His travels as a conservation consultant have taken him to Africa and Asia. Her voyages as an ecologist have landed her in Central America and East Africa.

Now, Noah Jackson and Mary Bricker have settled back in Missoula, where they’re working to build a new nonprofit, Forest Voices, in the shadow of their alma mater – the University of Montana.

“We just moved back to Missoula from our home in Oregon to develop our nonprofit,” said Jackson. “We both went to grad school here and we had built some great social networks.”

Their growing organization works to connect people around the world through direct trade and storytelling. It offers courses with cocoa farmers in Madagascar, and it works with Penan elders in Borneo, trading indigenous trees and seeds between communities.

“We help consumers of globally traded products, such as coffee, cocoa and tea, understand and experience how good trade practices and agroforestry can enhance the lives of farmers and conserve surrounding ecosystems,” Jackson said.

During a fundraising pitch to a client in New York City, the two were told that anyone at “the top of their game” lived and worked in the Big Apple.

Jackson disagreed, and while the offerings may be larger in a city of millions, he and Bricker felt Montana had the talent to grow Forest Voices and the people to nurture its cause.

Missoula also has the storytellers, Jackson said, and it’s storytelling that’s key to the organization’s new program, “Storytelling for Action in the Coffee Lands of Indonesia.”

If it sounds exotic, it may very well be. Forest Voices plans to ferry 16 students deep into the Indonesian “coffee lands” of Java, where they’ll spend 14 days working alongside the region’s indigenous farmers.

“What we’re trying to do is connect farmers and their stories with people here at home in the U.S.” Jackson said. “We’ll imbed ourselves with coffee farmers during the height of the coffee harvest, and we’ll assist them harvesting and processing their product.”

Along the way, they’ll also gather the farmers’ stories, giving those who crave their morning brew a better understanding of the people and places behind the product.

“When it comes down to it, at the end of the day, it’s the stories that people remember,” Jackson said. “It comes down to working with communities, solving problems and building trust. It’s about people’s lives.“

Bricker, who earned a Ph.D. in ecology at UM, conducted ecology research on species interactions. She went on to teach biology at Pacific University in Oregon before joining Forest Voices.

Jackson earned a master’s degree in forestry at UM before setting off for Asia and Africa, where he spent a decade working for various non-governmental organizations like the Rainforest Alliance, the World Wildlife Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development, among others.

“Java is the root of community forestry,” Jackson said. “This is where sustainable practices originated. We’re excited to bring students to the field working with these farmers.“

The program in Java has been approved as a credit option by UM’s School of Extended and Lifelong Learning. Applications for the course will be accepted through Thursday, April 11, and are available at forestvoices.org.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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