Community. Sustainability. Premium Boreal Products.
Boreal Heartland Herbal Products Inc is Indigenous owned and operated, began in 2017 and is based in Air Ronge, SK , Canada. It is an initiative of Keewatin Community Development Association, a longstanding, northern, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting career, education, business, and economic development in the northern Saskatchewan region.
Boreal Heartland was started with 3 ambitious goals:
- Provide sustainable income opportunities in Northern Saskatchewan, a region with only 38% employment (small towns, few industries), that supports the “Northern lifestyle” (outdoorsy, land stewardship, flexible).
- Showcase the abundance and intrinsic value of boreal forest flora on a global scale. Our forest is so much more than “moose pasture” or a place for logging.
- Ensure all aspects of the business promote environmental and social sustainability.
How do we accomplish all this?
Each spring we provide GACP training, which is the current gold standard for foraged products, for prospective harvesters in various communities. Harvesters work in their own time and we pay fair prices by the pound. Approximately 75 individuals bring plants in between June and August. Some harvest by the truck load, while families with kids bring in boxes or bags. Harvesting can be a livelihood, a teen’s first pay cheque, a family activity or bonus money to spoil the grandkids with a trampoline. 90% of harvesters are Indigenous and most work on family traplines or traditional territory. We work with communities across the north including Ile a la Crosse, Jans Bay, Cole Bay, Beauval, Stanley Mission, La Ronge, Air Ronge, Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Hall Lake, Weyakwin, Deschambault, and Pelican Narrows. We also hire seasonal staff to help process the plants.
Not just anyone can work in “the bush”. It’s hard work out in the weather, with the bugs and wildlife, on uneven terrain. Knowing where to go and how to get back safely with quality product takes a lot of specialized “bush craft”. But that’s the Northern lifestyle. It’s local knowledge passed down and we hope it continues. We depend on the knowledge and skill of the community to sustainably harvest in the summer months all the plants we need for a full year of production. We couldn’t do it without them! We are committed to keeping control of the business and the subsequent economic benefits in the North. Headquarters, processing and packaging facilities (CFIA licensed) are all located in Air Ronge, SK.
The boreal forest has supported the life and wellbeing of people since the last glaciers retreated (~8000 years). It is a good place, although it’s heritage is largely unknown outside Northern communities. However we are striving to change that! We blend traditional flavours in ways that appeal to the modern palate. Our 4 flagship teas blend herbs that were traditionally consumed by Indigenous people (for thousands of years!) for their healthfulness and flavour.
But tea isn’t all we do! We also supply fresh (in season) and dehydrated golden chanterelle mushrooms which are considered a gourmet product by those in the know. Our bulk herbs are found in health food stores, have been used in ice cream, and are frequently used by innovative breweries and distilleries to elevate their products.
There are myriad ways to enjoy a taste of the boreal forest. If you can’t visit in person, we’ll bring the experience to you. Shop our site or find a store near you. Try us out!
Commitment to Sustainability.
Respect for the boreal ecosystem is integral to our business model. We have a number of initiatives to help us understand what a sustainable harvest is.
- We have an Indigenous advisory board made up of knowledgeable community members and elders that help direct us in appropriate harvest practices.
- Many harvesters work on their family trapline or in traditional territories that they visit regularly throughout the year. They are knowledgeable and self motivated to maintain the integrity of their family areas.
-Our harvester training teaches the “rule of thirds”. When harvesting in a specific area one third is left for the animals, one third for the plants to regenerate and one third can be harvested for human consumption.
- We are continually working towards mapping plant abundance across the north (surveys and satellite imagery).
- We have a firm policy to never harvest plants that are ranked S3 or higher (rarer) by the Saskatchewan Government and the plants we do harvest are all incredibly common and abundant in our area.
- Our harvests work around seasonal variation in nature. Wet weather can drown the mint patches but helps mushrooms thrive. After fires morels and fireweed are abundant.
Meet the Team
Click on our names to read about each of us.
Hi, my name is Randy Johns and I’m the Manager of Boreal Heartland and CEO of Keewatin Community Development Association (KCDA). KCDA is a non-profit organization dedicated to economic and career development in Northern Saskatchewan. Boreal Heartland was started to develop income earning opportunities for Indigenous people in our region.
I have lived in the north for over 40 years and learned the bush from local trappers and people of the land who took me under their wing as a young man. I now have family connections in the north through my children. I grew up on a small farm in southern Saskatchewan and find that Boreal Heartland gives me a chance to return to my roots as well as help others to do so through connection to the land.
Tansi my name is Brenda LaRocque-Hill. I am the Sales Manager and have worked for KCDA/Boreal Heartland since 2003. I have worked from my home in Meadow Lake, Sask. since Oct 2003. I love the clean air and trees that cover the north. I live on an acreage with my husband of 21 years Eldon. I am mother to 3 wonderful adults 30-year-old stepdaughter who is a mother of 2 cuties grandchildren and a 28-year-old and a 26-year-old, who is a daddy to a 3-month old cutie (another grandbaby). I like to be out and about in nature and enjoy golfing. I am a proud Indigenous Metis.
I am Kassandra Bird. I am the Production Manager. I started as a picker, then moved to the shop when a processor was needed, and now I manage all the processing. I process all the herbs that come in, ensure proper handling and storage, track inventory, teach new production staff, blend and pack teas, and develop techniques to streamline production. Sometimes I give presentations at schools and career fairs talking about what we do at Boreal Heartland and the plants we use. My job involves a lot of organizing. Keeping the production area clean and organized, tracking inventory, checking plants at the right time. I am from La Ronge and am part of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. La Ronge is home, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
I’m Don Bird. I’m from La Ronge and I’m part of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. I grew up here, my family is here, and I will probably stay forever. I met Randy in 2016 and got the job as Foreman of the pickers. I do some picking, organize the other pickers, take care of the yard, and I built the drying sheds. What makes me good at my job is I’m reliable, know all the plants and how to handle them, and am good with the other workers. I work here because it’s good work, good hours and good people. I feel free here. I am also a commercial fisherman. After the plants are done, I go fishing, hunting and camping. My favourite thing to hunt is moose.
Hi my name is Wapun. I am from La Ronge. Randy is my dad. I help out around the office, go to meetings, and help with ideas. I like my coworkers and that I can ride my bike to the shop. I really like the Ice Wolves. I like watching sports, swimming, biking, Xbox and watching YouTube.
Hi my name is Raeanne Fisher. I am the Office Manager and have worked for KCDA/Boreal Heartland since 1998. Experience, attention to detail and being task oriented make me good at my job. I live/work in La Ronge. I was born in Ile a la Crosse but have lived in La Ronge most of my life. I like the peacefulness, tranquility, calmness, clean and nature of the north. We live just far enough away from the city but just close enough. I live on the lake with my boyfriend Joe and our 2-year-old German Pinscher, Kona. I am mother to a wonderful 25-year-old daughter who is an aircraft mechanic engineer. I like to laugh, walk, read, listen to music and hangout with family. I am Metis. Buy our tea 😊
In Memory of James Sanderson
Keewatin Career Development Association.
James came to work with us in June 2008 as a trainee in our Computers for Schools program. He was a top student and because of that was hired into a technical support position with KCDC, joining our media division.
In the media division, James learned many skills including web site programming, video editing, and videography. He programmed numerous web sites as well as shot and edited videos for KCDC and for many commercial clients.
As time went on and KCDC changed into KCDA, James took on more responsibility, eventually becoming our go to guy for technical things related to web sites and digital imagery. When drone video technology became available, James was the person who became our drone pilot. When the drone rules changed and a drone pilot had to take an extensive ground school, James studied for, and passed, the very difficult and technical exam.
When KCDA started Boreal Heartland in 2017, James was right there, helping with keeping track of the numbers as the harvest came in, tracking the inventory, weighing and buying product, and shipping orders to stores. He taught himself databases and designed complicated systems that monitor inventory and track sales.
Besides being a very capable employee, James was genuinely a great person to work with and be around. He was a quiet guy but would always lend anyone a helping hand and was the first to help out in times of need. In particular, he befriended Wapun Johns at work, and Wapun saw James as her best friend.
We can’t express how proud we are of James and his work. He was a pleasure to work with for over 12 years.
We thank him for the gift of his presence. The example of the things he accomplished will be an inspiration to young northern people for many years to