Woodsy Fall Businesses . . .

At this time of year most people assume that “life” in the woods is slowing down. In some ways it is. The leaves are on the ground leaving only the skeletons of trees, nothing is growing or buzzing, and the lake is beginning to freeze. Many animals have burrowed in for hibernation and the summer birds have all flown south. Even so, the woods are far from dead this Fall. It is very alive with people. Naturally, we have the hunters wandering around. However, Fall is also a harvesting season up here in the Minnesota woods. There are several ways local people earn money by harvesting things nature provides.

Wild Rice
At the end of the summer, there was the wild rice harvest. Minnesota’s lakes and rivers are abundant with wild rice that grows there naturally. Wild rice is Minnesota’s State grain and is a very healthy food. Did you know that wild rice is not rice, but a grass seed? In Minnesota, it is regulated and must be harvested in the traditional Indian way. This means of extra income is open to anyone who wants to hop in a canoe to collect the rice. According to a site on State crop profiles, “Minnesota ranks 2nd nationally in production of wild rice and contributes an average of 44% to the total U.S. production.”

In the late Fall/early winter, there is also smaller crop harvest that can allow people to make a little extra cash. The State DNR occasionally sets up a program to pay people to pick pinecones. There are specifications about where and what you pick and they pay by the pound for “closed” pinecones (the seeds must be intact). It is not an unpleasant way to spend some time in the woods and the seeds you collect go to growing more beautiful trees. The only hazard is fighting the squirrels for them. 🙂

Boughs and Wreaths
The biggest northwoods way to make extra cash from things nature provides is bough cutting and wreath making. This thriving enterprise begins in October and goes through the first half of December.

According to the DNR, “Minnesota is a leader in the production of holiday wreaths and greenery due to the State’s large resource of balsam fir. Balsam boughs used in the wreath industry account for over $23 million in sales annually.” Many people who live near me work evenings and weekends in the Christmas wreath business because it is an independent way to earn money. If you are a fast worker, this can be a very profitable time of year and some people even take a leave of absence from their regular jobs to make wreaths. For some people in my area, this is an annual family tradition and everyone pitches in to make the wreaths.

Flat Balsam Boughs for Wreaths

There are two ways to make money in the wreath business. One way is to go out into the woods and cut the boughs. Once cut and bundled, there are some seasonal factories that will buy them from you by the pound. And, numerous independent contractors, such as the family working out of their garage just down the road, that also buy boughs. Some people work in the temporary wreath factories that pop up in some of the towns. However, the family wreath shack is the more popular way to earn some end of the year income. Right now, family garages and wreath shacks are bustling with activity at all hours of the day and night and will be until the middle of December.

During my poor college years, I earned some extra money doing this work. One Fall, my sister and I went out in the woods to cut boughs and sell them. It really is not that hard. We were out in the woods during the prettiest time of year, nice weather and no bugs. You can earn up to $1.oo a pound in a high demand year. The toughest part was hauling our heavy bough bundles out of the woods. The following year, I took a part-time job at one of the factories making wreaths. At the start, it was full of holiday cheer with the smell of the greens, the friendly chatter while we worked (like Santa’s elves) and Christmas music playing. Then, the hand cramps from cutting began, the stress of turning out a set number of wreaths every hour grew, the sticky sap was everywhere (and did not come off), the Christmas music was no longer a welcome thing (one more version of jingle bells would have sent most of us screaming out into the streets). It was a life experience I don’t regret, but I feel very fortunate that I only had to work there once.

This season, my brother has a contract for 2000 wreaths (they pay by the wreath and will take more if he can make more) and has set up shop in his garage. He cuts his own boughs, the company provides the metal rings and crimper (machine used to attach the boughs to the ring). The company even comes to the house with a truck to pick up the finished wreaths. For him, he appreciates that it costs him nothing except his time and labor to have a little wreath making shop for a few months. Decorating the wreaths is done mostly at factories where they also make swags and garlands from the balsam and pine boughs and usually some cedar and pinecones found in the area.

Minnesota supplies most of the live pine decorations around the country. It makes the world seem a little closer/smaller knowing that the chances are pretty good that your Christmas wreath was made by someone I know or came from the forests that I drive by every day.

Are there any similar “natural” ways to earn income in your area? I would love to hear about them.


~ by bearyweather on November 19, 2011.

10 Responses to “Woodsy Fall Businesses . . .”

  1. It’s good that you wrote this blog. Very true–the woods is not abandoned and quiet at this time of year. With all these hunters, it’s probably busier than many other times. I think I helped make wreaths once. The natural ones are so beautiful. And you are now making me hungry for a good wild rice soup. Mmmm…there’s some in the cupboard, I’m sure.

    • Today was the last day of regular deer hunting, just bow hunting remains. Therefore the numbers of orange clad people wandering around should be less (and I can put my protective orange away until next year).
      Wild rice at Thanksgiving is a tradition in my family … I love it and eat it all year long.

  2. What a cool post filled with interesting information, thanks! I did not know wild rice is a grass seed…always wondered about the different texture and NEVER knew it grew in a lake. Very cool.
    I always wondered about pinecones…where they got them for seed and also where they got them to sell as scented cones and decorative ones and also about the garland. When we were involved in Scouting we used to order wreaths like that to resale to make money for the troop. I always assumed they had tree farms to do these things, rather than other people doing them. I know both the pines and branches are rough on the hands.

    • The Mississippi River sort of meanders through many large lakes up here before it heads south. Those lakes seem to have a lot of wild rice, not all 10,000+ lakes do. It is mostly concentrated in the northern third of the State. I think all the rivers up here have rice, though.
      While working with the boughs, I wore gloves all the time, but that did not help the sap issues. Eventually I learned that peanut butter was great for getting the sap off, especially the stuff that got in my hair.

  3. I am fascinated byt the wild rice harvest! I had never heard of it. Quite a few folks cut boughs here, but I know of no one locally making the wreaths. Cone harvesting also happens here, collecting from wild trees. There is also a seed farm here where the trees are specifically grown for their cones.

    • I know our State is unique in the wild rice production and it is celebrated every year in a nearby town with “The Wild Rice Festival”. Some people have tried to farm it and I hear it is very difficult. The natural crop in the rivers and lakes seem to grow the best .. when we are careful to harvest the traditional way.

      It is interesting to hear that Montana collects cones and grows wild/native trees, too. We have seed farms for the trees, too. The one in Grand Rapids, MN is the closest one to me that I know of. Besides the native trees, they also develop other trees and plants (like Honey Crisp apples a few years ago).

  4. What a festive seasonal part-time income! 🙂

  5. Very interesting post, Bearyweather. My husband was just asking me if I wanted to make some wreaths since he had to trim trees and has a large pile of boughs. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Crafty is not a word usually associated with me. lol! But as a means of income, I bet I could learn fairly quickly.

    The wild rice collecting is fascinating. I never realized it was still collected the old fashioned way.

    I honestly can’t think of any “natural” ways of earning money around here, but I bet there are. I just don’t know where or how to find them.

    • Living in the wilderness has some hidden benefits … you only learn about these side incomes after you live here for awhile. The wild rice harvest is very unique .. but, the best way to protect the plants for future harvests.

      I bet you could make a wreath. You just cut small bundles of bough material (8-10″ long depending on how wide you want your wreath to be .. how big the ring is that you will attach them to). The bundles are big enough when they fit in your grasped hand. If you are only making a few wreaths, you just wire the small bundles together (with floral wire) and then wire them to the ring overlapping the bundles until you go all the way around.

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