Living off the land has always been an important part of life for Amy Maund. She spent her childhood out in the wilderness near her parents’ cabin by Great Slave Lake. As she got older she pursued an outdoor life through her work as a tree planter, but it wasn’t until she was taking veterinary medicine at the University of British Columbia that she got the idea of turning wildcrafting (also known as foraging) from a passion to a full time job.
“I actually started by teaching workshops in wild plants after gaining years of experience,” said Maund.
After finding success selling devils club and spruce pitch salves at a farmers market in B.C., she changed her focus from veterinary medicine to botany and biology.
“I started doing the farmers market with some of the products and people kept encouraging me,” she said. “From there it kept growing and growing, like a snowball effect. We kept growing and we had some friends that I knew that had stores and asked if we could carry some of their products. I think the Down to Earth Gallery was one of the first to carry my products.”
It wasn’t long before Maund’s rolling snowball started picking up steam and she moved back to the Northwest Territories and began expanding her foraging operations in an off the grid home outside of Yellowknife.
Now, Laughing Lichen carries a product line with over 50 items in 50 stores across the country including herbal salves, handcrafted soaps, lip balms, bath salts, creams, herbal oils, wildcrafted tea blends and more.
“All of our ingredients are foraged by us mainly in the NWT and in northern B.C. as well,” said Maund. “We have a few harvesters down there and we’ve grown to the point where me and my spouse can’t do the harvesting on our own anymore.”
She needs hundreds of pounds of harvested materials to operate her business and she’s been training more harvesters as business has grown.
“We have a very wide network of people helping us forage out products,” said Maund. “Last year we trained 17 people across the NWT.”
As Laughing Lichen continues to grow, Maund is preparing to ramp up her operations in a new commercial facility.
“We’re a home-based business and we’ve run out of room to process these hundreds of pounds of plants,” said Maund.
With the new facility they hope to open in the summer of 2019, Maund will also be expanding her harvesting network. She will be sending out a call for applications in June, she said.
“Our goal is to teach workshops in 2019 and host scholarships and help people start their own businesses and promote economic development,” said Maund. “A big goal of my business is to promote a sustainable wildcrafting economy in the NWT and show people it is possible to get a fair value wage from harvesting.”
However, it can be difficult to make a living by wildcrafting, she said.
“If you want to get into wildcrafting, traditionally no one pays very good wages,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work for little profit. I wanted to create a way where people could have a way of life (like) we have and actually making a meaningful wage. Our teas and products are expensive, but we’re paying people a good wage.”
Having in-depth instruction and a tight focus on quality is what sets Laughing Lichen apart, says Courtney Davison, the company’s operations supervisor.
“The quality is there,” said Davison. “When you pay people a good wage they care about their work and want to stand by their quality standards. It keeps it so people are not willing to cut corners.”
Maund and Davison partly attribute to their success to tight quality control.
“We are very strict,” said Maund. “When people give us a harvest, we grade it, we keep track of where it came form and really make sure our products are healthy. People value that and recognize we have a quality product.”
With the upcoming expansion, Maund plans on hiring harvesters in some of the more remote communities of
“There’s a lot of people who are very acquainted and work with the land and it’s a great way for people in those areas to earn a source of income,” she said. “Elders can go out, parents and their children. It’s an amazing and hard-working lifestyle.”
Pursuing this lifestyle is ultimately why Maund got into the this business.
“I wanted an occupation that would allow me to work on my own but also be out in the woods doing what I love with my friends and family,” she said. “It’s a way of life that people dream of and we’ve created that for ourselves. It’s fun, healthy and inspiring.”
“It’s been a hard grind to getting where we are now without the continued support of families, friends and business owners. This is a woman owned business but it was a family affair.”