Gary Funk’s idea to use beetle-killed wood from Montana to rebuild communities in earthquake-ravaged Haiti has taken hold over the past several years, moving from an idea to a nonprofit organization planning to build 180,000 homes there.
Now, Wood for Haiti has joined with another local business in hopes of taking the concept of rebuilding one step further.
The Missoula-based Blue Marble Biomaterials wants to help Wood for Haiti communities blossom into full-blown economic hubs for the country.
“Haiti can grow and produce things Montana can’t produce,” said Erik Berry, who is heading up the “Seeding Haiti’s Future: From the Soil Up” project for Blue Marble. “(Wood for Haiti’s) focus is the building of the houses and community centers, then Blue Marble’s involvement is to create that sustainable economic driver.”
The sustainable economic driver is herbs and spices planted, harvested and sold by Wood for Haiti community residents to Blue Marble, which would use the goods to produce its specialty chemical products at its Missoula plant.
James Stephens, one of Blue Marble’s founders, heard Funk speak last year at an event.
“He called me the same day and said, ‘Can we make some connections?’ ” Funk said.
Haiti once was a spice and herb capital of the world. The climate is good for growing and its proximity to the U.S. makes it an ideal place to buy from, said Funk, a retired University of Montana choral professor who is now president of Wood for Haiti.
Stephens pitched the idea of providing seedstock for herbs and spices to Haitians. Since then, Blue Marble has identified roughly 18 herbs and spices it needs to produce chemical products that could be grown in Haiti.
Blue Marble’s products aim to replace petroleum-driven chemicals used in thousands of products with a biochemical produced through an environmentally friendly process. The company produces “specialty chemical products” for things like food flavor products, fragrances and personal products.
“It’s gotten to that point in the project where we’re almost ready to go, it’s come down to the nuts and bolts of the money aspect,” Berry said.
Blue Marble has launched an online fundraiser to kick-start the project at Rockethub.com.
Blue Marble wants to raise $50,000 by early August to help do research, buy tools and get a sort of seed bank set up to start loaning plants to Haitians that will eventually live in Wood for Haiti communities.
“Basically, it’s a way for us to jointly raise money that will go into laying the foundation for that trade,” Berry said.
Wood for Haiti figures show that nearly 1 million Haitians were displaced when the earthquake struck there in January 2010. Most of the country’s forests were destroyed as well. Today, 85 percent of Haitians live in poverty, Funk said.
Funk knew that true rebuilding efforts in Haiti would take more than houses made of beetle-killed wood. The partnership with Blue Marble allows another crucial element of rebuilding begin, while Wood for Haiti can keep focusing on its core mission of building homes.
Funk has talked with other nonprofits that could provide other necessary components, such as water.
Wood for Haiti has boards set up in both Missoula and Haiti to help get the communities built. The organization is currently trying to raise $300,000 to built its first prototype homes and community center. In all, Wood for Haiti needs millions more to build the planned 180,000 houses and 500 community centers.
Funk was in Haiti with other project volunteers in January, talking to government officials, planning for prototype construction and assessing ongoing needs there.
“We have to find a way to provide fully-functioning, self-sustaining communities,” Funk said. “Haiti needs everything.”