A Brief Overview of the Northern Forest Diversification Centre.
The development of the Northern Forest Diversification Centre (NFDC) began in 2000 as a community development initiative of Keewatin Community College (now University College of the North) in Northern Manitoba. Funding from Western Economic Diversification and the Province of Manitoba paid for the initial feasibility study, and the development of the 10-day community-based training program.
The mission of the NFDC is to work with marginalized forest communities and individuals who are looking to develop economic opportunities that are aligned with local values and based on local resources, for the benefit of local people. The Centre has identified Non-Timber Forest Products as a realistic, practical, income generating opportunity that can be developed by building on local skills and knowledge. Based on a system of sustainable harvesting and use, the NFDC acts as a research, training, marketing, sales and service center for the provincial Non-Timber Forest Product (NTFP) industry. The NFDC vision is a NTFP industry composed of a network of community-based and diverse micro enterprises supported by a 21st Century packaging and marketing insfrastructure.
The NFDC offers a ten-day community based training course focusing on local resources, plant identification and basic ecology, sustainable harvesting and handling practices, aboriginal issues, low-tech value added processing, and marketing. The training includes a flexible combination of classroom, field, and value-added processing exercises. And important feature of this training is that there is no age or education restriction.
The NFDC employs a full-time marketing manager and has over 350 harvesters from over 25 communities. In addition to providing marketing services, the NFDC assists interested producers to develop their own markets and work directly with the marketing manager to develop these opportunities.
The general categories of Non-Timber Forest Products include wild crafts and floral supplies, wild foods, and wild medicinal products. Our catalogue of over 300 products contains products such as:
- Boreal forest soaps, salves, lip balms, and gift sets
- Boreal forest tea blends and gift sets
- Wreaths and floral supplies, including a line of seasonal fresh balsam and cedar wreaths
- Variety of Craft kits from angels to miniature log cabins
- Walking sticks and canes
- Indigenous Traditions product line including a variety of smudge products, sweetgrass, miniature dream catchers, talking sticks, and medicine bags
- Antler jewelry, hand-made woodblock print cards, Bird feeders, birch bark biting products such as light catchers and tealight holders, a variety of candleholders for tealights, votives, or candlesticks
- Bulk botanicals such as senega root, Labrador tea leaf, highbush cranberry bark, black poplar buds, sweet flag root, Labrador tea leaf, bearberry leaf, etc.
The NFDC model has generated interest from across Canada and the United States and is currently working with the Centre for Non-Timber Resources at Royal Roads University to develop a Western Canadian NTFP Network from Manitoba to the Yukon.
Expansion of this community development model across the Canadian Boreal Forest would be a small but positive step in the fight against poverty and the development of a sustainable economy for many small forest communities in the north.