Of the North: Boreal Body Products

September 2017

The theme “Buy Local” has been catching on in Thunder Bay for some time now. Just go to the Farmer’s Market or visit a local food producer and you’ll see the lineups as people purchase their fresh produce, honey or organically raised beef. And while these producers will tell you that buying local is good for the environment as it reduces the need for transporting goods into our city, there are few that can boast that their product is not only produced locally but their ingredients come from our very back woods: the lovely and diverse Boreal forest.

Canada’s Boreal forest encompasses almost six million hectares and is characterised by its cool soil, short growing season, and a life cycle of trees and plants that is constantly renewing itself. The term boreal means “of the north” and anyone who has grown up in northern Ontario has drawn in more than a few deep breaths whenever they entered a forest, inhaling the distinctive scent of spruce, pine and balsam.

Allison Skirtschak, creator and owner of Boreal Body, has a strong connection to the Boreal forest. “I feel most alive when I’m outside. I feel the sunshine on my face, the wind on my skin and I breathe in the scent of the forest. It makes me feel grounded and connected to the land and to my spirit.”

It is often said that if you want happiness in life you should find out what you enjoy doing and then make a living from it. Taking this philosophy to heart, Allison takes many walks into her backyard in Lappe and neighbouring forests and harvests the buds, pitch (sap), bark, needles and common herbs of the forest to use in creating the many different types of salves and other handmade skin products she sells at local fairs and markets.

Allison believes in harvesting in a balanced and sustainable way and maintaining a deep respect for her surroundings. “Whenever I go into the forest to harvest I ask permission from the land. Something an Ojibwa Elder friend taught me is to make a small offering of tobacco to thank the forest for all it has to offer. I only take what I need so the plants can continue to grow. I gather plants at the correct time of their life cycle and at the right time of day so that I have the best quality plant to use for making into my products.”

The harvesting takes place all year round. Poplar buds are collected in March and early April when Allison dons her snowshoes and heads out to enjoy the last part of winter, while conifer tips from the spruce and balsam trees are harvested just after they begin to develop fresh greens in the spring. Other ingredients for her salves, such as beeswax, honey, and beets (used for their natural dye in lip balms), are purchased from local producers. Even the way in which some of her herbal oils are heated is “local” as Allison enjoys using the heat from the sun’s rays to speed up the infusion process. Labels for her product are also natural: birch bark obtained from her friend’s pile of winter firewood.

Allison finds inspiration in David Suzuki’s book, “Sacred Balance” and draws on one very interesting facet of thinking. “Suzuki tells us that one of the most powerful acts we can do as humans is saying “yes” to a place. When we do this, it gives us a sense of belonging, we feel like we are part of a place, that we belong somewhere. And with that thinking we develop a sense of respect—for our community, for ourselves and for the place we call ‘home’.”

And Allison has definitely said “Yes” to the Boreal forest that surrounds her home and Thunder Bay. Sustainably harvesting from her backyard, she has produced a product that boasts of the many healing properties the indigenous people have known to exist in the many trees and plants of our forests: salves that soothe and protect the skin, lip balms that soften and protect the lips— all possessing the sweet scent of the conifers and wild botanicals of our own forests.

Local, sustainable, and respectful of our beautiful Boreal forest: all in all, a good thing.

You can learn more about Allison and her Boreal Body products on her facebook page: Boreal Body.

Allison would like to extend her thanks to the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) Starter Company Program for providing her with business training and financial assistance which helped in getting her business started.

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at www.DonnaWhiteBooks.com

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