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Non-Timber Forest Products

Alternate Income Opportunities


Many parts of rural America face tough economic times. Owning land can be be a blessing or a curse depending on your approach to its use and management. There is a growing awareness that, for many rural areas, the path to sustainable income has to include some creativity; going just a bit beyond the realm of traditional forestry and timber production. Hopefully this feature will start you off.

The discussion on non-timber or special forest products has been overshadowed by something called forestry and the management of timber. I plead guilty, having slighted non-timber special products in the past.

But timber management should not preclude thinking about other options for income from your forest. You can be certain that in every region of the country there are opportunities for supplemental income from the woods.

I want to preview some of these opportunities and give you a link or two to continue your quest for non-timber supplemental sources of income. This would include natural products found in the forest and methods of agroforestry that includes agriculture as a part of the forest condition.

What are Some of the Natural Products to be Found in Your Forest?

Special forest products that I want to highlight will include aromatics; mushrooms; and botanicals. Other naturally occurring products could be pine straw; cones and seeds; cooking wood, smoke wood and flavor wood; honey; nuts and fruit; syrup; and weaving materials.

I will provide you with a link site to help you explore further on most of these products. Hopefully this will assist you in your developing a fruitful forest.


Essential oils are concentrated aromatic oils of plant leaves, flowers, seeds, bark, roots and the bark of some fruits. They have different strengths but are generally very potent and have to be diluted to be used.

These aromatics have to go through a distillation process before they are ready to be used and purchasers of the product scour the country for just the right properties. You may have just the right raw material for the producer of these essential oils. Unfortunately, China is a major competitor in this market.

Essential oils are the core of the $10 billion U.S. food flavorings and cosmetic industry. They are highly dependent on certain oils because of certain irreplaceable formulas that are the basis for their sales. Examples of raw materials used for distillation are Texas and Virginia cedarwood, tea tree oils, lemongrass oils, balsam fir oil, hemlock and spruce oil, sweet birch


Mushrooms are fungi. They live on dead and decaying material and convert this material into their own food. When conditions are favorable the mycelia form small buds that grow into the edible part called a mushroom. And the major commercial use of a mushroom is food.

A forest-harvested market for wild edible mushrooms has developed in the Pacific Northwest. Up to 7 million pounds are annually blanched, chilled, packed in brine and flown to europe for canning. The most important wild ones are chanterelle, morel or "blacks", matsutake, boletus, shiitake and hedgehog. The Northwest Wild Mushrooms Association lists 41 varieties safe for fresh market sales.

Short storage is the key. Mushrooms do not keep more than 1 week after harvest. Immediate cooling is necessary.

Most growers sell their products to two sources: direct to roadside or farmers' markets or to shipping point firms, which includes cooperatives, brokers, or other packer. Lower quality mushrooms are sold to the processed food industry where visual quality is not as important.

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