Dovetail Partners and Aitkin County host international forestry and green building tour



Two Cochran Fellows from Guatemala recently toured Aitkin County forests, wood product manufacturers and a local green building project. The tour was aimed at addressing interests in forest-based economic development opportunities.


“In natural resource rich areas like Northern Minnesota and Guatemala there is strong interest in maximizing value-added opportunities and

creating local value chains that support regional economic development,” says Kathryn Fernholz, Executive Director of Dovetail Partners, a Minneapolis-based non-profit supporting the tour.


The Cochran fellows included Francisco Escobedo, General Manager of the Forestry Association of Guatemala, and Andres Bosch, whose small forestry and milling operation in Guatemala processes many different wood products including flooring, siding, and components for prefabricated homes. The Aitkin County Land Department, Aitkin County Economic Development, Aitkin Soil and Water Conservation District, and Dovetail Partners organized and hosted the event.


“The tour was very well-rounded and informative, and we were impressed by the hospitality,” stated tour participant Dave Perez of the US Forest Service. “Some gaps in the Fellows understanding of forest management in the United States were filled, and it was a great opportunity for them to compare and contrast management in Guatemala.”


At the Aitkin FSC Home, participants learned about green building efforts and the different types of local wood used in the home's construction, including the basswood ceiling that involved five local businesses - from loggers to installers - and stayed local to the region.


The word “Guatemala” means “Land of Forests” in the indigenous language and despite the obvious differences in geography, there are similarities between Guatemala and Minnesota.


“These forests remind me a lot of home,” stated Fellow Francisco Escobedo. “Besides the tropical rain forests, of course.”


“It's interesting to compare our similarities and differences,” stated Mark Jacobs of the Aitkin County Land Department. “They export a high-value species like mahogany but most of their pine is utilized for local home construction. Also, they have no paper industry but a big demand for local-use firewood.”


The tour addressed products that utilize small diameter wood, including local FSC-certified maple millwork that obtained its high character appearance because it came from smaller-diameter trees that were thinned as part of the sustainable forestry practices in the area.


Visits to a sustainably-managed FSC-certified forest, tours of local businesses that included Aitkin Hardwoods and Hawkins Sawmill as well as the stop at the Aitkin FSC Home completed the loop from seeing the forest to the end product.


“It is easy to forget where products we use and enjoy come from. Wood is a beautiful and diverse building material and seeing it managed responsibly and recognized as a valuable local resource compliments its natural beauty,” says Alison Lindburg, Director of the Eco-Affordable Housing Program of Dovetail Partners and manager of the Aitkin FSC Home project.


The tour in Aitkin was part of a larger North American forest products tour sponsored by the International Programs of the US Forest Service. The tour was put together as an effort to show the Cochran Fellows new markets for wood products, small and round wood utilization, furniture innovation and design, sustainable forest products, and other value-added wood products. Aitkin County was specifically chosen for their involvement in sustainable forestry, small-scale operations, and concentrated use of local materials.


The Guatemalan Cochran Fellows also visited an International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta, Georgia, the US Forest Service Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Natural Resources Research Institute in Duluth, Minnesota.