all part of creating the incentive for stewardship and good business practices.”
Darci is as interested in the economic well being of the harvesters as she is in the environmental health of the forests in which they work. She and NNRG often team up with ShoreBank Enterprise Pacific, a regional business support organization, to provide financing and business assistance to harvesters and special forest products companies. Of the first 12 people certified through the program, four started new businesses and five increased production in an existing business. Most were able to access new markets for their value-added products.
Darci is particularly pleased that the program has enabled low-income harvesters to enter into more equitable relations with forest-land owners, employers, and buyers. Armed with their new knowledge and skills, the harvesters have been able to negotiate better land access contracts. Darci believes that this has also “helped several non-English speaking harvesters in southwest Washington find more diverse work, which allows them to stay in the area year round instead of having to move to find additional work.”
The company may be called “Endless Rhodes,” but there is clearly a goal in sight.
From “Founders of a New Northwest 2000” published by Sustainable Northwest,
620 SW Main, Suite 112, Portland, OR 97205-3037. www.sustainablenorthwest.org
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