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In Oregon, Forest-based Economic Development Can Grow Faster than the Trees Themselves

Susan Curington of North Woods Figured Woods (left) shows State Director Vicki Walker (right) how the family business “upcycles” burls, stumps and small, odd-shaped, or difficult-to-use wood pieces to be sold at premium prices to carvers and other hobbyists. USDA photo.

Susan Curington of North Woods Figured Wood (left) shows State Director Vicki Walker (right) how the family business “upcycles” burls, stumps and small, odd-shaped, or difficult-to-use wood pieces to be sold at premium prices to carvers and other hobbyists. USDA photo.

At a recent expo held by the Oregon Woodland Cooperative (OWC), I had the opportunity to meet with a number of family forest landowners who are cultivating additional commercial ventures thanks, in part, to USDA’s Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.

At the event, OWC President Neil Schroeder introduced me to cooperative members who have sprouted new businesses and created local jobs as a result. The terrific part of all this is that USDA’s VAPG program provided funds needed to conduct the in-field assessments, feasibility studies, business planning, and marketing activities needed to identify, process and sell new, non-lumber products harvested from Oregon’s family forests.

In one effort, a number of cooperative members have released a line of essential oil products under the “Canopy” label. Extracted from the leaves of cedar, pine and fir trees, just 5 ml of these oils can retail for up to $16, providing extra revenue to the landowner, product developer, and the contract businesses that distill, package, and develop marketing materials.  These products allow growers to make commercial use of a greater portion of the growing plant, while improving forest stands. As Neil explained, removing the young growing needles at the right time helps the trees grow straighter and taller. First sold at outdoor markets, the oils (and hand lotions and air fresheners made from them) are now being considered by high-end retailers on a regional and national scale.

Cooperative member Susan Curington also explained to me how the program has helped her family business, North Woods Figured Wood.  VAPG planning grant support to OWC helped Susan and her husband conduct market research on high-quality wood blocks for hobbyists looking for the perfect pieces to carve or turn into decorative figurines, bowls, pens, pepper mills and more. Their business model involves “upcycling” burls, stumps and small, odd-shaped, or difficult-to-use pieces that would otherwise be sold as chip wood for just $12 per ton. Woodworkers from across the country who are looking for something unique, however, are happy to spend $10 to $15 on enough wood to create a dozen handmade pens.  Others are willing to spend hundreds on a large burl with interesting textures for large projects. Having identified new markets and how to reach them, North Woods Figured Wood is now looking forward to growing and adding capacity to meet the demand over the next few years.

In addition, the Value Added Producer Grant Program has also allowed cooperative members to launch ventures capitalizing on the craft products, sustainable local firewood, floral greens, and other resources on their land, while others are working on developing edible and medicinal products.

For producers who see a timber harvest—and, consequently, a paycheck—from any single piece of land every few decades at best, a supplemental income stream that offsets the cost of land management isn’t just nice. It can be the factor that makes keeping the land in the family an economically viable decision. At the same time, it allows new business ventures to create additional employment opportunities in their rural communities. This isn’t just USDA helping producers add value to their products, it is sustainable community-based economic development right here in our forested backyard!

To learn how USDA programs can help your small business, click here.

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