Lee-Ann Chevrette, Boreal Forest Teas
By Lisa McLean
Thunder Bay – A strong connection to Ontario’s boreal forest has led a Northern Ontario woman to make a successful business of turning foraged plants into teas. But like the forest itself, protection and sound environmental practices are key ingredients to ensuring sustainability for future business.
For Lee-Ann Chevrette, Boreal Forest Teas is a creative way to bring together many of her passions. A native of Timmins Ontario, Chevrette was raised with a keen appreciation for the landscape of her homeland, and she benefitted from the passed-down knowledge from her parents and grandparents about many of the plants on its floor. Chevrette expanded on that childhood love of the boreal forest when she studied biology and environmental protection at the University of Guelph and spent ten years working as an ecologist in British Columbia, the Yukon, and Northwest Territories. She has also studied to become an herbalist.
“When I was quite young someone made me some Labrador tea from forest plants in Northern Ontario and I was enchanted,” Chevrette says. “I’ve always been fascinated with peoples’ relationships with plants – both their food and medicinal uses. I’ve been using wild plants and making teas for my own use for more than 25 years.”
Chevrette opened Boreal Forest Teas in 2009, when she moved to Thunder Bay to pursue graduate studies at Lakehead University. She offers eight herbal tea blends that combine organic cultivated herbs and wild-harvested boreal forest plants. Some of the teas also incorporate Non-timber Forest Products (NTFPs) from two First Nations communities, including blueberries from Aroland First Nation and cranberries from the Iroquois Cranberry Growers.
Sales have increased consistently since she started the business – and in 2012 her ingenuity earned her a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
“The business feeds many of my passions,” Chevrette says. “Boreal forest ecology and conservation, medicinal and nutritional uses of wild plants, organic agriculture and local food systems are all very important to me.”
The motivation to create Boreal Teas followed a particularly memorable camping trip to Quetico, a large wilderness park in Northwestern Ontario. “Everything about that trip – from the sound of the loons on the lake to the chill of the air and the smell of the forest – made me want to bring it back with me to share,” Chevrette says. She named the first tea in her lineup “LoonSong.”’ The second tea, she named “Happy Camper.”
Chevrette has received emails from customers across Canada, who have purchased her products online or found them in stores, cafes and galleries in the Northwest Territories, Ontario and British Columbia. But Chevrette – who has a full time job and is a mother of two young boys – is conscious of keeping the business small. She still processes, blends and packages all teas herself to maintain the quality of the product, and to ensure foraging is done sustainably.
Chevrette says she’s currently developing one more tea to bring her full complement of hot teas to nine. She’s also working on developing iced tea blends to supplement sales in the summer months, when sales of her current products traditionally slow down.
“There are many products growing in the boreal forest that can be used to stimulate northern economies,” says Chevrette. “I’m fortunate to have that time in the woods, and to share this passion and knowledge with others. It is important to me that my children have the opportunity to explore and experience the wonders of the natural world. I’ve been exploring this realm for my whole life and I see it as a tremendous gift.”
For more information about Boreal Forest Tea, visit www.borealforestteas.ca/ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/borealforestteas