From bark shingles to edible mushrooms, entrepreneurs across Western North Carolina are being encouraged to tap the resources of the national forests for creative business endeavors.
More than $1.2 million in federal stimulus money has been granted to 14 small business initiatives that use forest products.
“I believe these projects will help jumpstart the forest products industry and the economy of Western North Carolina,” said USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station Director Jim Reaves.
Historically, logging companies extracting timber for mass markets have comprised the bulk of the forest-products industry in WNC, but the grants seek to open the door to new innovations.
One such project called “Recovering Traditional Cherokee Delicacies” got $62,000 to harvest, grow, and market forest food products traditionally gathered by Cherokee tribe members, including edible greens and mushrooms.
Another project got $90,000 to create a cooperative of producers to grow, harvest, and market value-added ramp products. Ramps, a form of wild garlic used by Appalachian settlers and Cherokee, have become all the rage in recent years, and are now in short supply in the wild as a result.
Many of the businesses awarded grants will tap the timber trade, but not in the traditional logging style. Two businesses will launch sustainable firewood ventures. Another will cater to the demand for sustainable timber by using horse logging and small sawmills. Another will supply furniture makers with sustainably-harvested wood.
More than 60 people applied for the grants. The WNC forest stimulus initiative was earmarked for $1.9 million, but $700,000 will go to project managers, advisors and consultants, workshops and grant oversight.