USDA and the Obama Administration are committed to creating jobs in rural America, so when a job creation effort also protects family forest lands, preserves important natural habitats, and produces beautiful, sustainable white oak wood products, there is reason to celebrate. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to appreciate such a success during a recent visit with Ben Deumling and his mother Sarah of the family owned Zena Forest Products in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Zena Forest Products is a small specialty mill established in 2007 in the midst of 1,300 acres of mixed forestland the family has managed and called home since 1985. Last year, the company was awarded a competitive Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) from USDA Rural Development to set in motion their business plan for producing native hardwood products in a region where the timber industry is otherwise dominated by quickly growing conifers. Theirs is not a typical forestry venture in these parts because white oak is not only less plentiful, but it also grows slowly and requires an exceptionally long time to dry (about eight months) before it can be readied for sale. In order to jump-start the emerging business, Zena Forest Products needed to get a quantity of product into the processing pipeline and cover upfront expenses for the better part of a year before the associated returns were possible. Working capital provided through VAPG allowed the company to double production of their eco-friendly wood products over the past year by streamlining internal processes and adding two full-time employees. Now, Zena Forest Products is operating at an economically sustainable capacity, and they are moving forward marketing their local oak flooring, furniture, and cabinet stock to regional buyers who may otherwise seek oak products from out-of-state sources.
Like so many small, natural resource business owners, the Deumling family has much more than just a financial interest in sustaining the resources they depend on to make a living. This is also their home, and they have deep connection to their land. As the stewards of this property, Ben and Sarah take seriously their responsibility for preserving its ecological and historical values.
Zena Forest Products exemplifies how down-home rural entrepreneurship can fuel business growth while preserving the quality and character of the countryside. Here at USDA, we are proud to walk alongside—and assist when invited—the rural residents, communities and businesses who are advancing innovative, locally appropriate strategies to keep rural America prosperous and self-sustaining in to the future.
To find out more about how USDA’s business programs can benefit your rural business, click here.