NAYA Microenterprise grad goes from bold idea to business owner

NAYA Microenterprise grad goes from bold idea to business owner

On its website, the Golden Saffron Company’s offer of “high-quality saffron spice and petals directly from the Pacific Northwest” seems perfectly aligned with Portland’s environmental conscious green marketplace. The North Plains, Oregon-business is led by third-generation sustainable agriculture farmer Tanya Golden, described on the website as a visionary. “From laying the foundations of the greenhouses and crop beds, to hand picking each stem with love, Tanya brings a conscious joy and passion to her work and community offerings,” it states.

But what the website doesn’t mention is the compelling story of Tanya’s journey from herbalist to business owner—and the pivotal role NAYA’s Microenterprise Program played in her breakthrough into business.

Tanya, of Grand Ronde and Cherokee descent, experimented with selling high-end chocolate truffles and herbal remedies as a vendor at small marketplaces and powwows. From these experiences, she realized the products were not feasible to produce for a business of the size and scale she hoped to run. Still, she knew she wanted to do something entrepreneurial. She just wasn’t sure what.

Being immersed in the local vendor community, it wasn’t long before Tanya was approached by NAYA Microenterprise Coach Santiago Vazquez. He encouraged her to join the Microenterprise Program at NAYA. At first, Tanya didn’t think she had the time, but was eventually persuaded to participate.

Early in the cohort-based, nine-module course, Tanya noticed instructors challenging participants to get specific about their business goals in order to start making them a reality.

“Their question was always, ‘What are you going to do?’’ she says. In response, Tanya says, “I decided to give it up to Creator. I asked, ‘Show me the way.’”

And almost immediately, she experienced a fortunate and coincidental turn of events: Tanya happened across an article on sustainable agriculture and saffron production. The very next in the NAYA Microenterprise class, someone handed her some actually saffron by chance. Tanya’s bold idea was born.

“Santiago asked again, ‘What are you going to do?’” Tanya recalls. “This time, I said, ‘I’m growing saffron.’”

NAYA’s Microenterprise Program not only gave her training in small business development, its staff also connected her with additional resources within the community, like grant opportunities, additional training, and programs to better position her for starting her business.

Still, there were obstacles along the way. The need for cash upfront seemed daunting—especially for Tanya, who until then had eschewed credit cards and loans.

“Santiago really had to talk me into participating in the credit-building program. But thankfully, once I agreed, he knew of all the resources already in place in the community that could help me,” she says. With guidance, Tanya strengthened her credit score and secured a loan. With this positive credit history, she became eligible for grant assistance and other funding resources.

NAYA’s Individual Development Account (IDA) Program was also essential to her start-up success. This program matches 3:1 participants put into a special savings account to help them eventually build an asset, like a small business.

Tanya faced other challenges she had not anticipated. Bringing the farmland back into production and the great physical labor it entailed, caused some delays in her ambitious schedule.

Veering off her carefully prepared plans caused some anxiety for Tanya, again unanticipated. She attributes being spiritually healthy with helping her through the stressful times. “I pray. I ask Creator to show me the next right step. But for me, I can’t get too far out ahead. I only ask for one step at a time!” she laughs.

And she offers future entrepreneurs a bit of advice, stating, “Find something you love. Keep it simple because no matter how simple you think it is in the beginning, it will get much more complicated than you think. So pick the simple path.”

But the challenge that proved most transformational was within Tanya herself. “I went from not a lot of self-confidence to realizing that I could do this. I received support from friends, family, the community, and new friends I made in the program. It’s the first time in my life I’ve felt like this.”

Because her experience has been so life-changing, she wishes more Native people would consider entrepreneurship.

“A lot of [Native people] are already business owners,” Tanya explains, referring to Indian Country’s longstanding micro-economy of vendors, fishermen, artisans, and other occupations. “These ways have been part of their lives forever.”

But Tanya understands why Native people feel reluctant identifying as a “business people.”

“It comes down to traditional values versus those of dominant society,” Tanya explains after giving it much thought. “Capitalism goes against the earth and how we relate to it. Also, we’re resistant to being cutthroat, in competition with each other instead of collaborating. In our communities, there isn’t one fisherman and then everyone else working for him. There are many fishermen and the community comes together to prepare that fish, share it, and come together during community meals. It’s the community together.”

Tanya believes the NAYA Microenterprise class addresses these differences head on, with an indigenized perspective. She elaborates, “The [curriculum] made sense because it’s grounded in community.”

As a result, Tanya hopes others will also overcome their apprehensions and join her within the growing Native small business community.

“It’s a great service. It’s there for people,” she says. “Even if people who take the class don’t immediately take the next steps to start a business like I did, the lessons learned will help people and affect them positively. I’m sure of this.”

To learn more about the NAYA Microenterprise Program, click here.

To learn more about Golden Saffron Company, visit