How to Get Wildcrafting Contracts
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Jason Hayes
Posted on: May 29, 2003

I am writing to inquire about how to land wildcrafting contracts for the beginner. I have experience foraging with others for their buyers, but would like to break into the industry myself. A number of friends and I would love to find buyers of devil’s club root bark, valerian root, arnica, etc. and are free to work on big orders. Any suggestions you could offer would be appreciated.

Setting up a buying station is outlined in my book "Native Plants of Commercial Importance" (available from Richters). Working as a cooperative is always a good point because most buyers tend to like to buy larger lot numbers than one wildcrafter might harvest.

Also a broader line of products allows you to make larger sales with a given vendor. Within each Region there are about ten crops that are used in large quantities, usually upwards of 200,000 lbs. each year. Then there are more than sixty smaller crops, where an individual can go out and harvest the PO in one day.

Devil’s Club Root is rather limited in markets, with less than four primary buyers. Valerian Root is now cultivated, to meet growing demands for larger productions. Arnica has limited markets, slightly larger than those for Devil’s Club Root. Where do you live? I may be able to generate a PO to help get you started.

When I first drafted the above book, I called The Nomadic Life of the Professional Forager. Many begin harvests early in California, and then move north as the weather turns. This means doing Eucalyptus, the Evergreens (Oregon), and finally ending up in Washington doing Aspen and other natives. Winter is what stops the incomes.

My book "The Potential of Herbs As A Cash Crop" (also available from Richters) has four chapters on marketing, to include bulk marketing and how to reconstruct a more current list of buyers. The Internet is probably your single best resource. More than 80% of my POs come from e-mail and new business finding me via Google.

A website presence is always helpful. This allows you to advertise and hunt for news crops to represent. Most of us in the business know each other and do a lot of trading. Each of us has our own region organized and can find whatever is needed. This month, for example, I was asked to harvest 400 lbs. of fresh Prince’s Pine Herb, 150 lbs. of fresh Yerba Santa Leaf, 24 lbs. of Poison Oak leaf dried for just one buyer. It took one weekend and netted more than $1,200.

This is for a small tincture manufacturer (for the fresh herbs). Some markets can be rather large. For example I currently hold a 110-truck PO for Ponderosa Pine cones (16,000 lbs. per truck). We will gather these in Oregon, while my crews do similar harvests on Moss, Salal, cut Evergreens, and Mushrooms. Each season has its rewards.

Setting up a buying station is how I first got started doing Cascara sagrada bark. By the third year, I collected more than 160,000 lbs. When working this size order, it is critical to maintain quality control and quality assurance. Consistence is how you get a reputation. It takes years, and many false starts. It’s about lifestyles, as wildcrafting is hard work and limited incomes.

The first and most important rule in this trade is your word. Be slow to give it, be quick to keep it. Act of God aside, when you make a commitment and then don’t do it, what happens to the buyer? This is how a wildcrafter is measured = by the consistency of his word and product. As you begin, you may contact me directly for questions and possible market options.

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