For this installment of “Organization of the Month,” we talked with the folks of Fly Fishing Collaborative (FFC), a nonprofit organization focussed on creating sustainable solutions to poverty and human trafficking through fly fishing. Bucky Buchstaber, FFC’s Executive Director provided us with some great insight into how FFC accomplishes its mission. Follow along for more!
Flylords: Tell us how and why Fly Fishing Collaborative started?
FFC: The Fly Fishing Collaborative (FFC) started with my growing realization that when our passions are only used for ourselves they can become meaningless and tired. As humans we’re not meant just to consume, we’re meant to create beautiful things, to impact others, and to leave a mark on this world. There needs to be a bigger purpose behind all the things that we do, and that’s when it dawned on me – we can use fly fishing to create change. We can simply be who we are, do what we love to do, but do it for to benefit others… not just ourselves. When we live that way, when we live for the good of other, especially those that need help the most, we also thrive as the human being we’re supposed to be. That’s the ethos of the Fly Fishing Collaborative.
Back in 2013, I was wrestling with ways to practically live this idea out in my own life. At that same time some friends of mine learned how to build aquaponics farms. Aquaponincs farms are a closed loop environmentally safe farming system that grows fish and vegetables together in a symbiotic relationship. I knew these farms had the potential to create sustainable resources for people suffering around the world–especially people sold into human trafficking due to a lack of resources. I marveled at the potential for what would happen in the world when resources were present to keep children from being trafficked and enslaved. My wife suggested that we try to fund one of these farms for a safe home in Thialand that we were aware of. That’s when it dawned on me: what if we could mobilize the fly fishing community around this project. I knew that for this to happen, it would be because of countless people working together. I questioned to myself, “are there people out there willing to contribute a piece of their livelihood to make this happen”? It turns out there are. So many wonderful people caught the vision and became part of our collaborative community.
Flylords: Just how big is human trafficking in today’s society?
FFC: According to recent UNICEF figures 1.2 million children are trafficked each year globally. This is the fastest growing crime industry in the world generating approximately 10 billion dollars annually. Trafficking occurs in every country and in every socio economic status…but the poor are especially vulnerable.
Flylords: Fly fishing is a powerful force, but how can it help end this horrific problem?
FFC: The Fly Fishing Community can absolutely be a powerful force. I think the first step in making a difference in a global issue as big as human trafficking is to overcome doubt. I think we’re capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for. Our doubts could stem from something we tried once and failed at, or it can come from a troubled childhood (like mine) where insecurity was beat into you. It could stem from rejection or abandonment where insecurity was the only thing that someone left. Whatever the case, I found that we are able to reach far beyond the limitations that are imposed on us, or that we set for ourselves. I think we set boundaries to what we can accomplish far shorter than we need to. I also think society can set boundaries that hold us back from doing what we’re meant to. It might tell us to that there’s only one way we can solve a problem, or it can even teach us to ignore the problem entirely and let the governing authorities handle it. But I know this – when there’s a community with shared passions that unify together around a common goal, it can make a massive difference. That leads to the next step: collaboration. We may not be able to end human trafficking by ourselves but we can become a part of a greater whole that is a growing force of good in the world. The more communities that stand together against this sort of injustice the faster this problem of human trafficking will dissolve.
Flylords: Tell us more about the project side of FFC, specifically the aquaponic farms.
FFC: The money we raise at our fly fishing events, from the sales of our FFC products, and through direct giving is used to build sustainable aquaponics farms that provide a resource to women and children that would otherwise become currency, literally needing to be sold as livelihood in a broken world. Every $15,000 we raise provides an aquaponics farm for an orphanage, safe home or village that has been impacted by poverty and trafficking. Equipped with food, water, and fresh produce they are then able to put their time and resources toward empowering other local leaders to care for additional women and children that would otherwise be sold into slavery.
We also rely heavily on volunteer support on each farm that we build. Each project takes between 8-10 volunteers to find their way to the destinations we go to and help us get the job done. It’s always a life impacting experience for our teams, and We always try to throw a little fly fishing in at the end of each trip. Fly fishing is what links us all together in the first place.
Flylords: How many people has FFC helped shield from human trafficking? (This might be an impossible number, but any similar metrics would be great)
FFC: That’s a great question but difficult to put metrics on. Since we founded we have built 12 farms in 10 countries. Most of our farms are adding to the efficiency of safe homes and orphanages that are caring for women and children rescued from brothels, abuse and extreme poverty. Everything we do is collaborative. Once we locate a safe home or orphanage that is doing great work in their community we come alongside of them and build a farm to empower them with their own sustainable source of food which offsets their food costs and gives them the opportunity to create a revenue source through the sale of fresh fish and produce. Our farms combined are currently feeding nearly 1,000 women and children.
Flylords: Are these aquaponic farms operational yet? If so, can we learn more about some of the locations?
FFC: The farms are operational the moment we leave them in the hands of the leaders we build them for. We spend extensive time at each location training farm managers to care for their new aquaponics system. We’ve built farms in Thailand, Nepal, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Mexico City, Peru and Honduras. Choosing and training good farm managers is critical to the ongoing success of an aquaponics farm system. Early on in our development, we had a couple of farms fail due to a lack of understanding about the farm. We’ve since remedied that by contracting an agricultural and aquaponics specialist to come with us on each build to assist in the training. It’s been going amazingly well.
Flylords: Does FFC have any big developments or projects for 2020?
FFC: Each year we receive more and more requests for farms from organizations and people serving communities around the world. We’re overwhelmed with farm requests for 2020 and are working hard to build up our infrastructure to add to the number of projects we commit to each year. Historically, we’ve built two farms per year, but in 2020 we aim to double that amount. On January 29th we wrapped up a farm for an orphanage in Honduras caring for 32 kids rescued from heinous abuse and poverty. Now we are setting our sights on new projects in Nepal, Thailand, the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Belize, and possibly a second farm in Honduras. It’s only a matter of time and funding, to find out which of these requests we can meet this year.
Flylords: I noticed that FFC has a pretty extensive product line consisting of handmade leather products, custom flies, and FFC apparel. How does the sale of these products further FFC’s mission and projects?
FFC: Our FFC branded fishing accessories, custom flies, and apparel are all fun ways to collaborate with other fly tyers and craftsmen that can use their skills to contribute to the cause. The products also help create awareness about who we are and what we’re doing. Additionally, all profits from the sales of each item go straight to our mission of creating sustainable resources to poverty and trafficking around the world.
Flylords: Can you tell us more about the upcoming fifth annual FFC Banquet?
FFC: Our annual banquet is an incredible event where fly fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the northwest pack out our event space in Portland, Oregon to take part in a fabulous live and silent auction and to celebrate our accomplishments. It has been the most significant fundraiser so far. It wouldn’t be possible without an incredible network of lodges, fly fishing guides, fly shops, and companies that all contribute wonderful packages to be auctioned off. We’re incredibly grateful for their collaboration.
Flylords: Finally, how can other anglers contribute to and help FFC achieve its mission
FFC: Obviously, financial giving is the first thing that comes to mind. Without the generous giving from people that want to help, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. Aside from that anglers can help by purchasing our products, volunteering on farm projects, and sharing our work to their friends through social media platforms. The more people we can get involved, the greater impact we can make together. Check out FFC products through this link and info on how to donate here!
Pictures courtesy of Fly Fishing Collaborative and Dylan Furst.