Walking Sticks – One Example of Non-Timber Forest Products

My youngest son left this week for work in western Canada.  It reminded me of just how much the woodlot shaped his life and made him who he is today.  His story is worth telling and worth thinking about. The forest can influence young lives and give them some positive direction in life.  This story shows how the simplest of ideas can turn into a small business and show that the woodlot can generate wealth other than through the harvest of timber. It can even influence what we do in life and give us a basis for self-worth.

Graham cutting an aspen to make into a walking stick.  The aspen was growing in a pine plantation and needed to be removed anyway.  Making money and improving the woodlot at the same time!

Graham cutting an aspen to make into a walking stick. The aspen was growing in a pine plantation and needed to be removed anyway. Making money and improving the woodlot at the same time!

When Graham was eleven years old he asked me about something he could do in the woodlot to earn some money.  He reminded me that I had once mentioned something about making walking sticks.  It was early in the summer and although I didn’t know anything about making walking sticks I told him “Sure, lets see what we can do.”  Prince Edward Island is a popular place for tourists to visit and I thought perhaps this might be a possible target market for his new idea.  I never dreamed where this would go!

We headed out into the woodlot in search of trees and shrubs that would possibly make suitable walking sticks.  We focused on species that would not normally be considered as commercial tree species.  We found that mountain ash, which grows in the woodlot by the thousands was a good place to start.  We peeled some and found that some had interesting designs in the wood beneath the bark.   We tried pin cherry, striped maple and grey birch, three more non commercial species which were abundant in the woodlot.  They were all unique and we were having fun finding them and making them into what we thought were good walking sticks.

This deformed grey birch has value as a walking "cane" .  These are even harder to find than straight waling sticks.

This deformed grey birch has value as a walking “cane” . These are even harder to find than straight walking sticks.

He made a few dozen and then I drove him to local craft shops.  He started to sell a few.  He did the selling.  My job was to do the driving.  At one shop we met a lady who thought what he was doing was terrific but our first attempts were not quite ready for sale.  She gave him some ideas to make the walking sticks more saleable.  She critiqued the products and made some suggestions.  She suggested that he add a leather strap and put a tag on each one telling the story of where the sticks came from and about him.  This was advice that was well worth listening to.

That first year I think he sold a few dozen.  But that got him more interested in making more and being more prepared by the following summer.  He sold more the second year and he was becoming known around the “Island” as the boy with the walking sticks.  A few dozen turned into a  couple of hundred or more.  As each summer came his confidence grew as well.  He began to attend local craft trade shows and learned even more about business.   More and more people gave him advice and information.

Graham in his booth at a craft trade show.  Nature Trails was the name of his business.  Note that there were other natural products like pencils and a game he made.

Graham in his booth at a craft trade show.  Nature Trails was the name of his business. Note that there were other natural products like pencils and a game he made.

When Graham turned fourteen he was fortunate to get work on a local dairy farm.  But his passion for making and selling walking sticks did not go away.  He made some money working at the dairy farm and he made good money creating and selling his walking sticks.  As a young teenager he was learning a valuable lesson about making money by working with his hands.  Along with the lessons in working he also learned about saving money and investing it for the future.

Somewhere along this path, Graham decided that he wanted to take business at university.  When I think back, I realize that it all started back on that day when he asked about making walking sticks.  That day changed the course of his life.   He learned more and more about the forest.  He seemed to really like being out there.   We have three children, all grown now.  All of them learned life lessons by working in the woodlot at one thing or another.  They all still help out at harvest time with the Christmas trees or helping to get the winters wood ready.

A dozen walking sticks with a stand. A typical order from craft store would be 1 - 3 dozen at a time.

A dozen walking sticks with a stand. A typical order from craft store would be 1 – 3 dozen at a time.

This simple story about using under valued products from the woodlot to create income.  I hope it will be taken to heart by readers.  Many opportunities exist in the woodlot for non-timber forest products.  For young and old, small business opportunities exist utilizing renewable products from a woodlot.   In a future blog I would like to expand on this topic.  I believe that for many people there is more economic value to be found in a forest other than timber harvesting.  I like to hear back from readers about the things you read in this blog.  My hope is that it will be a place where readers around the world find useful bits of information.  I would be especially happy if readers find it to be a bit of an inspiration to do some work in their own woodlot or backyard.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photograph to get a larger image***