Local Hero Profile: Forest Products Associates
By Olivia Zlamany, CISA Intern
Published in the December 2014 E-Newsletter–sign up here!
Sue Fiske, multigenerational owner of Forest Products Associates, likes to keep it simple. Of what they produce on their farm, Sue says, “It’s pretty much trees and garlic”—the garlic being a special hobby of Sue’s and the fine hardwood being the central production. However, don’t let simplicity fool you—this domestic and exotic wood supplier offers an extensive range of products that are anything but simple. Tucked away just beyond a residential neighborhood in Greenfield, Forest Products Associates features a warehouse full of everything from exotic Honduran rosewood to locally-produced live edge walnut slabs sporting the Local Hero label.
Since 1946, under Sue’s father, Lee Fiske, Forest Products Associates has maintained this focused commitment to quality, community and sustainability—which Sue says is “just the way it’s done” in the Northeast. However, the community that Sue and her father have worked with is not quite the local community that we all traditionally think of, but is instead what Sue jokingly calls “a very large neighborhood” that has grown to include sustainability-certified global producers as well as a variety of local producers and sources.
These ethical commitments to sustainability and community have been central to Forest Products Associates since the beginning. Years into building this local business and having become globally recognized for his high quality kiln drying, Lee even took his love of all things wood abroad by briefly moving his whole family to Spain. In the early 1960s, when Sue was just a child, Lee had been asked by the United States Agency for International Development to use his dry kiln skills and extensive knowledge of hardwoods to develop lumber production and processing in Spain. And though these global connections and commitment to the “very large neighborhood” may have initially sent the Fiskes abroad, they eventually returned home to the strong local roots that Sue works to maintain to this day.
Sue, who graduated with a degree in business from the University of Massachusetts and in fine woods from “The Lee Fiske School of Wood Technology and Hard Knocks,” has now taken the business in a bit of a different direction. Although Forest Products Associates is still busy with wood drying in their on-site kilns, Sue focuses more on sales—but with the same commitments to quality, community and sustainability. In addition to the multigenerational business partners with whom Sue works to source their fully certified exotic woods, Sue has a wide range of streams for local suppliers. Despite a loss of more than two-thirds of Western Massachusetts mills in recent years, Forest Products Associates still works with many small producers, including one of the last remaining sawmills in Northampton. And, to this day, local farmers will call Sue to sell her single trees that come down on their properties.
With Sue’s focus on sales, Forest Products Associates has developed a wide range of local customers that they work with, including local contractors, woodworkers, artisans or individual homeowners or hobby woodworkers. After listing the variety of products that customers may make with their wood products—musical instruments, cabinetry or pens, to list a few—Sue laughing adds, “if anyone wants wood, they end up here sooner or later.” Some of the woods from Forest Products Associates have even ended up featured as counters in a number of local restaurants, including those of Local Hero restaurant and brewery The People’s Pint.
It is clear that these partnerships and connections are what define the business model of Forest Products Associates. There is a pride in all that they do, and it shows. Excitedly, Sue describes what they really do here, “Anybody who wants something really cool, if they’ve got some dream in their head of what they want… anybody who has a dream, we’ll help them put it into reality.”
To get started on the project of your dreams, stop by the Greenfield location or visit their website for more information.