Profiles - MassWoods



Profiles - MassWoods
Profiles from
Working Woodlands:
Exploring Forest-based Enterprises
in Western Massachusetts
by Susan M. Campbell
Published by Massachusetts Woodlands Institute
June 2004
P.O. Box 301
Montague, MA 01351
Massachusetts Woodlands Institute
P.O. Box 301
Montague, MA 01351
© June, 2004 by Massachusetts Woodlands Institute
All rights reserved. Published 2004
Printed in the U.S.A.
This work was made possible with principal funding from the Highland Communities
Initiative, a program of the Trustees of Reservations. Additional funding came from
a grant awarded by the Northeast Area State & Private Forestry, USDA Forest Service,
and USDA-Rural Development.
Special thanks to Jocelyn Forbush and the Highland Communities Initiative for
providing the funds and flexibility that allowed this research and writing project
to develop. For their encouragement and inspiration, thanks go to Arthur Eve,
Patricia Lee Lewis, Dave Bowman, Peter Jensen, Jay Healy, Walter Wright, Sarah
Buie, Dave Damery, Paul Catanzaro, Jennifer Fish, Kathrin Woodlyn Bateman,
Paul Strasburg, and Roger Monthey.
Many thanks to all the forest landowners, business-owners and others interviewed
for this work who were generous with their time and ideas. They include: John
Clarke, Stacy Brown, Emily Monosson, Ben Letcher, Dick and Marcia Starkey,
Lloyd Crawford, Ed Klaus, Norma and Bill Coli, Mark and Sarah McKusick,
Cynthia Wood, Scott Maslansky, Will Beemer, Paul Lagreze, Chris Marano, Laura
Maples, Paul Waite, Milton Lafond, Harriet Freeman, Jane Freeman, John
Freeman, Kathleen O’Rourke, and Pat Flinn.
Photo credits: Patricia Lee Lewis, page 18 (top) and page 19 (right); Don Wukasch,
page 19 (left); Ed Klaus, page 23; Arthur Eve, page 36; Will Beemer, page 39.
For transforming this manuscript into a printed format that is a pleasure to behold,
thanks go to Susan Bergeron-West of Sirius Design, Monson, and Kristina Ferrare.
Finally, much love and appreciation go to Todd and Mollie Fuller who sustain me
throughout all my adventures.
Table of Contents
What This Work Is About
Why Revitalize the Local Forest Economy?
Hardwood Flooring: A Market for Low Quality & Low Value Wood
F O R E S T- B A S E D
1. A Pilot Project: Learning How to Make Hardwood Flooring
Strasburg Family, Hall Tavern Farm
2. A New Business Relies On Sustainable Forestry for the Local Economy
Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative, L.L.C.
3. Adding Value with Green Certification
New England Forestry Foundation, Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative L.L.C.,
Hull Forest Products, Metropolitan District Commission–Quabbin
4. Flooring Today, Fine Furniture Tomorrow?
5. Using Your Own Wood
Letcher/Monosson Family and Starkey Family
The Forest as Setting
F O R E S T- B A S E D
1. Nurturing Creativity on a Wooded Hillside
Patchwork Farm Writing Retreat
2. Year-round Recreation and More
Stump Sprouts Guest Lodge & Cross-Country Ski Center
3. A Unique Harvesting Niche
Klaus Forest Improvements
4. Tourism for the Working Landscape
Blue Heron Farm and High Pocket Farm B&B
5. Adding Value to Tourism through Regional Collaboration
North Quabbin Guide Training Program
Timbers for Framing: Embracing the Past and the Future
F O R E S T- B A S E D
1. A Pilot Project: The Timeless Process of Making Timber Frames
Dave Bowman, Timber Framer
2. A Small-Scale Logging Business
Porter & Noonan’s Draft Horses
3. Diversity in the Work Place: A Wood Shop Made from Many Species
Dave Bowman, Timber Framer
4. Two Organizations Conserve a Tradition, Serve the Community
The Heartwood School and Timber Framers Guild
Understory Crops: Useful Products, Culture and History
F O R E S T- B A S E D
1. Mushrooms in the Forest
New England Wild Edibles
2. A Storehouse of Herbal Medicine
Clearpath Herbals
3. Growing Landscape Plantings in the Understory
Kathrin Woodlyn Bateman and Paul Waite, Landscapers
4. Enduring Household Goods
The Basket Shop
5. Tracing Cultural History through Forest Products: Native Baskets in an Attic
The Freeman Family
The Black Locust Project: Rethinking Conventions on One Acre
F O R E S T- B A S E D
1. Introducing Black Locust: Its Wood Properties and Growth Characteristics
2. The Pilot Project: A Harvest of Trail-Building Materials
Openspace Management and Walter Wright, Landowner
3. An Alternative Use for Exotic Invasives
Excerpt Adapted from “Taking Good Care” Kathleen O’Rourke
4. Mary V. Flynn Trail in Stockbridge
Laurel Hill Association
5. The Greenfield Center School Play Structure
Author’s End Note
Businesses Featured in these Profiles
More Forest-based Businesses & Associations
Relevant Organizations & Programs in the Vicinity of Western Massachusetts
Technical Resources
What This Work Is About
he profiles in this collection are about people who live and work in
the wooded hills of western Massachusetts. Most of them own a patch
of woods, and while rich in land and its possibilities, these landowners are not
categorically affluent. As guardians of their land, they stand out from most
forest landowners today because they have made their love of the forest
visible by forging a working relationship with it. Earning income beyond
the common practice of selling timber on the stump, they add value to their
forest in a variety of ways. Some manufacture wood products, some host
retreats and recreational activities, and some reap natural materials that
grow within the forest—for food, medicine and household goods. Today,
fewer and fewer people have physically demanding outdoor work that
requires an intimate knowledge of working the land. This makes these
people and their hard-earned livelihoods the exception, not the rule.
The enterprises described in this work are small; some have been around for nearly 30 years,
others are just beginning to open their doors for business. “Small, smart and lean” keeps these
enterprises on their toes, experimenting with new markets and adjusting to changes in social
trends. These people and their forest-based enterprises combine a strong stewardship ethic
with Yankee ingenuity, entrepreneurial risk-taking and flexibility, making them the roots of a
forest economy with growth potential. Their stories allow us to consider an economy that is
local, diverse and complex, and designed to sustain itself for future generations—not exploit
the forest and move on, as has been the dominant environmental legacy of generations past.
These stories also allow us to reflect on our culture as it relates to the forest. Exploring a model
for a new forest economy sends us back to times when Native Americans thrived in these
forests, harvesting medicine, food and materials to support their daily lives. We are linked to
the waves of immigrant families who lived and worked in these forests harvesting wood for
charcoal, lumber for building and forage for livestock. By seeing the forest as a viable source
of livelihood today, we re-create and reclaim simple traditions like putting up firewood for the
woodstove, selecting a fresh-cut Christmas tree, boiling sap from the front yard maple, pitching
in on a neighbor’s house-raising. While many seem to be leading more sedentary and indoor lives,
others seek authentic rural experiences like these. What cultural future do we choose for ourselves?
Why Revitalize
the Local Forest Economy?
The Nature of Our Forests
No less than nine ecoregions blanket the hills, river valleys and upland plateaus of western
Massachusetts. This naturally diverse area is a convergence of northern hardwoods (birch,
beech, maple), central hardwoods (oak and hickory), boreal conifers (spruce and fir), and the
ubiquitous white pine—a cornucopia of trees, shrubs, herbaceous plant species and the creatures that live therein. Apportion moderate rainfall and sunlight through the seasons and we’ve
got a temperate forest region that is ideal for growing trees and the complex of biota that live
in and under their protective canopy.
The forests of western Massachusetts now cover between 80 and 90 percent of the landscape—
the inverse of 150 years ago. Granted, there are problems with how we have treated our forests,
but the fact is, they are a resilient force of nature. Anyone who has observed an old field turn
to goldenrod and milkweed, then sumac, gray birch and juniper, knows that it takes human and
machine effort to keep the woods from reclaiming most ground. In the interests of nurturing
this sylvan landscape, how should we relate to the woods?
Consumption and Conservation
We’ve heard the statistic: as one-twentieth of the world’s population, Americans consume onefifth of the world’s resources. Admittedly, modern manufacturing trends and fast-paced
lifestyles promote the use of cheaply made, expendable goods, but this high level of consumption
suggests at least room to reduce waste. It also calls into question our stewardship of natural
resources: how can such high consumption sustain itself in the future?
Looking at forest products in particular, U.S. per capita consumption of sawn wood in 1997
was 12 times that of eastern European countries and almost three times that of western and
central European countries.1 In Massachusetts, between 1993 and 1998 about 1.7 billion board
feet of wood was used across the state. For the same years, wood harvested from our native
forests was less than 100 million board feet, or a meager 6 per cent of the total consumed—
this from a state that is 62 percent forested. This might seem reasonable, given the high population density in the eastern part of the state, but a look at annual forest growth compared to
wood harvested tells a different story. The last two U.S. Forest Service inventories (1985 and
1996) show that for every 3.3 board feet of saw timber that grows in our forests, only 1.0 board
foot is harvested.
The bottom line: very little of the wood we consume is locally grown, in spite of abundant
forests with commercially desirable species, forest growth outstripping forest harvest, relatively
resilient ecosystems and a strong safety net of environmental regulations to protect the public’s
interest in our forests. How much more might we harvest without compromising the important
functions that the forest serves: water and air quality protection, diverse habitats for native flora
and fauna and carbon sequestration? Based on today’s wood consumption rate, Massachusetts
forestry experts predict that with the amount of forest that is available to sustainably harvest,
we might be able to supply about 700 million board feet each year, or 41 percent of what we
Berlik, M. 1999. The Illusion of Natural Resource Preservation: An Environmental Argument for the Local
Production of Wood in Massachusetts. Harvard-Radcliffe Colleges honors thesis for Bachelor of Arts.
consume. Being prudent, we might begin by asking: Can we gradually increase the 6 percent
consumption of native wood to 10 or 15 percent? At this level, what are the benefits, what are
the drawbacks?
A Good Conservation Strategy
If we are trying to conserve our forests, how is consuming them logical? We have to begin with
the underlying assumption that using can not mean using up. It must mean harvesting useful
products from the forest only when it doesn’t conflict with ecosystem integrity and longevity.
It means acting today with the health of tomorrow’s animal (that’s us) and plant community in mind.
When we have a healthy interdependence with the forest as a place for work, for play, for
learning, for spiritual renewal, we are culturally invested in this landscape. The more invested,
the more we treasure and want to protect it. When it is socially and economically productive
to use forests on a daily basis, it is a less tantalizing alternative to sell them to the highest real
estate bidder. In this way the working landscape can be an important conservation tool.
Of course not all land is suitable for income production or intensive human use. Unique or
fragile habitats, very wet areas, slopes highly prone to erosion, and others can be protected
using other conservation techniques. For example, state and federal regulations enforce a basic
level of environmental protection on all lands, or landowners can protect land in perpetuity by
selling the development rights to a conservation organization. But with the majority of
Massachusetts forestlands owned by private landowners, an economically and socially vibrant
forest landscape can encourage these forest guardians to keep forests whole.
The Prevailing Forest Economy
The traditional, industry-driven model of a forest economy that is prevalent in the south,
northwest and northern New England is not viable here in southern New England. This is an
approach that puts the corporate bottom line before the natural and human communities it
exploits. The problems are several: first, it leads to decreasing returns as the biggest and best
trees are removed from the forest and the less vigorous and poorly formed ones remain.
Second, industry owns very little forest land here; by far the majority of privately owned
woods is in the hands of individual landowners. Third, what little wood is harvested in today’s
wood economy is often sold as raw logs to producers beyond our region, allowing only a fraction
of the potential revenue to circulate in our economy.
Where does our wood come from, if not here? The United States as a whole produces about
two-thirds of what it consumes, with domestic production limited largely to the Pacific
Northwest and the Southeast. While sustainable forestry practices are gaining wider use in
parts of these regions, they are not without ecological concerns. The other third comes from
Canada, 65 percent of which comes from British Columbia. The environmental cost of shipping
west coast Douglas fir and Western red cedar is not limited to poor harvest practices on site,
but includes the environmental costs and energy losses in the trucking and material handling
functions. Though here in New England much of our wood comes from Eastern Canada, as
well as the more distant regions mentioned, transportation costs and the negative environmental
impacts are significant.
While ours has long been a wood region of small sawmills and secondary manufacturers buying
stumpage from private lands, these businesses have dwindled to a point where less and less tree
volume is harvested, even as most of our forests have reached the mature sawlog size class.
It is difficult for these small businesses to be cost-competitive on high volume production for,
say, a standard 2-by-4, which requires large mills and a guaranteed supply of softwood trees. This
model works better elsewhere. The traditional wood products businesses that are doing well
owe their success to value-added production and new marketing strategies. If we are looking to
increase and diversify economic activity in our forests, we need to develop models that suit our
An Alternative Forest Economy for Our Communities
The first building block of an alternative forest-based economy is an unwavering commitment
to protecting forest ecosystem integrity. Management strategies must include plans for the
continual regeneration of healthy and biologically diverse forests. Appropriate machinery and
harvesting practices have to minimize the physical impacts to the woods. Every business decision
must be made with a view toward its long-term sustainability.
Next, attention must be directed to the human communities living within the forested landscape.
Is the forest economy providing safe, decent jobs for people living nearby? Are freshly cut logs
directed to numerous other independent businesses that will further process and add value
along the production chain? Then, are forest products marketed locally, to further encourage the
circulation of dollars in nearby communities? Niche marketing to local consumers is a strategy
well-suited to our densely populated and privately owned landscape.
Good things can happen when the value-adding and marketing of forest products occurs locally.
Wood no longer comes from a flatbed truck that traveled hundreds or thousands of miles on
the interstate highway system. It can come from the neighbor’s woodlot; be milled, dried and
planed on the other side of town; and fashioned into a sturdy chair at the woodworking shop
in the village. We know these people and their families. Good workmanship is appreciated and
rewarded; poor quality or questionable business practices can be dealt with face-to-face.
Character, integrity and decency can once again be valuable currency in a thriving local economy.
Why the emphasis on small land-owning enterprises, instead of the larger forest products
shops that have been around for decades? With the ownership pattern so strongly weighted to
individuals owning 20 to 200 acres of woods, it is important to consider a forest economy rooted
in these small ownerships. Too, those owning the land are most invested in sustaining its health
and productivity. Collectively, they are the ones who control the future of our western
Massachusetts forests. The entrepreneurs described in this writing have shaped and honed
their livelihoods over time and can illuminate for us the range of possibilities for the working
landscape and point to ways that society can support forest-based livelihoods.
o understand the promise that native hardwood flooring may hold for
the region’s forests, you have to know about forest management
strategies for sustaining long-term value, the many steps it takes to convert
a standing tree into a finished floor, the flow of capital needed to drive this
production, and how to create a niche market for a product most often sold
in a commodity-based market. Many—including land trusts, non-profits,
landowner organizations and state agencies—who envision a landscape of
healthy working forests and a thriving wood economy think that this market
deserves a closer look.
Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative, L.L.C. (MWC), a new forestry business in the western
part of the state, conducted a pilot project to examine the feasibility of getting logs from its
member properties and contracted with local businesses to turn it into flooring. Hall Tavern
Farm, a MWC member, is already turning out wide pine flooring from its own woods at its
small saw mill operation. This business handled the lion’s share of processing for the project
and guided the MWC to another local contractor for the final steps.
Another section describes why the Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative was founded and
how it plans to create a market niche for its wood to meet its goals of sustainable forestry,
value-added activities and using local business as much as possible. Determined not to send its
valuable raw wood materials to other regions for manufacturing, this organization is pioneering
a new way of doing business in the local forestry sector.
Joining a handful of other landowners in Massachusetts, the MWC has successfully completed its
third-party green certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an internationally
recognized group that sets standards for sustainable forest management. These Massachusetts
organizations and businesses use FSC certification to add value to their forests
by maintaining high ecological standards and by marketing wood products
that are differentiated as environmentally friendly.
Were society to exercise some long-term thinking when it comes to the forest
economy, it might view a hardwood flooring market as an investment in the
high quality trees that would grow at a faster rate once the inferior ones were
removed and turned into flooring. A note about a long time forestry expert
provides insight to the now valuable markets for oak logs in the region.
Finally, to remind us where our wood comes from, two families demonstrate
how, with a bit of serendipity and the help of local businesses, they were able to
have their own wood custom-processed for use in home woodworking projects.
The “Undesirables” Must Go
Anyone who wants to grow vigorous, straight trees into high-value wood
products will thin out poor quality and crowded trees. This process creates
ample space for the remaining ones to grow more quickly. The resulting large
and valuable trees will be relatively easy to sell; it’s the small, crooked and
crowded trees in the woodlot that can be hard to market. As it is, waiting for
trees to reach maturity requires a long-term investment and a lot of patience.
When forest stands are not thinned periodically, the already long-term investment
embodied in woodlot ownership becomes interminable.
It is no wonder that big, straight, branch-free trees are so valuable in the market
place. At the mill, it takes fewer passes of the saw and less waste to yield more
board feet that can go into high-end uses such as veneer, cabinetry, architectural
millwork and so on. This wood also dries more uniformly and is easier to work.
But the continual removal of the biggest and best trees leads to another problem
for landowners and society. Although in the short term the landowner may
appear to benefit financially, the quality and quantity of the region’s growing
stock is compromised, as is the landowner’s investment and the region’s wood economy. This
practice of high-grading is not ecologically or economically sustainable.
Harvested trees have to pay their way out of the woods and to the next step of production.
Many human hours and big, expensive machinery are used to fell and bring trees to roadside.
Good management dictates minimal injury to the remaining forest, operating safely on sometimes
steep and stony terrain, skirting wetland and stream areas, stabilizing woods roads against possible
erosion. Too, New England loggers are beholden to the weather; mud seasons, rainy periods, or too
much snow often means staying out of the woods for days. Then there’s equipment maintenance
and repair and high worker’s comp insurance costs. The very trees that the landowner wants
removed from the woods now for the enhancement of future crop trees, are the ones that often
as not, can not pay their way out. Unless a landowner is willing to pay by the hour for cutting
trees, the logger has to be able to sell the extracted wood to recover his costs.
Making Something From Next To Nothing
The process of converting trees into wood is not a mystery, yet it can involve many steps which
are done in this region by a multitude of small independent businesses. Most of the time a
woodland owner sells timber “on the stump,” never knowing whether it will become a piece of
fine furniture, lumber, a trinket in a gift shop or fuel for a wood stove. But when that clear cherry
lumber at the retail store sells for 10 times the amount paid to them for the standing tree, many
wonder just how the wood economy works.
In the course of growing beautiful big trees with high value, hardwood flooring becomes an
interesting product because it can be made from the lower quality trees that need to be
removed from the woods. It can be made into a variety of widths and lengths, ranging from
2.25 to 5.25 inches wide or more, and comes in bundles of random lengths, from as short as 2
feet up to 8 feet long. Defects can be readily cut out, while still keeping a usable piece. What’s
more, although oak, cherry and maple seem to be the most widely sold species for flooring in
this region, many others are very durable and attractive for this use.
Can this finished product help pay the cost of getting low value trees out of the woodlot so that
high-quality trees can grow in volume and quality, adding economic value to the land in the
future? Can a mix of labor, powerful equipment, energy and social transactions transform the
biologically complex tree into a useful product at a reasonable cost? The Massachusetts Woodlands
Cooperative, L.L.C. (MWC), a new business established by forest landowners, set out to understand
more about this process, with the goal of evaluating flooring as a value-added business activity
that would help achieve one of its central goals: finding markets to move the low quality trees
out of its members’ woodlot, while practicing high standards of forest stewardship.
1. A Pilot Project: Learning How to Make Hardwood Flooring
The cherry flooring story actually begins when Worthington landowner and founding MWC
member Paul Strasburg delivered a load of 30 logs to Jay Healy’s sawmill at Hall Tavern Farm
in Charlemont. Strasburg had arranged to have lumber sawn out for a woodworking project in
the fall. When the milling yielded more wood than he needed, Strasburg offered the remaining
870 board feet to the fledgling MWC for a pilot project. Eager to experiment with different
production schemes and products in the early stages of its business life, the MWC took on the
A Stewardship-minded Landowner
The Strasburg family had been coming to the Hilltowns for years when a large property came
on the market in mid–1989. They jumped at the opportunity and soon became owners of 297
acres of woods and 25 acres of fields. In the short time that the family has owned the property,
Strasburg has become extremely active in its management. Their forester, Lincoln Fish of
Williamsburg, has developed a forest management plan; local wildlife biologist Molly Hale was
contracted to assess the property for wildlife habitat suitability; several timber sales have been
conducted with the goal of improving the quality of the remaining stands or diversifying
wildlife habitat; and boundaries have been maintained. The family has hosted workshops and
tours in their woods, welcoming visitors to see and discuss their work. In a clear demonstration of
their stewardship convictions, the Strasburgs deeded a conservation restriction on the property
to the Hilltown Land Trust; now the land can never be developed.
The low to medium-low quality cherry trees from
his recent harvest had grown up on the edge of a
hayfield, giving rise to a branchy form and internal
branch scars when the wood was milled. Had this
quality of log been any hardwood species other
than cherry or oak (for which the markets are
strong), it might have fetched between $25 and
$85 per thousand board feet in a conventional
sale. But MWC Board member Jay Healy, bringing
years of his own milling and marketing experience
to the new MWC, advised that the quality of the
cherry would be ideal for a hardwood flooring
project. And so the experiment was launched.
Adding Value at Hall Tavern Farm
Healy’s Hall Tavern Farm includes over 500 acres
of woods and pasture and has been in the family
for 100 years. Managed since 1947, the property
became Massachusetts Tree Farm No.2 in the early
years of that program’s life. Many fellow Tree
Farmers, foresters, school groups and neighbors
have visited the woods and sawmill, but perhaps the highlight of any visit there is the handful
of stately “mast” pines on the property that demonstrate the growth of which this species is
capable. These 35 to 50 inch diameter sentinels won’t ever be cut now, but others, when mature at
22 to 28 inches in diameter, are harvested and brought down through the pasture to the circular
sawmill where they’ll be sawn into the wide pine boards for which the business is known. Over the
years, Healy has worked out a combination of machinery and equipment that allow him to add
value to his timber by selling flooring, trim, beams, slabs and sawdust to customers around the
Pioneer Valley. He’ll also custom mill, dry and plane for those who want to use their own wood.
Because he routinely saws, dries and planes hardwood as well as softwood flooring for his customers,
Healy was well-equipped to handle Strasburg’s load of cherry logs. The wood was first milled
into 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-inch widths and then moved by loader to a small 1,600 board foot capacity
kiln. To control warping in this process, each board must be laboriously “stickered,” or separated
layer by layer with short sticks of wood. Inside the kiln, the moisture content of the cherry
lumber was lowered from 50 to 7 percent over a two-week period. Most hardwood species are
denser than the white pine that Healy typically dries and need more time in the kiln to reach
the standard 7 percent moisture content.
Entrepreneurial Issues
At this point it is worth stating what may seem to be an obvious point to an entrepreneur, but one
that can illuminate the manufacturing process to others. Take any stage of wood production—
whether bucking and limbing the felled tree into useable sections or sawing the first slabs off
the round log at the mill—and the wood that goes into the
process is always bigger in volume than the wood that comes
out. As wood is modified to create the finished piece, bi-products
result: the tree tops that are best left to become forest soil; the
green sawdust created when the saw blade bites through a
board on the sawmill carriage; the steam driven from the
“green” boards by the heat of the kiln, drying and slightly
shrinking the board; the thin curls of planer shavings as the
board surface is evened and smoothed.
The best entrepreneurs are those that not only create and market a fine finished product, but
can capture additional value by finding uses for these bi-products. Bark mulch, animal bedding,
slab wood, steam (for co-generation or space heat), camp wood and various widgets are all
examples of transforming waste into useful products. A strong forest economy, and arguably a
strong business, needs a diversity of product markets to most efficiently make use of the great
human and machine effort (not to mention time) it takes to grow and produce wood products.
By the time the wood was dry and then sent on to Healy’s planer, the MWC had encountered
another basic principle of wood processing: moving wood through various manufacturing steps
can be labor- or machinery-intensive, and thus costly. Strategic planning in this arena would
be important to the MWC’s eventual economic viability.
Few wood businesses in this region contain all the manufacturing steps it takes to make flooring,
and Healy routinely “out-sources” molding work to another local business. Main Street
Millwork in Greenfield added the final step in the flooring process, turning 814 board feet of
planed, dry cherry into tongue-and-groove flooring boards. The finished pieces ranged from
2.25” to 5.25” widths, including a grooving pattern on the underside that allows the board to
expand and contract with seasonal humidity. When custom-molding for another producer,
Main Street Millwork leaves the tasks of defecting, sorting, sizing and grading to the customer.
Marketing Locally
Once the fruits of the Coop’s first pilot project were carefully stored, the MWC was ready to
make a sale. In early discussions about forming a forestry cooperative, the founding group saw
internet technology as a means to help organize and conduct business between a group of forest
landowners and its markets. Never before has it been so possible to communicate with members,
track and coordinate management and harvest information, track sales by individual members
and market a product so efficiently. Having designed a new website in recent months, the
MWC spread the word that it was open for business.
The founding group had also anticipated a receptive customer base for its locally grown and
sustainably managed forest products. Much work has already been done in this region to raise
awareness about the economic and ecological choices consumers make when they buy food
from nearby farms. So, buying wood from nearby forests wasn’t much of a leap for Ben Letcher
and Emily Monosson of Montague Center. In the first stage of a home renovation project, the
couple had purchased native hardwood flooring from Bannish Lumber in Westfield. They were
very pleased with the “look” of the lesser-known silver maple, the price, and their support of a
nearby business. When they were ready to tackle the next project phase which entailed a new
kitchen floor, the MWC’s Worthington flooring was just the ticket.
Quality, Not Quantity
Most of the hardwood flooring marketplace is driven by commodity businesses, and typically
the way to make money on this type of production is to achieve efficiencies of scale. The
MWC, unable to compete with large producers, is banking not on commodity production, but
on selling a “differentiated” product that is grown on well-managed lands, manufactured by
local businesses and retailed to customers nearby. Theirs is wood with a story. The MWC’s
recent completion of Forest Stewardship Council certification now gives it an internationally
recognized high forestry standard that differentiates sustainable harvests from those that are
not. Because MWC members care about treating their forests right, they believe some segment
of the customer base will, too, and be willing to pay for this green-certified product.
A Look at the Numbers
With the floor beautifully installed in Montague Center, it was time for the MWC to analyze
the project as a business enterprise. What were the costs at each step of the way? Could the
Coop make enough money to recoup these costs and keep the business running? Would the
landowner’s profit share create an incentive for other landowners to join the MWC so it can
grow to an optimal size? The answer to the production part of this question was relatively easy
to come by. The more elusive part was how much overhead the new MWC needs to effectively
operate and grow.
While the cherry logs were being transformed at Healy’s sawmill, the MWC conducted some
flooring price research around western Massachusetts. In October of 2002, prices for 2.25”
unfinished cherry flooring ranged
from a low of $4.75 per square foot to
Hardwood Flooring Production
a high of $5.50 per square foot. For
Based on 870 bf of logs, converted to 814 bf of
pre-finished stock (flooring that comes
lumber, converted to 757 sq ft of installed flooring.
with multiple coats of urethane, done
by the manufacturer rather than post
installation), the prices were $7.99 to
Retail price: $4.00/sq ft, or $3.73 $/bd ft*
$8.29 per square foot in the same
Flooring value: $3,036.00
period. (Letcher and Monosson spent
$1.66 per square foot to have their floor
sanded and treated after installation.)
For the purposes of their pilot project,
the MWC reasoned that it could sell
its cherry flooring at a conservative
$4.00 per square foot, considering
that the burden of sorting for grade,
trimming out defect, and end-trimming
for fit was on the customer. This price
would give the new business a point
from which to begin the project’s
Margin (projected 33%)
Overhead (estimated)
PROFIT (estimate)
*NOTE: During production, wood is usually measured in board feet.
When sold as flooring, it is measured in square feet of coverage. For
this example, the $4.00 per square foot is roughly equal to $3.73 per
board foot. The 0.25-inch “tongue” width of one board nests inside
the “groove’ of the next board, and is essentially lost.
Production Costs
The first cost was for the standing trees,
paid to Strasburg at $.41 per board
foot (or $410 per thousand board feet).
Instead of putting the trees out to bid,
as is the preferred convention, the
MWC paid Strasburg a fair market
price for the 870 board feet of cherry
logs, calculated as an average from the last three quarterly Southern New
England Stumpage Reports, for sales west of the Connecticut River.
Other processing costs totaled $1.36 per board foot and included harvesting, milling, drying, planing, molding and trucking. Generally,
these costs can be improved when efficient machinery, skillful workmanship, efficient handling and economies of scale are employed. The
MWC anticipates that trucking distances will be small, but because it
aims to coordinate harvests among its members, careful planning will
be essential. Total production costs came to $1.77 per board foot.
Because it’s too early to know its routine costs of doing business (e.g.
rent, utilities, insurance, inventory holding, storage), the MWC must
begin with an educated prediction. Conversations with experts in the
regional wood industry point to a rule of thumb: for every $1.00 of production costs, a business typically needs another $.50 to cover sales, administration, and business
overhead. Using this rule of thumb, the required margin above production costs is another 50
percent of those costs to break even. To make a profit, the retail price must be higher.
Theoretically, if the MWC can cover its overhead costs at $.60 per board foot, then in this scenario,
a profit of $1.07 per board foot would result. The effective stumpage price for Strasburg would
increase when and if the MWC has positive after-tax net income. He would then receive 70
percent of his share of this profit, which is proportional to his MWC patronage for that year.
A Caution: Red Maple Is Not Black Cherry
Before jumping to lofty conclusions, it is worth noting a few key points. The story on cherry
flooring yields particularly good news because the market demand for this species is strong.
One important question to ask is whether consumers would pay $4.00 per square foot for red
maple, black birch, beech and other lesser-known and lesser-valued local woods. These “underdog
species” have physical properties that are well-suited to flooring, and would cost the same to
produce, except that the stumpage price to the landowner would be substantially lower than
cherry. In October of 2002, the two local businesses that had any of these species in a grade
comparable to what the MWC hopes to mill, quoted prices from $2.50 to $2.70 per square
foot, just barely covering the total costs of $2.66 per square foot in the pilot project. Healy
still thinks there is some profit to be made in the hardwood grades between pallet and veneer,
at a price below cherry, but above the existing under-valued species. The MWC hopes to fill
that price gap by differentiating its product as locally grown and green-certified.
A few more cautions about making a business decision from this project. The lower the log grade,
the lower the board foot yield, and thus an increase in cost. The MWC estimated $.29 per
board foot in sales and administration, but it will need to learn more about this and its overhead
costs through subsequent test projects. Further, any number of external factors in the marketplace
can change, necessitating a recalculation of the income, costs and margin.
Who Benefits?
Let’s return now to the original purpose for examining the flooring market: the MWC aims to
move low value and undervalued species out of the woods, so that over the long haul, landowners
can grow valuable trees and pay the costs of exemplary stewardship in the woods.
For a sustainable managed forest landscape, a local hardwood flooring market could be judged a
success even if it could only cover the costs of producing and selling the product. New jobs would
be added to the economy and dollars would circulate within nearby communities. The woods
would not be “high-graded,” and all the amenities derived from this resource could proliferate:
clean water, clean air, biological diversity. What’s more, out there in the woods the straight and
sturdy trees would be quietly growing a little faster. And it is here that the
landowner is truly gaining in his long-term investment because these trees are
not only increasing in size, but in quality.
From the new Coop’s perspective, the hardwood flooring market would be a
success if it fetches a wide enough margin for the MWC to stay in business.
At the same time it needs to return some modest profit to its members for
going the extra mile on management practices in the woods. After all, it must
nourish its reputation for exemplary management to help sell its forest products.
If this profile points to any conclusion, it’s that the forest landscape, the local
wood economy, the MWC and its members stand to gain from a customgrown hardwood flooring market.
2. A New Business Relies On Sustainable Forestry
for the Local Economy
Three years ago, a group of forest landowners became convinced that the
problem of many small, privately-owned parcels was, in fact, an opportunity
for them and for the region. Just as produce growers create agricultural cooperatives to strengthen their bargaining power, pool their resources, and add
value to their products, so could forest growers use the cooperative structure to
help themselves and the local economy. They recognized that many residents of
the western counties strongly support sustainable development and communitybased enterprise. Their efforts led to the creation of the Massachusetts Woodlands
Cooperative, L.L.C. (MWC), whose mission is “to maintain the environment
and character of Western Massachusetts through the protection, enhancement,
and careful economic development of one of the region’s most plentiful
resources, the forest.”
As the founding group was first meeting to explore their shared vision, they
decided to do some homework, which included researching similar efforts in
Wisconsin and Vermont where sustainable forestry cooperatives have been
certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. But the landowners needed to
learn about more than good forestry practices. They needed to learn about the
business of selling trees. The landowners formed a steering committee to direct
their activities and a committee of experts in forestry, business management,
marketing, and cooperatives to advise them. Support came from many sources,
including the University of Massachusetts, the state’s Department of
Environmental Management, the Massachusetts Forest Stewardship Program,
and the Cooperative Development Institute.
Slowly, the vision took shape. The cornerstones of this vision were improving
the profitability of abundant, lower value woods; managing their lands according
to the Forest Stewardship Council’s third-party green certification standards;
and doing business within the local economy as much as possible. Educational
services were also to play a key role, providing members with referrals on contractors, training sessions and workshops. The group also strove to build internet
and geographic information system technology into their plans for a state-ofthe-art management system.
In addition to copious research and planning, the founding group needed to
gauge how much interest there was in their idea. So in the summer of 2000,
nearly 1,000 of the region’s small landowners were surveyed about joining a
cooperative. Nearly a third of respondents indicated a substantial interest, and
more than half wanted to know more. This outreach and
its response gave the group impetus to clarify its vision
and define the scope of the business. With the help of a
local lawyer, the Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative
was incorporated as an L.L.C. in 2001.
MWC reached a milestone in the spring of 2003 when it
received its Forest Stewardship Council green certification.
With this green stamp of approval, the MWC is now ready
to grow in membership and experience. Now at 24 members
with over 3,000 acres, the MWC is in the process of gaining
operational and business experience by conducting small
pilot projects that will help them to understand the costs
and profitability of different enterprises. Some material is
for sale on their website and more will be displayed there
as activity increases.
3. Adding Value with Green Certification
What and Why?
Green certification is a relatively new conservation tool that uses a market-based approach to
encourage sustainable forestry. Several different systems have developed over the last 15 years,
with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) leading the way. It was founded in 1993 with the
support of environmental groups and began developing standards that would be used worldwide to identify sustainable forest management. This most stringent of green labels relies on
independent third-party verification of its certificate holders.
FSC’s standards of excellence incorporate a series of guidelines for each of the following ten
principles (from the abridged version):
Meet all applicable laws
Have legally established, long-term forest management rights
Recognize and respect the rights of indigenous peoples
Maintain the economic and social well-being of local communities
Conserve the forest’s economic resources
Protect biological diversity
Have a written management plan
Engage in regular monitoring
Conserve primary forests and well-developed secondary forests
Manage plantations so as to alleviate pressures on natural forests
What do private landowners think?
Before the MWC incorporated in 2001, it conducted a survey of 1,000 forest landowners in
western Massachusetts that managed their land according to an approved forest management
plan. The survey was designed to gauge their interest in a range of forest-related topics and to
understand what type of business activities they thought a cooperative might provide for them.
Sixty-seven per cent of respondents expressed interest in marketing green certified or
Massachusetts sustainably grown wood through a cooperative. This prompted the founding
group to set green certification among the highest priorities for the new business. Becoming
FSC certified through an organization
(rather than acre by acre) may be particularly interesting to the thousands of small
ownerships in the region because the
assessment cost can be prohibitive on
such small acreages. With this in mind,
the MWC has had to develop a protocol
for tracking activity on member lands,
helping new members meet the standards,
and demonstrating to the third party
auditing team that all is going according
to standards. Supported by grants to
develop this model, the MWC has been
able to keep the cost to individual
landowner members very low.
FSC-Certified Forests
As of December 2003
Massachusetts Entity
Acres Certified
MA Woodlands Cooperative
New England Forestry Foundation
Hull Forest Products
Current Total in Massachusetts
State lands (in progress)
Expected Total in Massachusetts by 2004
New England/New York
North America
While skeptics may question the added
layer of bureaucracy to the FSC system,
proponents argue that the system can help
to raise society’s forestry standards. For
Massachusetts, a state already shouldering a high level of regulation and oversight with its
Forest Cutting Practices, Forest Taxation Laws and Forest Stewardship Program, FSC certification
isn’t such a far reach for those who are already aiming for the very best forestry.
A Variety of Reasons to Certify
For the MWC, FSC certification was a practical way to communicate common high standards
among members and a way to recognize those standards in the market place. Through its mission
and operating principles, the new Cooperative has provided its members much of the monitoring,
local economy and ecosystem management context that accreditation requires.
For Hull Forest Products, a landowning and forest products business in Connecticut and
Massachusetts, FSC certification was a means to demonstrate its commitment to long term forest
management, especially in the eyes of local conservation organizations. For, without these
groups’ purchase of development rights, Hull Forest Products could not have afforded to buy over
7,000 acres of forest up for sale in Massachusetts. With this company as owner, and conservation
groups holding the development rights, these woods will continue to grow trees in perpetuity.
The state of Massachusetts pioneered the use of FSC certification on its MDC-Quabbin lands as a
way to demonstrate its commitment to the highest standards of forestry. For many years it has faced
controversy from preservationists who don’t believe that forest management is compatible with
water quality protection. The independent, third-party monitoring system has helped to lessen the
conflict and deepen the trust between managers and the public. The Division of Fisheries and
Wildlife has followed suit for similar reasons and is now in the process of certification. A third
landowning agency, the Department of Recreation & Conservation (formerly the Department of
Environmental Management) has received harsh criticism for its lack of management and many see
FSC certification as a way to plan for timely management, as well as to demonstrate to the state’s
environmental agency and the legislature that good management requires adequate resources.
Prospects for Our Region
As of 2003, global demand for FSC-certified wood products is strong, but the biggest markets
are in Europe. There it is more the norm to specify green certified wood in building projects
than not. That demand has not appeared here yet, though proponents say it is coming, and
that the supply has to reach a critical mass before the demand can be reliably met.
In the New York-New England area, a total of 2,700,000 acres have been FSC-certified. Here
in Massachusetts the MDC-Quabbin was the first ownership to become certified in 1997 with
several others to follow since then. This will make for a total of more than 500,000 acres in the
Commonwealth alone by 2004. Experts report that in some markets FSC certified wood is
available, but is siphoned into non-certified markets or not marketed as certified. Does critical
mass mean that people willing to ask/search for it can find it within a specific radius from their
home? Or that it is available at mainstream retail stores? By virtually any standard, there is
room for growth in accessibility to certified wood, but at the same time the opportunities to
purchase certified wood have dramatically increased over the last few years.
4. Flooring Today, Fine Furniture Tomorrow?
At the beginning of a new millennium, does Massachusetts have the foresight to make near-term
investments in its forest landowners and wood economy infrastructure that could translate into
a stronger wood economy in the future?
Individual landowners who aim to grow valuable saw timber need to conduct periodic thinnings
and prunings in the early life of a forest stand, to improve the growing conditions for the best
trees to thrive. These “intermediate treatments” may often earn the landowner some income,
but there is no guarantee. Sometimes the removal of surrounding trees is just a break-even
proposition, or in the case of pruning limbs off pole-size trees to
grow clear lumber, it is an out-of-pocket cost. The landowner
makes these near term investments with the assumption that the
payoff will come later when the “crop” trees have increased in
value and volume when they are harvested at maturity.
As the accompanying profile on hardwood flooring suggests,
an infusion of wood product markets to deal with the lower
quality material now, would pave the way for a higher-value
industry in the future, for example, fine furniture or veneer.
The higher quality the trees, the greater the profit margins along
the way, and that would be good for the region’s economy. It
would seem to be in the State’s economic interest to foster the
development of markets for low quality wood and give incentives
for landowners to do the necessary improvement thinnings.
One individual in the region was willing to envision the future and act on it. The beloved forestry
professor, Dr. David Smith, as director of the Yale School Forests, used to describe to his students
the abundance of pole-size hardwood trees that comprised much of the Southern New England
forests in the 1940s and 50s. These were the trees that had established themselves underneath the
white pine canopy, the dominant timber species at the time. The pine industry had flourished
in the early 1900s, but was in decline from heavy harvests and its susceptibility to blowdown
during the Hurricane of 1938.
Many in the wood industry wanted to use herbicides to try to control the hardwoods and
reestablish the then more desirable pine. But Professor Smith saw the hardwoods as healthy
young trees, growing at a reasonable rate, and counseled foresters to grow what “wants” to
grow there naturally. When some lamented that the region’s sawmills only milled pine, Smith
countered that the infrastructure and markets for hardwoods would follow if the quality was
good. Many of those hardwood poles that were left to grow are the mature oaks that fetch
among the highest prices in the region’s marketplace.
5. Using Your Own Wood
For those who love the smell of freshly milled lumber or the feel and look of a newly planed board,
building something from trees growing on their own land can be immensely rewarding. A shed, a
floor, a lovely piece of furniture becomes a cherished product, crafted from the surrounding woods.
Montague Center residents Ben Letcher and Emily Monosson (and new owners of the MWC
cherry floor) had an unusual opportunity to use their family’s own wood resource without even
owning forestland. Their village home sits on a quarter-acre lot, and when a high wind brought
down one fork of a huge, open-grown sugar maple in the backyard, they wondered if they
could salvage any of the massive boles. Following a lead on a local portable sawmill owner,
Letcher contacted Andy Peura, also of Montague, who would look the job over. In this case,
the small yard and working space made it easier for Peura to load the log onto his truck and
mill it back in his yard. For about $.35 per board foot, Peura milled out 500 board feet into
one-inch thick boards, ranging up to 14 inches wide.
Letcher and Monosson had hoped to build kitchen cabinets and a table in the coming winter, so
needed to kiln-dry the maple lumber first. Forest Products Associates in Greenfield, a dry-kiln and
lumber retailer that Letcher patronizes, could custom-dry the 300 board feet of lumber that Letcher
wanted for their projects, as long as he was willing to wait until his relatively small batch of lumber
could be combined with another requiring the same drying schedule. Forest Products Associates
charged $0.35 per board foot, which Letcher happily paid. So far his out-of-pocket cost for this
windfall was $.70 per board foot—not bad when the going price for unplaned dried stock can be
$3.00 to $4.00 per board foot. With a woodworking shop full of tools, Letcher and Monosson would
do the rest of the job, and their growing children would see first-hand where wood comes from.
Five years ago, Marcia and Dick Starkey left the encroaching urban sprawl in Worcester County
for a quieter rural lifestyle on the outskirts of Greenfield. When clearing brush in the overgrown
barnyard of their new home, Marcia discovered a pile of cherry lumber that years before had
been carefully stacked and stickered. Sorting through the pile, she discovered that much of the
wood had rotted when moisture invaded the old covering. In spite of this, the Starkeys, both
thrifty and tantalized by the prospect of a beautiful cherry floor, sifted through the pile to find
enough boards for a small sun porch floor in the house. The wood was included in a batch sent
over the border to Kerber Farms in Guilford, Vermont. There the boards were sized, planed and
molded into flooring. At a minimal cost, the Starkeys had the satisfaction of reclaiming wood that
had been harvested nearby and putting it to a new use.
The Forest as Setting
f the first two enterprises depicted here have one thing in common, it’s
forests with a view. Both Patchwork Farm Writing Retreat and Stump
Sprouts Guest Lodge & Cross Country Ski Center are located high on
forested or meadowed hillsides, with expansive views over the landscape
that we know and love as western Massachusetts. Both business owners are
forest landowners with creativity, vision and dedication to land stewardship.
Both are enrolled in the State’s current use program (Chapter 61) which
makes property taxes on these open spaces affordable. With an ownership
emphasis on aesthetics and recreation, the management of these forest
properties complements and enhances the livelihoods that are made here.
Patchwork Farm Writing Retreat is a relatively new business that nurtures writers with the forest
as a setting. Drawing writers from around the region and beyond, it lives up to the Hilltowns’
reputation as a home to writers, musicians and artists who earn a creative living tucked away
in these wooded hills. Stump Sprouts, a business almost three decades old, is emblematic of the
hiking and skiing opportunities for which the region is known—not the drama of the mountains
to the north, but the pleasure of a more intimate, rolling landscape that was once inhabited by
hilltop farms and woodlots.
Klaus Land Improvements illustrates the sort of woods business that supports the long term
aesthetic, wildlife, and quality timber values that stewardship-minded landowners seek. Yet the
enhancement of these values doesn’t always produce a merchantable product, and so developing a
viable business is not easy. A maple sugaring operation helps to keep this entrepreneur productive
in the sugarhouse at a time of year when most large machinery should be out of the woods.
The potential to expand tourism in the region is explored, first by looking at
two businesses that blend well with the working landscape. Blue Heron Farm
has found success in diversification over its three decades, varying a combination
of livestock and crop-based enterprises. With a focus today on maple syrup,
Norwegian Fjord horses and meat goats, its owners have added in four rental
units for farm stay vacations. High Pocket Farm Bed & Breakfast, a newer
business, offers guest accommodations for people and riding horses in the farm
and forest-studded landscape where it sits.
Then, by looking at other New England tourist regions with reputed trail networks, the opportunity to develop tourism through regional collaboration is
considered. One corner of our region has just begun promoting ecotourism in
the North Quabbin Woods with the formation of an Ecotourism Task Force.
One strategy identified by this group of local stakeholders resulted in the
North Quabbin Guide Training Program. Graduates of this new program are
now looking at ways to market their businesses outside of their area.
F O R E S T- B A S E D
1. Nurturing Creativity on a Wooded Hillside
When her writing groups gather in the cozy, south-facing cottage, high in the
center of her woods, Patricia Lee Lewis wants her students to feel the nearness
of trees, sky and earth. The sighting of the cabin and its abundant windows
looking southeast to the Holyoke Range makes these elements feel very present.
She wants to embrace the many writers who attend writing workshops or
retreats with a setting that is “nature in its own terms.” No overly manicured
woods, nor freshly cut stumps.
A Writer and Her Business
The forested mountainside on which these workshops are conducted is central
to the experience writers have at Patchwork Farm Retreat. At the mid-day break, participants
typically walk the network of trails that lace the property and often spend reflective time there
as well. Urban writers respond to the special qualities of the woods with particularly strong
writing. For those who live in more rural areas and are familiar with natural settings, they too,
often weave trees, stones, mosses, birds, wind and quality of light at Patchwork Farm into
poems, short stories and novels. Writers from all backgrounds are enriched and renewed as
they walk, sit, listen and allow their imaginations to be inspired by time in the woods.
Lewis hasn’t always earned her living from Patchwork Farm Retreat, though she has owned the
land since the mid-1970s. Known in this region for her dedication to social and economic justice
through public service, Lewis made a mid-life change in profession to develop her own writing
and teaching talents. She turned to the peace and beauty of her own woods as a place to nurture
her new enterprise. Today Lewis leads two writing workshops each week for about half the
year, and one weekend writing retreat each month. These gatherings are held in her cozy home.
The other half of the year, she leads week-long writing retreats offsite in Mexico, Scotland and
Costa Rica.
Like most beautiful spots with a view, access to Patchwork Farm Retreat is up a long, steep road
and can be challenging in the winter. So as not to put her writing students through the terror
of an icy driveway, she has held winter sessions at a location down in town, but it just didn’t
have the right feel—a testimony to the forest setting and its gentle inspiration. Lewis’ scheduling
solution to this dilemma is partly solved by leading the Mexico retreat in the winter, but she
would like to find ways of earning additional income in the winter.
The Practical Side of Forest Management
The 103 acres of Patchwork Farm have been enrolled in Chapter 61 since 1979, which has
made the property taxes on her Tree Farm affordable at $1,200 per year. It is managed according
to a forest management plan developed first in 1978 and subsequently revised every ten years.
The most recent version—a Forest Stewardship Plan—addresses more than wood production
and is a better reflection of her current management goals. Over the past 24 years, management
has included: a hemlock harvest to build two rustic cabins; a cordwood harvest of poor quality
trees from a 20 acre area; a timber stand improvement cutting over much of the property; and
the removal of mature, toppling spruce, originally planted as a windbreak. The enlightened
Stewardship Plan called for a series of walking trails that were created and then maintained each
year as a cost of her writing retreat business. A clearing created by the 1988 logging operation has
been kept open for wildlife.
Even though logging and firewood operations have grossed $27,000 in revenue (an average of
$1,125 per year), Lewis reports that she has spent more than that on the trail cost-share, repairs
needed from road damage and other operating costs. But she is quick to add that if annual
property tax savings due to enrollment in Chapter 61 for 24 years were taken into account, that
net loss would no doubt turn into a net gain.
Meeting Aesthetic & Wildlife Goals
In spite of all the timber-related planning and management, wood production is not Lewis’ ultimate
management goal. Although she doesn’t shy away from timber harvesting in general, for her
purposes it’s the big trees that she wants to grow—not cut. What Lewis most wants is a management plan in the service of her aesthetics goals. She envisions shifting her plan so that its
central emphasis is on special wooded and open areas, such as the pond, meadow, large mature
trees, boulder fields and standing stones that are integral to the retreat experience. Around
these areas some careful aesthetic landscape design work could be done, including places to sit
protected from insects, to write and to observe.
Patchwork Farm Retreat integrates trail use with the workshop experience, bringing participants
a step deeper into connection with the woods. Not long ago a property trail map was developed
for Lewis depicting the network that reaches through her 103 acres to special places that might
otherwise be missed. For now she’s conceded some bright yellow signs at trail junctions in the
woods so that visitors can readily interpret the map. Her goal is for visitors (especially those
from urban settings) to feel comfortable and willing to take risks—an underlying premise with
the writing experience Lewis creates for her students.
Wildlife, of course, is part of nature’s aesthetic. Turkeys wander near her cottage and are visible
from the spacious windows. Signs of moose were spotted in the clearing at the height of her
property. A plan with the central goal of Lewis’ nature aesthetic might propose that her winter
firewood needs come from areas where thinning poor quality competing trees would increase
the growth on the large specimen or wildlife mast trees. Other habitat-enhancing activities
could be woven into her plan, such as reclaiming the fast closing 2-acre clearing that moose
have used. Keeping forest aesthetics fully in mind, any harvesting would be scheduled in the
off seasons when the nature trails receive little use. Timing with an upcoming flush of spring
growth could do much to buffer any signs of woods work.
Because Lewis uses her home as her place of business, she can deduct forty per cent of the
house costs, including heat, electricity, maintenance and road upkeep when filing income
taxes. Many of the land management costs can also be considered business expenses, and this
helps when it comes to defraying the costs of woods work (for example, trail clearing and
maintenance, pond maintenance, insurance, equipment, mowing and weed whacking).
Ideas for Business Expansion
In addition to an explicit shift in forest management goals and the projects that would ensue,
Lewis would also like to create primitive tent sites so that more writers can stay on-site for
overnight retreats. Her idea to build a structure on an existing shed site behind her cottage,
overlooking the valley is a more involved undertaking. This would be the central gathering
place for writing, yoga and other appropriate workshops. This building would have a kitchen,
showers and bathroom facilities to serve nearby cabins and tent sites. Although Lewis’ workshop
schedule is currently as full as she would like, such a building would allow Patchwork Farm
Retreat to be used to a greater capacity by other workshop leaders. This rental income could
take the pressure off of having to use the steep hill in the dead of winter.
Certainly our region is famous for the many writers who found solitude here. Emily Dickinson,
William Cullen Bryant, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Robert Frost all nurtured
their creativity in quiet woods of this area. Owing to her talent as a creative writer and teacher,
Lewis would likely have a successful business in another setting. Yet she probably couldn’t
afford to cultivate the trails and forest aesthetics she has, without being able to justify it as a
business expense. Lewis keeps her land undeveloped and healthy, and the woods in return offer
a setting that supports her economic productivity. Thus, Patchwork Farm Retreat passes on the
region’s tradition of nurturing creativity.
2. Year-round
Recreation and More
Creating a Business from
With 25 years of experience in the
business, Lloyd and Suzanne Crawford
are in a good position to reflect on the
use of private forests for recreational
enterprises. Established on a 450-acre
former hilltop farm in Hawley, the
young Crawfords started Stump
Sprouts Cross Country Ski Center
back in 1977, on land that his grandparents had purchased the decade
before. After earning a degree in Natural Resources and a few years apprenticing to a family-owned
environmental education facility that did cross country ski programs in Northern Michigan,
Crawford knew this was the business he wanted to establish in Hawley. The late 1970s was a good
time to open a ski touring center because this sport was relatively new in the United States and
increasing in popularity. With the Crawfords’ children now reaching college age, they, too, have
grown up and contributed to the business. Stump Sprouts is truly an inter-generational enterprise.
With a trail system established early on in 1977, the family set about transforming the original
barn into a multi-purpose space that could accommodate banquets, large meetings, parties and
game space. Using logs harvested from their own woods, they next built a cozy rustic guest
lodge with the capacity to house 20 in its bunk rooms, dining room and kitchen. In later years,
three more guest rooms were added to the farmhouse and these accommodations have become
the bread-and-butter of Stump Sprouts.
This is true for several reasons. First, New England winter skiing conditions fluctuate from year
to year, even though at its high elevation Stump Sprouts claims some of the best natural snow
conditions in the region. Second, Crawford learned pretty early on that while people aren’t
accustomed to paying for the actual costs of maintaining trails and a parking lot, they will readily
pay for food and lodging, and so these services underwrite the outdoor experience. Finally,
Crawford observes that people really like to be with friends in a rustic and open environment.
He feels that hotels wall off people from one another and don’t offer enough inviting spaces to
simply hang out. The visitors that return year after year like nothing better than to eat tasty
food, sleep in simple accommodations, and enjoy the outdoors in each other’s weekend company.
Add organic flower and vegetable gardens, a wood-fired sauna and an extensive network of
trails, and you have a forest-based business that draws a couple thousand people to the region
each year.
Marketing the Business
With guest lodging as the primary economic activity, when winter rolls around, Crawford has
learned to market winter weekends instead of ski weekends. He wisely promotes nearby attractions
—down hill skiing at nearby Berkshire East, skating on state forest ponds, snowshoeing in the
surrounding forests—should the cross-country skiing be compromised by weather. In fairer
weather, hiking, mountain biking, white-water rafting on the Deerfield River or fishing are
popular activities. Many groups return to use the lodge for two or three day Board retreats,
yoga and meditation workshops, country weddings, family reunions and other special events.
With a store of happy customers built up over the years, marketing consists of an email to each
of his loyal clientele to confirm whether they want the same weekend for the upcoming year.
Although much of this customer base accrued before internet technology, Crawford says that
the internet is helpful in one particular way: the use of color
photography is now affordable, and it greatly enhances his
ability to portray the Stump Sprouts setting, for its views and
environs are its most stunning asset. Although Stump Sprouts
is unique, it is not, of course, the only beautiful hilltop setting
in the region. For guest lodging that offers a quiet get-away in
an informal and lovely setting, Crawford feels there is an
untapped potential. If the ever-accelerating pace of our society is
any indication, the urge to retreat to a comfortable place in the
country will grow proportionally, and Crawford’s prediction will
be proven true.
Forest Management: Trail Clearing & Firewood
With 450 acres of hillside, Stump Sprouts is laced with 16 miles
of trails that serves both winter and summer activity. Some are
double-tracked, some single. All must be maintained each year.
Preseason trail work takes about 100 hours each year, usually
taking place after leaf-fall. To cut back encroaching growth and
remove fallen trees or limbs, a variety of small equipment is
used, including a small walk-behind sickle bar mower, chainsaws and brush saws. A small bulldozer is used for stump removal, drainage maintenance and
skidding logs.
The property is enrolled in Chapter 61, but the fact that trails and aesthetics are the most
important goals to this landowner makes Chapter 61 an awkward fit with its focus on timber
production. Equally awkward would be enrollment in Chapter 61B (habitat and recreational use)
because this outdated section of the law assumes that recreational areas do not use harvesting as
a management tool to enhance aesthetics or wildlife habitat. In spite of this, Crawford understands
that there is enough flexibility in a Chapter 61 plan to stay in the program. The yearly removal of
17 to 20 cords of poor quality trees to heat Stump Sprouts has slowly improved growing conditions
for the once heavily cut-over land. In future years when quality timber becomes mature, perhaps
some careful harvests can contribute to the business’ long-term revenue picture.
Perspective on the Business Climate
Each forest entrepreneur brings his or her own assets to a new business: an inherited family
property, a business passed down, unique talents, a particular vision or philosophy. To create a
business like Stump Sprouts today would require a small fortune to purchase such acreage, even
in very rural Hawley. The fact that his parents could pass along the land to his generation was a
huge hurdle cleared. Crawford also observes that today building codes, water and septic regulations
can be prohibitive, and that he likely couldn’t get the required permits for the very same structures
that he renovated or built 25 years ago. At the same time that environmental protections limit
or forbid development on inappropriate sites, some times they restrict sensible, safe, and lowimpact uses of the land (the Crawfords have five buildings on 450 acres). When this is the case,
it is a potential loss to a vibrant and lasting rural economy.
Asked if any small business support might have been helpful to him over the years, he replied that
even though he’s had to “go it alone,” he hasn’t really minded. He did develop a business plan years
back and thought it useful even though the business didn’t exactly follow his blue print. As for
state programs, he admitted that he’s starting to sound like an old-timer at the relatively young
age of 50, but he’d rather be left alone: that is, no more regulations, thank you.
The Future
The Crawfords now run a mature business that gives them a decent living and the lifestyle they
choose. Raised on the wooded slopes and meadows of Stump Sprouts, the two Crawford children
have “come of age” in the family business. Now with the oldest in college, Crawford would
love to see one or both of them make a living at Stump Sprouts, but not before taking in more
of the world. He wants reassurance that returning here is a clear choice among alternatives,
rather than a default decision. This, of course, will be up to them and their vocational and
lifestyle leanings. Crawford sees the possibility of other businesses that could coexist nicely
with the current one. This would allow his children—or for that matter, others seeking a location
for a start-up rural enterprise—some flexibility to make a business their own. So far, he says, it
is an open question, but there is time.
3. A Unique Harvesting Niche
Not only is Ed Klaus of Leyden a skilled mechanic who earned
much of his living in a machine shop, but he also grew up working
on farms—repairing ditches, digging stock ponds, clearing land
for fields and tending the land. Add his inquisitive mind to this
mechanical expertise and sensibility for the land, and you have
a vital member of a sustainable wood economy. To manage and
protect the complexities of a forest ecosystem and the myriad
objectives of its many owners, we need a wide variety of tools to
do the job.
Creating a Business Niche with
Small Scale Equipment
Since 1999 when he left his machine shop job to start his own business, Klaus has been creating
wildlife habitat, improving forest stands for timber, processing firewood, sawing boards on his
own small mill, building trails and various other projects. At a time when forestry consultants
report that it is getting harder to find operators who want to do this range of non-commercial
work, Klaus is carving out a niche for himself with an unconventional array of tools. His fleet
consists of a 4-wheeler with a self-loading cordwood trailer, a small farm tractor and winch, a
small rubber-tired skidder, a small chipper, dump truck, and a small manual sawmill. He’ll also
rent crawler tractors and excavators when necessary. This smaller equipment is nicely suited to
the job that he likes most: forest stand improvement work.
Licensed foresters contract with Klaus to create small clearings for wildlife when that activity
is specified in a forest management plan. If the clearing is to be permanent, he can clear and
stump the area and plant biannual grasses that are attractive to wildlife. He’ll build trails and
do the careful work of leaving slash low to the ground, highlighting specimen trees or clearing
some of the understory so people can see through the woods. Another aspect of improvement
work is thinning an immature timber stand, with an eye to removing poor quality and crowded
trees (unless it is a wonderful old den tree). This is an essential activity if a landowner intends
to increase the long-term productivity and quality of a forest.
Service vs. Product Extraction
Unlike logging outfits that are equipped to remove quantities of large merchantable logs, Klaus
provides a service and as such, has not designed his business around the economics of wood
extraction. With an eye to what’s remaining in the stand, his “finished product” is the creation
of forest conditions that improve aesthetics, habitat, recreational use or future timber value. To
this end, he charges an hourly rate because there may be no stumpage purchase driving the
transaction. Are people willing to pay for this service? Over the years, traditional government
incentive payments were focused strictly on timber production, but since the early 1990s they
have expanded to cost-share wildlife habitat improvements, for example, which do not generate
any wood products. In this sense, society
has recognized the value of non-extractive
services and become willing to share
these costs with landowners.
By charging an hourly rate, Klaus doesn’t
rely on the removal of products to make a
job financially viable. However, when the
management prescription includes the
possibility of firewood or a few small
sawlogs that Klaus can mill back at home,
it lessens the cost of the work for the
landowner. In this way much of the tree is
utilized, the remaining tangle of slash left
on the ground is minimal and the aesthetics
of the stand is better.
Without strong and diverse wood product
markets, this type of business will thrive
only on landowners’ willingness to pay
well for a service. Notably, homeowners
have grown accustomed to paying dearly
for shade tree removal and other landscaping services, but when it comes to
larger acreages in the woods, folks aren’t
accustomed to paying. Yet without the
services that Klaus offers, forest landowners
cannot realize the full value of their timber,
wildlife habitat and aesthetics.
Strategic Cash Flow with Maple Sugaring
Most land-based businesses have a “down” time, and for most conscientious woods operators,
it is mud season. To keep the income flowing, Klaus began a maple sugaring operation 17 years
ago. He and his wife own and live on 13 acres, and most of this is a mature maple sugarbush.
In recent years he’s averaged 25 gallons and markets this to both retail and wholesale outlets.
Testimony to his stewardship ethic, he didn’t tap out this year because his maples had an infestation
of pear thrips and leaf miner on top of drought, though he was able to buy sap in the neighborhood.
In 1999 Klaus was an early adopter of the small diameter health spouts for his plastic tubing system.
He likes them a lot because the smaller holes are fast-healing, the tap hole injury is less, and more
of the sapwood remains available to transport sap instead of being relegated to forming scar tissue.
Klaus’ low-impact equipment is ideal for thinning work within the sugarbush. With slash kept low
to the ground and room in the canopy for large crowns, the aesthetics of the Klaus’ forest is striking.
Future Directions
Eager to make his business thrive, Klaus has already taken advantage of business training courses
at Franklin Community Development Corporation and received help from a retiree to build a
website. He’s also attended the Game of Logging (a logger training and safety course with a
national reputation for excellence) and makes use of the internet to be in touch with others
doing related work. What would make a significant difference to his young business would be
affordable loans. With banks charging 13% or 14% interest for small business loans, Klaus is
reluctant to borrow. For rates under 10% he would take out a loan and make changes to his
equipment line-up that would allow him to keep his light touch in the woods, but spend less
time on maintenance and building equipment in the shop.
Still in the formative stages of his business, Klaus is not fully settled on which direction to go.
He likes doing low-impact improvement work and has plenty of it, but knows that to boost his
income he needs to be successful at value-adding. Already he’s experimented with a number of
options: lumber, hand hewn beams, rustic furniture, and selling specialty pieces to artisans. As
a member of the new Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative, L.L.C, (MWC) Klaus should be
able to benefit from this group’s growing network of landowners, wood processors and niche
markets. At the same time his flexible and low-impact equipment is an important asset to the
MWC in bringing small volumes out of the woods. Feeling more at home in the woods than
in the confines of his old job, Klaus intends to disprove his co-workers’ prediction that he’ll
end up back in the shop. He’d also like to leave a thriving business for his sons. For the forests’
sake, we need to keep Klaus and others like him productive and thriving in their businesses.
4. Tourism for the Working Landscape
Western Massachusetts has a number of rural bed & breakfasts, inns, farm vacations and campgrounds that cater to people looking to spend the night in the country. These businesses are
often small-scale operations run by resident families, and each has its unique combination of
setting, facilities and services. With core assets of abundant public land, even more private
land, miles of public trail networks, historic villages and geological formations, the region’s
rural landscape could support more tourism.
The key question is: what kind of tourism? Would upscale resorts be compatible with working
forests and farms? Would a Disney-like theme park fit the brand of tourism that The International
Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the
environment and sustains the well-being of local people?” Local examples of this so-called
“ecotourism” demonstrate particularly well how lodging can reflect the character and traditions
of the countryside at the same time that they welcome visitors to enjoy the area.
Two Local Businesses
Blue Heron Farm in Charlemont, run by Norma Coli with parttime help from her husband Bill, is an example of a local business
that offers farm stays in one of four rental units. At the heart of
the farming operation is a 3,000 tap certified organic sugaring
business. The majority of the taps used are the new smaller
diameter type which cause less sapwood staining and which seal
off much more quickly than standard spouts. Other elements of
the farm are a 1/3 acre highbush blueberry patch, a Norwegian
Fjord horse breeding and training program, and a small but
growing herd of Boer (meat) goats. As the Coli’s farm business
has grown over the past 29 years, they have been able to invest
in four fully-furnished units for farm vacation rentals as a way to increase their overall assets
and improve their cash flow. Coli is clear about the unique brand of lodging that Blue Heron
Farm offers: “Farm stays are not entertainment—we simply go about our business and visitors are
welcome to join in.” Although farm work is not required, the Coli’s have been pleased that
many guests, particularly the youngsters, want to help with chores. In the past, guests have
helped with sugaring, brush clearing and burning, haying, blueberry picking, and barn chores.
So far, enough people think this is just the right way to spend time in the country, and the four
units are doing well.
Farm vacation rental units have been added gradually over time. The first one materialized
when in 1984 the Coli’s decided to build a new sugar house. They realized that with the addition
of a kitchen and sleeping area, the new sugarhouse would make a good rental unit for short or
longer term, year-round lodging. The second and third opportunities came when other dwellings
on small adjacent parcels came up for sale. The fourth and most recent unit was built for an aging
parent who needed extra care and was willing to share the building costs with the family.
Because all units were a substantial investment, the Coli’s had to be willing to assume some risk.
A key to these business decisions has been a small local bank that knew them personally.
Unfortunately, it is getting harder to find this type of personal relationship and stake in the
community in today’s banking world.
Coli feels there is potential for more of this type of tourism in the area. Over the years she’s
seen an increase in the number of people wanting to visit or stay in the hill towns. This has
been manifest by over 22,000 “hits” on the web site that the farm launched about three years ago.
Coli feels strongly that accommodations need to be of high quality in order to attract a “high end”
clientele. Sophisticated travelers have come to expect lodgings that are clean, comfortable,
well-furnished and equipped. Although many Blue Heron Farm guests come solely for the peace
and quiet, being situated near a variety of activities such as skiing, hiking, river rafting and tubing,
concerts, fairs, museums and other cultural offerings is also a plus. Though not every landowner
is suited to the interpersonal skills that this kind of endeavor takes, for some it can be a good
opportunity for additional income. Like most successful small farmers, the Coli’s have kept Blue
Heron Farm flexible and diverse over the years, and the farm stay lodgings are just one example
of their entrepreneurial creativity.
Recently, they have been able to expand their sugaring operation and improve the efficiency
of this and other farm operations, by applying to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural
Resources’ Farm Viability Program. After being approved for the program, the Coli’s worked with
a consultant to develop a long term business plan and have placed a 10-year conservation
restriction on their land in exchange for funds to carry
out the business plan. This conservation restriction and
their long-term participation in Chapter 61A are consistent with the Coli’s desire to preserve and protect
the farm and its prime farmland and healthy woods for
future generations.
High Pocket Bed & Breakfast in Colrain is another
example of a small enterprise that makes the most of
its bucolic surroundings by incorporating local trail
use into the experience it offers. This aptly named
business overlooks the Green River valley, northward
into the hills of southern Vermont. With 650 acres of
farm and forestland, its owners, Mark and Sarah
McKusick, created this new business as a strategy for conserving a traditional farmhouse and
the surrounding landscape. What makes their business unique is the possibility for guests to
either board and ride their own horse here, or take a guided trail ride on one of the McKusick
horses, stabled nearby. The McKusicks have optimized trail riding at High Pocket B&B by having
an agreement with neighbors to use their trails as well. With this creative arrangement, they can
offer their guests about 50 miles of trail for riding, hiking, skiing or mountain biking.
5. Adding Value to Tourism through Regional Collaboration
Western Massachusetts may have strong individual businesses to serve visitors, but a locallydriven effort to create trail, river or road-linked networks for nature- and culture-based activities
might be a way to build a regional identity that would draw the right kind of tourists to this
bucolic region. A few examples from New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine can prompt further
thinking in our own region about what might be complementary enterprises within the working
What Neighboring States Are Doing
Inspired by the European alpine hut system,
the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) hutto-hut system in the White Mountains
National Forest is the only one of its kind in the
east. Established in 1922, it has been offering
lodging, food and nature interpretation to hikers
along the Appalachian Trail for decades.
Designed for serious hikers old and young, the
hut program makes spectacular, high elevation
trails accessible to those seeking a longer hike
without having to carry a 60-pound pack
loaded with food and shelter. The 56 miles of trail linking eight huts takes the average person
about eight days to hike, but two to three day trips are common. Today its strong reputation
ensures a steady stream of hikers to this region of New Hampshire.
For a different kind of traveler, Country Inns Along the Trail is a trip-planning enterprise
established in the mid 1970s. It designs self-guided or guided biking, hiking, skiing and snowshoeing trips for individuals or groups. A network of 21 Vermont inns located in the Green
Mountains and Champlain Valley serve these varied trip packages. The business provides services,
including all manner of trip planning, bicycle or car shuttles and tour guides.
In the backcountry of northern Maine, Timberland Trails, Inc. of Conway, New Hampshire
manages recreational leases on 24,000 acres of International Paper timberlands. Along more
than 75 miles of marked wilderness routes, the company has developed a series of 11 yurts and a
rustic lodge to support a tremendous diversity of year-round recreational activities: cross-country
skiing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking,
horseback riding, swimming and hunting. Why yurts? This traditional round dwelling is used
by nomadic herders in Asia, and is wooden-framed, cloth-skinned and portable. When forests
are scheduled for harvest in Phillips Brook Backcountry, any hut that might be impacted by the
operation can be relocated to a quieter, more aesthetic location. The yurts are equipped with
bunk beds and mattresses, a wood-burning stove and a propane cooking stove. A number of
outfitter and guiding businesses also support the recreational activity there.
A Massachusetts Example in the North Quabbin Woods
Back at home, a new vision for ecotourism is taking shape in a cluster of nine towns just north
of the Quabbin Reservoir. Thanks to a major community forestry grant awarded to New
England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), a non-profit committed to the conservation of working
forests, a new initiative was spawned to support the sustainable development of the area’s forest
economy. An Ecotourism Task Force was created as part of this work. Through a series of meetings
facilitated by a marketing specialist, community members on the Task Force were able to work
together to devise strategies to encourage ecotourism in their region, while promoting environmental stewardship. One of these is aimed at boosting the region’s infrastructure for outdoor
guided tours. Thus, NEFF and the local Athol Bird and Nature Club launched the North
Quabbin Guide Training Program.
North Quabbin Guide Training Program
With the long-term hope of building and strengthening the cadre of tour guides in the North
Quabbin Woods, NEFF staff set about developing a guide training curriculum that could be
offered for three consecutive years. They astutely reasoned that if they could draw those with
a deep love and passion for the North Quabbin Woods, it would lead to the best promotion of
the area. With the help of local educators, MA Fish & Wildlife staff, Athol Bird & Nature Club,
hunting and fishing experts, the Task Force mapped out a curriculum covering topics from nav-
igation skills and safety, to natural and cultural history and stewardship; from small business
skills and “leave no trace” practices, to teaching techniques and leadership.
The first class of six participants spent 150 hours in the classroom and field covering the diverse
syllabus. Each was currently a resident of the North Quabbin region or had grown up there.
Some sought to start full time businesses, others seasonal ones, and others still wanted to be
better equipped to lead walks for schools and community groups.
The first North Quabbin Guides graduates have already formed a North Quabbin Guide
Association and are now developing a brochure to promote their businesses and the region.
Over the next couple of years NEFF staff will help trained tour guides with marketing and find
ways to promote lodging and food enterprises—both critical links in the network. With just
four Bed & Breakfasts in the nine-town area, a few more establishments would help to strengthen
the region’s infrastructure for guided tours.
Why Not Here?
Our region has neither the height nor drama of the White and Green Mountains, nor the
rugged back country of northern Maine. But it does have a particularly unique blend of nature,
culture and working landscape—a balance more reminiscent, perhaps, of western Europe. It
also has an abundance of state-owned forests and wildlife management areas, some of which
could use some management attention. Why not walking, hiking, riding or biking tours
through lovely wooded landscapes, punctuated with fine food, simple lodging and cultural
offerings at the end of the day?
Can public and private interests cohere to create a fruitful outcome for the regional economy
without compromising ecosystem values? Is it possible to successfully market a region for its
landscapes in a way that is compatible with the working farms and forests? Can communities
in the region agree on what is sustainable for the area? These are the questions to tackle as we
seek a sustainable future.
Timbers for Framing
Embracing the Past & the Future
here’s a reason we look to past building traditions for ways to
strengthen the local wood economy. Two hundred years ago, most
people built homes from the ample supply of wood growing nearby.
Chestnut for framing timbers, pine for clapboards, oak for furniture. As
Massachusetts woods were cleared for farming, the regional wood supply
shifted north, south, and west, and today our basic shelter is no more likely
to come from here than the food we eat. Most homes are made of pre-fabricated modules (a term that hardly evokes the warmth and beauty of
wood) and shipped from factory to building site on a truck proclaiming
“over-sized load.” Wood is typically grown in an industrial-sized forest,
assembled elsewhere, and transported using fossil fuel from very far away.
Timber framing, a building method that has always relied on local materials, is making a come-back.
The Timber Framers Guild, an international non-profit organization dedicated to keeping alive
this tradition, claims, “The reason for its increasing popularity is clear: timber framing is a
building style that unites sound construction techniques with handsome materials to produce a
natural, yet beautiful, result. Timber frames offer a feeling of strength, durability, and spaciousness.”
In a pilot project for the Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative, L.L.C. (MWC), Dave
Bowman, a Cummington land owner and timber framer, explores the market feasibility of framing
timbers. His business includes the design, milling and building of timber frames. With thrift
and ingenuity that any Yankee would admire, Bowman uses a wide array of local species in his
work, as well as portions of the tree that many would discard. Finding uses for the odd burl, an
unusual grain pattern, a graceful crook, is a clever way to create value from something that
might otherwise become a chunk of firewood. Bowman’s new woodworking shop demonstrates
resourcefulness at its height.
Another local business—Porter and Noonan’s Draft Horses—applies an old
tradition to a growing awareness and demand for low-impact logging on small
private forest holdings. Recognizing that the scale of conventional logging
equipment does not serve every operation, in the hands of a skilled woodsworker,
a team of horses can make a lot of ecological and economic sense. Porter
marks his entry into full-time horse logging on the harvest portrayed in this profile. A closer look at his business brings to light issues needing resolution for a
strong forest economy.
Evocative of our region’s history, the timber frame endures in many forms.
Cavernous old barns harbor a farming way of life. Covered bridges shelter a
road crossing once traveled by horse-powered wagons and carts. Vivid, too, is
the cultural symbol of the community barn-raising, in which villagers relied on
one another for the final assembly of a home, barn, town hall, or school. The
timber frame is a simple and strong construction made visible, that any amateur
can intuit. Count the rings on a massive timber spanning the interior of a two
hundred year old building, and you might find yourself trying to envision our
forests before European settlers arrived—a time when Pocumtuck and
Nipmuck people called this land home. Two sister organizations in western
Massachusetts—The Heartwood School and the Timber Framers Guild—
keep alive this old tradition and find that it can also serve our future very well.
1. A Pilot Project: The Timeless Process
of Making Timber Frames
To the customer, a timber frame home is strong, beautiful, energy-efficient and
lasts for generations. To the timber framer, this construction technique offers
additional advantages. It is an opportunity to rely on locally grown materials.
Designs call for green (freshly cut) wood, so the kiln-drying step is eliminated.
Because the processing steps to create timbers are relatively few, the costs of moving wood
along the production chain are low. Add to that the allure of a centuries-old art and the ability
to use traditional tools, and you have the attributes of a building style that ideally suits small
business owner, Dave Bowman of Cummington.
A Vertically Integrated Business
Bowman lives and creates timber frames from his 80-acre woods and meadow. Getting his start
with Jack Sobon, an area framer who helped lead the revival of the hand-tool timber framing
movement, Bowman’s first timber frame was his own cabin. He harvested trees from his own woods
and took them to a nearby mill to be sawn into timbers. A few years later he joined the minority
of framers that also operate their own portable sawmill. By mastering this skill he now has far more
control over the quality of the timbers, and now he claims he wouldn’t do otherwise. In the long
run, getting high milling quality saves him time and the hassle of trying to return materials that do
not meet his standards. Fifteen years and some 30 to 40 timber frames has made him adept at
choosing and felling appropriate trees to meet the needs of individual projects. He has developed
a keen eye for discerning strength grades and code requirements in the standing tree.
A typical timber frame uses anywhere between 2 and 10 thousand board feet of wood; that’s a
22 by 24-foot garage or a 5,000 square foot home, respectively. Timber framers design, create
and assemble the frame, with only a handful of work days spent at the building site. Everything
else is prepared in the shop. Once the frame is up, contractors usually build everything else,
from roof to siding to finish work. Bowman builds timber frames for customers within a 50-mile
radius of his home, but would consider travelling further for the right job.
A combination of wood business expertise and a passion for sustainable communities lead
Bowman to become a founding member of the Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative, L.L.C.
(MWC). It wasn’t long before he urged this fledgling business to fill a modest order for framing
timbers from the Heartwood School, an “owner-builder” teaching facility in nearby
Washington. Knowing about an active harvest on MWC member Antonia Lake’s Worthington
property, the time was right for a pilot project to test the feasibility of producing framing timbers
from member properties.
Logging, Milling and Error Margins
The Heartwood School order called for a total of 6,317 board feet, about 75% of which would
be in timbers greater than 5-by-5-inches. The rest was to be dimensional lumber. Medium to
low quality white pine from an improvement thinning on the Lake property was suitable for
much of this order. Some spruce and hemlock logs (1,672 board feet of 3-by-8s, 18 and 20 feet
long) had to be purchased from a logger in Becket, as no other MWC jobs were in progress to
supply the order. For this profile, the volume and cost calculations tracked from this point on
will only reflect the portion of the order that came from the Lake property—or 63 percent of
the total material supplied for the Heartwood School order.
When Bowman first went to the harvest site, the trees that were to become part of the
Heartwood School order had already been chosen for cutting by Lake’s forester, Lincoln Fish of
Bay State Forestry in Williamsburg. In this silvicultural treatment, Fish had marked low quality
white pine trees with blue paint. The removal of these lower quality pines would create more
growing space for the better quality ones that would make a fine timber crop in the future.
With logging just beginning, Bowman met the operator, Kip Porter of Worthington, to discuss
a log purchase.
Going over the detailed list of material specified by the Heartwood School, they arrived at a price
of $180 per thousand board feet, a figure that was $50 more per thousand than Porter had
received from another customer. Bowman was willing to pay this price for two reasons. First,
Porter was using the common 1/4-inch International Rule for measuring logs, and because the
“bite” of Bowman’s saw blade is narrower at 1/8th inch, Bowman routinely yields more boards
than this log rule predicts. Second, he knew he could get the exact dimensions he needed by
giving the logger a list of specifications before the trees were felled and cut to length. When a
logger doesn’t know the exact measurements of the product markets for which he is bucking,
there is inevitably more room for waste and an eroded stumpage value. Advanced knowledge of
the specific wood market resulted in a better price for Porter and a better raw material for Bowman.
Not all waste can be avoided, however. Over the years Bowman has learned that he needs to
purchase about 20 percent more wood volume than a job requires, to net the desired amount
of suitable material for a job. Even though he frequently uses white pine in his work, Bowman
reports that it is the trickiest species to read. If the log opens up to reveal red rot, it would be
rendered useless for this order. Herein lies some of the mystery (and therefore, risk) of working
with wood, and one of its hidden costs. For the pilot study, Bowman purchased 4,625 board
feet of white pine (17 percent more than the Heartwood School order required) from the Lake
property. Philosophical about the nature of his raw material, what Bowman can’t use in one job,
he’ll use in another. Or he’ll heat his home or shop through the year.
Minimal Processing, Minimal Handling
Bowman can mill 175 to 250 board feet per hour on his portable Woodmizer sawmill. This is
a typical production rate for these mills, and at $45 per hour, his milling costs average about
26 cents per board foot when the mill stays parked in his own yard. He uses the front loader
on his tractor to move logs from pile to sawmill. He prefers to work with an assistant to ease
the handling, but can wrestle timbers and boards off the saw carriage alone if necessary. For
the Heartwood order, Bowman and an assistant spent 29 hours milling the 5,082 board feet of
logs that would be turned into beams, braces, and bents. Within a week, the timbers and
dimensional lumber were sawn, and Bowman hand-stacked the wood nearby in preparation for
delivery. As a guest instructor at the Heartwood School, Bowman knew well enough to time
his delivery around one of the school’s famous home-cooked meals when he could partake of
both food and the many hands that make the heavy lifting lighter.
For the frames that he builds, Bowman moves the milled stock to his shop where he shapes the
mortise and tenon joints, using 1850s vintage chisels and a Millers Falls boring machine.
Because traditional timber frames employ freshly cut, or “green” wood, it obviates the need to
spend days in a dry kiln, and the tedious and costly steps of handling and stacking materials in
between. As a point of interest, some “high end” frames may reuse the seasoned beams from
large, old western mills and warehouses, but these carry a price tag of two to four times that of
local green timbers. Once the craftsmanship is done, Bowman schedules the timber frame raising,
moves the order on a trailer behind his pickup or, for bigger frames rents a sheet rock truck,
and hand-loads the product, charging for his trucking costs by the hour.
Satisfied Customer and Satisfied Landowner
Later that fall, Heartwood School students transformed trees from Lake’s woods into beams,
braces and joists for two school projects. One was a 32-by-48 foot replacement for a 150 year
old barn that had burned down in Becket. A picture of this frame is now the cover photo for
the 2003 Heartwood School course brochure. The second building is a 16-by-22 foot cabin on
a family land trust on Mt. Rega, in northwestern Connecticut. Material remaining from the
project “over run” would later be used for roofing boards and siding on Bowman’s new woodTIMBERS FOR
working shop. From Lake’s perspective, the results of this first logging operation on her property
were very satisfactory. She also is pleased to know her forest stewardship brought business to
three local enterprises—Porter’s logging, Bowman’s milling and the Heartwood School. This
business income will certainly continue to circulate through the community.
Results and Discussion
As predicted, Bowman’s original purchase from Porter yielded a wood surplus of 1,103 board feet
that he sawed into one-inch boards. Seventeen per cent of this surplus volume was a result of
buffering the risk of undetectable defect in the logs; in this case Bowman found red rot, so some
logs were rendered useless for the order. Another nine per cent was from the gain in yield from
the narrow saw kerf. Giving this surplus volume a value of $.50 per board foot, and adding it
to the $2,662 from the Heartwood order income, it increased the total project income to $3,213.
From this total income, production costs ($2,348) were subtracted, as well as Bowman’s marginal
costs ($110). What remained was a profit of $755, or 24 percent of the total project value. For this
pilot, the surplus wood went to Dave Bowman who later used it in his new woodworking shop.
If this were a routine MWC transaction, some portion of the margin would need to pay for the
Coop’s role in the job: administration, marketing, trucking, storage, and fixed business overhead
costs. The remaining would become a shared profit between the Coop and it’s members who
processed wood during the year. The right-hand column in the table hypothesizes a loss to
MWC when using the rule of thumb that for every dollar in production costs it takes another
$.50 to cover marginal costs. The MWC would need to keep its marginal cost to $.17 per
board foot to break even.
Does This Market Have
A Future For The MWC?
With a fraction of 1 to 2 percent of the national housing
market, the market for timber
frame homes is only 2,000 to
Northeast, though, does have
the largest share of the market,
with the Pacific Northwest,
Intermountain Northwest and
Canada being important as
well. Customers are typically
second home owners in highend vacation and resort areas,
or they are owner-builders.
Experts report that there are
about four times as many log
homes as timber frames, but
that’s because many are less
familiar with the latter.
Prospective homeowners seeking an “earthy” or “rustic” look,
think of log cabins; yet when
introduced to a timber frame,
they prefer it.
Timber Frame Project
based on 5,082 bf of Lake Logs
$/bd ft
$/bd ft
Sale to Heartwood
Surplus lumber value
0.63 (avg.)
Mill Heartwood order
Mill surplus lumber
Overhead (estimated)
The market for the project with
the Heartwood School came
through Bowman’s existing contacts as a timber framer and
sawmill operator. The potential for the MWC to further develop
this market may be limited by the regional demand for timber
frames. As this market slowly grows, it may be possible to supply
more framing timbers to “green” building networks and high
profile community projects. However, the questionable profit
margin suggested by this experiment does not make a compelling
case to pursue this particular market aggressively.
From his vantage point, Bowman thinks that profit margins could
be enhanced in several ways. Additional equipment would make
moving and loading lumber during processing and delivery
more efficient. An edger would speed up milling and therefore
cut down on labor costs. As for marketing support, consistent
and larger orders and a market for inferior timber would boost
business as well. Bowman is hopeful that the MWC can help
with these kinds of improvements to his operation.
The Ultimate in Vertical Integration
Bowman’s profit margin is at its peak when he harvests trees from
his own woods to create timber frames. Unlike most private
landowners these days, one of his chief reasons for owning land
is to supply material for his business and to do all the harvesting
himself. Because of the pace of his small business and the type
of material he needs, some years he has used none of his own
wood. When he does, his business has a high degree of vertical
integration, controlling the process from stump to assembled
timber frame. Profit margins typically captured by middlemen
along the way are all his.
Although Bowman knows his woods better than most and lives by a strong stewardship ethic,
he recently had a forest management plan created for his land when he joined the MWC.
Developed by Deerfield forester Michael Mauri, the plan has added value to his business in two
particularly important ways. First, a stream and riparian zone that runs diagonally through the
property is now well-delineated on a map, with its changing intensity more visible. He will
now be better able to work away from that area when bringing trees out of the woods. Clear
mapping of timber types will also help to navigate his forest-based business over the years.
Second, the planning process has been helpful in that it has given Bowman some new ideas
about regenerating cherry. Up until now he has typically removed single trees, here and there
in the forest. He now understands that to get good seedling establishment of a sun-loving
species like black cherry, he will need to harvest larger groups of trees. This will better support
his wood products and wildlife habitat goals.
2. A Small Scale Logging Business
Which Operator? What Equipment?
Most harvesting operations in the region are done with rubber-tired skidders that use a cable and
winch to bunch, and then drag out logs to the landing. Some skidders use a grapple (a large
mechanical claw) to grab and drag logs. On more level terrain, forwarders are relatively common
and have the advantage of carrying the logs in a bunk, rather than dragging them along the ground.
In the final analysis, though, the operator is the single most important factor in a successful harvest.
While the best loggers skillfully maneuver through the woods with remarkably little damage
to the remaining trees, in the hands of a poor operator—one who hasn’t planned the road layout
and doesn’t follow Massachusetts Best Management Practices to prevent water and soil erosion—
this large equipment can make a mess in the near term. What’s worse, in the long term, harvest
impacts can lead to slowed volume growth on maturing trees and a longer waiting period for
a new stand to establish itself.
Having said this, it is helpful to have the appropriate equipment for the harvest size and terrain
type. With forest ownership parcel size declining and increasing numbers of landowners with
little or no harvesting experience, smaller can be smarter. In some cases, it can also make the
difference as to whether a harvest occurs at all. One particularly appealing form of small scale
logging is horse-powered. Whether from nostalgia or love of animals, it seems that everyone
loves to watch a draft horse at work. With very few horse loggers in business today, this cultural
tradition could be gasping its last breath. Yet the need for a light touch in the woods could
resuscitate this time-honored tradition.
Kip Porter, one of only a few horse loggers in the region, is establishing a place for himself in
sustainable forestry work. Just a couple of years ago, Porter quit a machine shop job in
Westfield where he’d worked for 23 years. The last 5 of those years he put in long hours as a
foreman and brought home a good paycheck and benefits. With advances in technology,
Porter found himself spending a lot of his time in front of a computer screen, an outcome that
ran counter to his Hilltown roots and love of horses. With his family grown and his financial
obligations easing, Porter felt the time was right for a change. He left his job, reaching for a
lifestyle and work that would be more satisfying to him. The weekend horse logging, wagon
rides and regional pulling contests that had consumed his free time had taught him the skills
he needed now to make his Belgian team the center of his livelihood.
Early Lessons for a Fledgling Business
As it turns out, Antonia Lake, owner of the white pine that became framing timbers for the
Heartwood School, is a neighbor of Porter. She’s known him for years and shares a love of
horses, so when she was scheduled to have a pine stand thinned, Porter was the logical choice.
It is here that Porter got the first contract of his new horse-logging career and the earliest lessons
in his business.
Lesson One: How to price a job. Traditionally, loggers pay a stumpage value to the landowner
based on the quality of the wood coming out, site considerations such as terrain, number of
crossings, etc., and how badly they want the job. When the value of the wood is low, there is
pressure to get the job done quickly and minimize time in the woods. But horse-logging is less
about high-speed production and more about small scale operation and low-impact on the forest.
Tim Carroll, president of the North American Horse & Mule Loggers Association writes that
the horse logger should work for the landowner because it is she, not the mill, who owns the
greatest stake in her forest’s future productivity. She is in a position to most appreciate the care
taken in the woods. If a landowner is looking for rapid timber liquidation and cash flow and no
thought to future productivity, a large mechanized system will do the job most efficiently.
Porter’s arrangement with Lake was to give her 25 percent of the price he received for selling
the logs at roadside. This might have been reasonable, but Porter had to pay for the trucking
and a load of gravel needed to keep the log truck from getting stuck at the landing. By the end,
his percentage of sale income was effectively 57 percent instead of 75 percent. Next time he
would make the 75–25 percent split with the landowner on net revenues, not gross.
Lesson Two: Site requirements for a cost-effective horse-logging job. Porter knows that not
every job is suitable for horse logging, but it takes some practice to get proficient at sizing-up
a woodlot before agreeing to operate there. For starters, the skidding distance has to be short.
Tim Carroll recommends that anything over a 100 yard skid will probably lose money. He
advises that a portable sawmill as part of a horse logging operation is a nice way to shorten the
skidding distance and to add value to the wood products coming out. At the same time that
not every woodlot is well-suited to horse logging, there are some sites too wet or ledgey to
accommodate a skidder or tractor without causing harm. A team of horses may be a particularly
valuable tool for their ability to maneuver through these areas with low ground impact.
The Lake property involved a skid that took about 20 minutes for each round trip with, unfortunately, the biggest trees at the greatest skidding distance. Because the job included a slight uphill
skid to reach the landing, the horses could only drag out one or two logs each time. In contrast,
the next job that Porter has scheduled involves higher quality timber with a downhill or flat
terrain skid. These two factors will allow for a greater profit margin within which to operate.
Lesson Three: People like horses in their woods. For Porter, one of the most valuable aspects
of the Lake job was the new business that it generated. Who can resist stopping by a horseTIMBERS FOR
logging job? Many didn’t, and he was able to line up a good six months of work on three woodlots
that range from 30 to 50 acres in size. There he’ll continue to apply the lessons he learned on
the Lake property. Today’s landowners value their land for its privacy, quiet, beauty and wildlife,
and it would be remiss to ignore the fact that many people feel their sensibilities assaulted by
large, loud pieces of machinery, however well-handled in the woods. If harvests are to be allowed,
the wood products must be removed as carefully and inoffensively as possible, especially when
landowners are in residence.
After one year of working full-time with his draft horse partners, Porter has managed to stay
afloat and acquire some valuable experience in running his business. His financial strategy is to
use logging jobs to cover his expenses, and wagon rides to cover the $3,800 of horse expenses
that include hay, grain, oil, salt, vitamins, vet bills, equipment, shoes, dues, donations and
advertisements. The busiest months for hayrides are November, December and January, when
private parties usually hire the team in nearby towns. His fee schedule increases as does the
distance from his barn. Porter notes that he probably could draw more business for summer
and early fall private events, but then it would conflict with horse pulls on the fair circuit.
These annual events help balance the hard work in the woods, and it is here that Porter gets
to have some fun and camaraderie with other draft horse lovers. Though it’s not about winning
that first place prize, overall Porter does well enough in the pulling contests to cover his travel
expenses for this yearly tradition of meeting with his tribe.
Business Needs
As a new business, Porter finds that it would be strategic to have access to a firewood processor
for use during times when he can’t be (heavy snow cover), or shouldn’t be (soggy ground) in
the woods. Located at a convenient site, a processor would allow him to add value to the treelength firewood logs that he now sells at the going wholesale price of $200 per six cord truck
load. At this price he only earns part of his daily income goal required to keep the business
going. By developing his own retail markets he could gross between $350 to $400 per six-cord
load, an amount that comfortably exceeds his daily goal.
Cash flow is another issue for start-up businesses like Porter’s. In logging, the landowner typically
requires a performance deposit, which can amount to a significant sum early on. Affordable
health insurance, liability insurance—all those essentials that came with his last job. As a new
business owner, Porter would like to get set up with a good accounting system and some business
planning to help keep things on track. Luckily, Porter started his business with all the horse
equipment (trailer, skidding rig, etc.) that he needed, but he could use a back-up chainsaw, for
instance. Low interest business loans could make a difference to the survival and success of this
outfit. Finally, Porter is eager to attend the Game of Logging—a valuable logger training and
safety course—and other workshops, but he’ll need to carve out valuable time away from the
woods. Supporting Porter’s horse logging business is supporting green business.
3. Diversity in the Work Place:
A Wood Shop Made from Many Species
In our region, the most commonly specified wood for timber framing is: red oak, white pine,
and hemlock. Dave Bowman, however, likes to use a wider range of species and grades in his
work. In a pile of log-length firewood destined for the stove, Bowman will find curved logs,
branch crotches and other useable shapes. The proof of his scavenging is in his stunning new
shop. Bowman’s ingenuity and skill creates the kind of specialty use for local wood that can give
his business a reputation among framers and add value to an otherwise marginal piece of wood.
After working outdoors and under a huge white canvas tent for three years, Bowman had decided to
build a shop to house his tools and take the chill out of the winter air. He designed a 21-by-34
foot frame with a second floor on one end to accommodate a
storage loft, and two cruck bents with sweeping cathedral-like
arches in the shop’s center. Bowman used 22 species of native
wood (see list at side) in its construction, and the energy efficient technique of insulating with hay bales and clay. The
project was part of a Heartwood School design course in the
summer of 2002.
4. Two Organizations Conserve a
Tradition, Serve the Community
The Heartwood School
23 Species Used in the
Bowman Wood Shop
black walnut
white birch
yellow birch
white pine
red pine
red spruce
black cherry
white oak
red oak
chestnut oak
white ash
American elm
sugar maple
The white pine logs that became two timber frames and a
woodshop roof were ordered by a small school located in the
woods of Becket—the Heartwood School for the Homebuilding Crafts. Directors Will and Michele Beemer assumed
leadership of this school 26 years ago. It offers week-long
workshops to mostly inexperienced owner-builders who want
to learn the skills and knowledge required to build an energyefficient house. Their workshop offerings include timber
framing and conventional light frame construction, superinsulation techniques and passive solar design, and the use of
resource-efficient materials. The School’s website states that
“the people who come to Heartwood, varied as they are,
together share a clear determination to empower their
hands, to train their eyes for quality and beauty in the design
of things, and to question and explore the ways we might
live in a more honest relation with our planet.” Here is a
small institution in our region that has been working quietly
and diligently for years toward a sustainable future.
More on Timber Frames and Conventional
shellbark hickory
To appreciate what this school and its building tradition can
give to us today, we need to know more about conventional
balsam fir
construction methods. First: longevity. Light frame stick resAmerican beech
idential buildings have a lifespan of 50 to 75 years, certainly
big tooth aspen
adequate for any one homeowner. But where would our rural
character be without the 150 and 200 year old buildings that
black olive*
still grace our towns? Timber frame houses last a couple hundred
* This wood is from the Caribbean, a favorite
years because the frame is inside the skin (sheathing); it is better
wintering spot of this hearty New Englander.
protected from the elements, kept warm, and doesn’t get as rapid
deterioration in the wood. Next: beauty. Because the frame is visible, it is appreciated and therefore better cared for. Although a timber frame uses comparable board feet in construction, the pieces
are fewer and larger, and there is less saw kerf wasted (sawdust) in creating those pieces. Timber
framing logically requires more skilled labor than conventional construction, and that’s the reason
it is more expensive to build in the near term. Looking at the full list of its advantages, a timber
frame is the ultimate reusable structure: it can be taken apart and reassembled on a different site.
shagbark hickory
Lest one think that the timber framing movement is driven by nostalgia and times gone by,
there is evidence that it is a style that changes over time. Since the mid-1970s, a new technology
called “SIPS,” or structural insulated panels,
has increased the
demand for timber
frames. This sandwich
of foam and particle
board creates an effective sheathing, overcoming the problem of
having to build a whole
extra interior skin to
hold the insulation.
These panels can span
up to 24 feet, and now
95 per cent of timber
frames use these laborsaving panels.
The Timber
Framers Guild
With the purpose of
promoting the centuries-old craft of timber
framing, The Timber
Framers Guild was created, in part, by framers
working in western Massachusetts. This 501(c)3
non-profit organization
was founded amidst a “resurgence of interest in exposed structure [that] has led to the modern
timber frame revival.” Today, co-directed by Will Beemer and Joel McCarty, the Guild hosts
workshops and conferences, conducts research, publishes technical and training materials and
organizes community service projects—all for the purpose of passing on the knowledge and
skills needed to maintain the tradition of timber framing.
A Celebration of Forest and Community
The Timber Framer’s Guild has a rather remarkable tradition that speaks volumes about its place in
our culture. Each year it organizes several projects, inviting its members to join in and donate
their skills and energy to this community service, or Rendez-vous. The Guild has an international
membership, and projects may be located around the world. Yet western Massachusetts has
been lucky to have hosted three Rendez-vous in recent years, bringing together Guild members,
local businesses and other volunteers to help in their communities.
Gould Farm, the oldest therapeutic community in the nation for adults with mental illnesses,
was blessed with a Guild project in 2000. Guild members and others built a new 56-by-36-foot
barn to house a full-scale food processing operation, including licensed commercial kitchen,
root cellar, classroom and marketing office. As the Gould Farm folks say, “The barn will stand
as a showcase to convey our mission: to provide people with mental illnesses daily opportunities
to build more meaningful lives for themselves as members of a community, not in isolation.
Another local group, The Massachusetts Portable Sawmill Association, also took a major part
in the project, sawing up the needed timbers for the barn.
A second barn-raising by the Guild occurred in 2002, this time a replacement for a 100-yearold structure destroyed by fire at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Northfield. The original
barn had been built by its high school age students, and in keeping with tradition, the new
one was, too. This 45- by 80-foot timber frame was constructed using traditional carpentry
methods and hand tools for a particularly enriching student experience. W.D. Cowls, a sawmill
and forest management company from North Amherst, provided timber from local forests.
Finally, when a well-known maple sugaring operation lost its sugarhouse to fire, the Guild
mobilized to replace it in another Rendez-vous gathering. This coming together to give, to labor, to
learn, honors our neighbors. Through the good work of the Timber Framers Guild, we reenact
our region’s history while helping neighbors, and the power of the community barn-raising
Understory Crops
Useful Products, Culture, and History
here’s nothing new about cultivating forest plants for food, medicine,
household objects and decoration. What is only a few generations old is
our society’s rapid industrialization and light-speed technology that has
distanced so many of us from the land and its lore. Thus, forest products other
than logs seem like a new idea. In the last two decades, forestry communities
within the industrialized world are reviving the growth and marketing of
so-called special forest products or “non-timber forest products (NTFPs).”
This recent trend began as an economic alternative to tropical rain forest
destruction. By rediscovering markets for forest products growing beneath
the sheltering canopy, the ecosystem remains healthy and the wildlife that
depend on it thrive.
Examples of Understory Crops in Western Massachusetts
Decorative &
Handicraft Products
Wreaths, greens, cones
Floral greens
Landscaping plants
Basket splints, birch bark
and other wood/vine
Rustic furniture, broom
Food Products
Maple syrup and candy
Game animals
Medicinal or
Nutraceutical Plants
Witch hazel
Ginseng, black cohosh,
goldenseal, etc.
Slippery elm, black
cherry bark, etc.
Recreational Access
& Tourism
(see The Forest As
When we bring these concepts back home to our temperate New England
forests, we rediscover some old traditions and new possibilities to diversify
economic activities. By far the best known and most delicious understory crop
today is maple syrup. Both an historic use of the woods and one that is economically strong today, the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, a
non-profit dedicated to preserving and promoting maple sugaring statewide,
lists over 60 commercial operations in the four western Massachusetts counties.
Whether for love of the golden elixir or for the joy of ending cabin fever in
late winter, many more families enjoy backyard sugaring as well.
Paul Lagreze, owner of New England Wild Edibles in Colrain began a small
business foraging for wild edible mushrooms a few years ago and took up shiitake
mushroom growing to even the flow of his production. He has now been raising
shiitakes for three years, with expansion plans for an ingenious set-up in an old
cider mill near his home. Lagreze points to ways that the local economy could
better nurture enterprises like his.
A renaissance in herbal medicine in this country spurs the demand for medicinal and nutritive uses of plants that grow in the area. Chris Marano, owner of
Clearpath Herbals in Wendell, began to make his own herbal preparations for
use in his clinical herbalist practice. He and his wife, Laura Maples, grow a
variety of native and non-native herbs around their home site and wildcraft
from forest plants growing on their 27 acres.
Kathrin Woodlyn Bateman of Worthington and Paul Waite of Chester, both
landscape designers and forest landowners, are beginning to experiment with
establishing colonies of shade-loving herbaceous plants as well as woody
perennials in the understory. Growing there for a few years, the plants will
increase in value and can later be used in the landscapes they design for
clients. Bateman also has a business making medicinal flower essences and is
well-positioned to cultivate some shade-loving medicinal plants in the forest.
Another class of understory crops is decorative and handicraft products.
Northeast examples include rustic furniture, birch bark boxes, broom handles
and ash splint baskets. Milton LaFond, proprietor of The Basket Shop in
Chesterfield crafts these from log to finished basket, using the same tools and
molds as his father-in-law who started the business back in the early 1900s.
Stepping back even further into our forest use history, the Freeman Family of
Brimfield brings us closer to those who once peopled this land. Making their living
almost exclusively from their woods and fields, the Freemans discovered original
ash splint baskets made by itinerant Native Americans of the Nipmuc nation, in
the attic of their eighteenth century home. The Freemans’ land-based lifestyle and active pursuit
of Native and Early Colonial history give us a compelling link—via the land—to our cultural roots.
F O R E S T- B A S E D
1. Mushrooms in the Forest
Beginning with Wildcrafting
Paul Lagreze’s interest in fungi began with roaming the watershed of Foundry Brook in Colrain
to gather wild mushrooms growing throughout his area. In time he established relationships with
a few restaurants in Northampton where chefs could appreciate the distinctive and varying flavors
of morels, chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and more.
They also bought fiddleheads and wild leeks from him in early spring. With restaurants paying
wholesale prices of $5.00 to $10.00 per pound, this gave Lagreze some income for an activity
that he loves.
The appearance of wild mushrooms is a bit mysterious, though Lagreze has learned the qualities
of forest microclimate in which each species is likely to show. Some mushrooms are found on
only one species of tree; others are more apt to associate with several. For instance, hen of the
woods is found only on oak trees, but oyster mushrooms like several “soft” hardwoods such as
basswood and poplar. A couple of very good and very bad wild mushroom seasons showed
Lagreze the fickle nature of wildcrafting, or harvesting from the woods what nature produces
on its own. This prompted him to experiment with buying shiitake mushroom spore, inoculating
oak logs, and growing this popular mushroom in the forest understory where light and moisture
conditions are just right.
Growing Shiitakes
Lagreze likes to select his own oak logs from nearby harvesting sites. For $50 he can fill his
pick-up truck with straight, consistent-diameter pieces ranging from three to five feet in length.
Drilling holes is the most tedious part of his shiitake operation, and may be the limiting factor
in how many logs any one person can manage. The drilling, inoculation and hole-plugging has
to be done within days of tree harvest so that the inoculant has enough moisture to grow. Then
the shiitake spore need 8 months at 70 degrees Fahrenheit to permeate the log with mycelia
before producing a mushroom fit to harvest. Given New England weather, this waiting period
can be 1 to 1.5 years. Once mushroom-bearing, the logs usually flush several times between
April and late November in some years. Now at a production level of about 5,000 logs, he can
expect four to five pounds of mushrooms per log, or 20,000 to 25,000 pounds of mushrooms. But
that’s over the lifespan of the log which is two to four years. So, on the lower end of a projected
yield that’s 5,000 pounds per year; on the higher end, 12,000 pounds. Of course this is all subject
to the variability of the New England climate.
The creative twist to Lagreze’s set-up is the old cider mill next door that was formerly powered
by Foundry Brook. With the roof and inner structure destroyed by fire some time ago, the mill
foundation and surrounding out-buildings are now mostly shaded by the forest canopy. The
foundations and floors support the leaning oak logs, and the partially dammed brook makes a
handy tub in which to periodically soak the logs to stimulate fruiting. At some point in the near
future, Lagreze has plans to retrofit sections of the mill to more efficiently store, move and soak
logs, once again using diverted brook water channeled through the millworks. Who could have
predicted this latest incarnation for a hundred-year-old cider mill?
Relationship with Private Lands
Although Lagreze doesn’t own woods, he always asks permission to use private land when
wildcrafting. He’s also worked out an arrangement with a local farmer to let him use a streamside pasture as a laying yard for more shiitake cultivation. Here the logs sit under the proper
moisture conditions while the mycelia develop. With easy access to water, Lagreze can soak
the logs in the river every couple of weeks during the mushroom season. Privately-owned forest
stands with good access to pine and hemlock groves especially, could make mushroom growing
possible for other entrepreneurs in the area. Perhaps long-term leasing agreements could be
crafted that would be mutually beneficial to both parties.
Markets and Competition
When mushrooms are in season, Lagreze makes weekly trips to his restaurant buyers when he goes
to Northampton for his “other” job. Local natural food stores and farmers’ markets are also receptive
to local mushroom growers, though some find that this latter outlet can be too time-consuming
and sales too weather-dependent. Since there are a limited number of these local outlets, Lagreze
thinks cooperative marketing and trucking to city markets could strengthen his business, as well
as make room for others in the region. This may be the only way to compete with the larger,
year-round, greenhouse grown mushroom businesses. Using a sawdust medium in place of oak
logs, the big growers have the advantage of a
more consistent production environment. As
with other farm produce and wood products
grown in our area, the forest-grown mushroom
sector can carve out a specialty niche by marketing its products as certified organic and
locally grown. Another strategy that Lagreze
considers is renting commercial kitchen space in
Greenfield to concoct an irresistible and highpriced gourmet delight, made with the mushrooms he grows. The value-adding model of
production will likely produce better economic
results than drilling more holes in more logs.
2. A Storehouse of
Herbal Medicine
A walk in the garden and woods with Chris
Marano and Laura Maples is reassurance that
centuries of plant lore and knowledge from many
cultures will not be lost. Wild lettuce is a pain
reliever, a mild sedative and an antispasmodic;
sarsaparilla is a tonic and blood purifier; white
pond lily root and raspberry leaf are excellent
female reproductive herbs. Thanks in part to a
high-tech, corporate-driven, western-oriented
health care system (that many agree is broken),
conventional medicine has disregarded thousands of years of knowledge of the healing powers of plants. Today more and more Americans
look to herbal medicines for treatment of chronic illnesses, spiritual maladies and even cancer.
Marano and Maples blend traditions as far ranging as Native American Medicine, Traditional
Chinese Medicine and Buddhist/Taoist philosophy, and Euro-Western Herbal traditions, as
well as being grounded in conventional allopathic medicine. Their work addresses the spiritual
dimensions of healing as well as the physical.
Bringing Together Many Traditions
For 12 years Marano has worked as a clinical herbalist, treating people and sometimes animals
with herbal medicines for a wide range of health issues. He came to wildcrafting because he
wanted to prepare his own medicines, believing he could improve the quality and efficacy of
the tinctures. Having received two university degrees in pre-medicine, science education and
Chinese philosophy, he went on to study herbal medicine with some of the foremost herbalists
in North America, trained with Native American teachers and even lived and practiced in a
Buddhist monastery. For her part, Maples grew up in the hills of North Carolina, a region
known for its richly wooded mountains, folk arts and lore, and resilient people who live close to
the land. Delivered into the world by the midwife who became her
mentor, she wandered the hills with this wise woman throughout her
youth, learning about native plants and their medicinal qualities.
Knowing from a young age that she was born to be a healer, she
received her registered nurse training as a young adult, adding a different perspective to the herbal tradition she’d been raised with.
This pair of herbalists brings a fitting synthesis of healing knowledge
to our time and place. Who would know the plants and their healing
qualities better than the people that lived here and used these plants for
healing over the millennia? Taxonomically speaking, many Chinese
plants (Eurasian, for that matter) are close relatives to Northeastern
American ones, sharing the many well-known genera such as maple,
birch, elm, oak, pine, hemlock and more. And of course, there’s western
medicine’s contribution to healing, whose merits Maples acknowledges
as treatments for catastrophic illness and injury and radical high-tech
therapies. However, when it comes to dealing with chronic disorders
and ones with a spiritual component, she turns to herbal medicine
for its time-honored tradition of success.
Making Medicine
In their household, Maples oversees cultivation, while Marano oversees the alchemy of turning
plants into medicine. Together they sow, tend, harvest, dry and wildcraft well over 200 species
of plants from flower beds, woods, garden and meadow. They tend wild plants and grow many
from seed. Their plant knowledge includes knowing at precisely what part of the growing cycle
the desired portion of the plant—roots, stem, leaves, bark, flower, seed—has the best nutrition or
healing power. For example, medicinal perennial roots such as burdock and dandelion are most
potent at the beginning or end of the growing season, during a waning moon, and their medicine
differs somewhat depending on whether the root is harvested in the spring or in the fall. Flowers
such as mullein and calendula are picked during a waxing moon at the height of their freshness.
Sweetfern leaves, on the other hand, become more potent as the leaves begin to discolor. Every
plant has its own particular set of rules.
After a careful harvest and drying, Marano uses his knowledge to prepare the tinctures, in various
mixtures of water, alcohol, or glycerin. Herbs steep in this liquid for at least one lunar cycle,
and then are strained and discarded into the compost pile. Marano was motivated to make
medicines for his own practice so that he could control the quality of the tincture by using the
freshest, purest and properly harvested plants. He can also ensure that medicines are made with
the proper spiritual intention, a value that the pharmaceutical companies certainly don’t recognize.
Conscientious Harvesting
The Native American practices of wildcrafting that Marano and Maples follow incorporate an
ethic toward plant harvesting, referred to as “conscientious harvesting.” If taking an entire
plant—that is, including the root and seed—they’ll harvest no more than 10 percent of a given
population. If trimming leaves or harvesting seeds such that the plant can continue to live, 15
percent is the rule. For monitoring plants which are threatened or endangered, United Plant
Savers is an important resource for Marano and Maples. This non-profit organization was
founded in 1994 by Rosemary Gladstar, a great Native American herbalist and visionary, and
is dedicated to native medicinal plant conservation. Its mission is “to protect native medicinal
plants of the United States and Canada and their native habitat while ensuring an abundant
renewable supply of medicinal plants for generations to come.” As the art of herbalism regains
its place in conventional medicine, concern about over-harvesting and habitat destruction has
compelled this organization to research, educate and protect this valuable native resource.
Valuable medicinal plants that are on the Massachusetts endangered list due to over-harvesting—
ginseng and goldenseal, for example—are now being reestablished in the wild through their
ranges. Some propagators collect the seed from known wild populations and sow them back in a
suitable natural habitat. Perhaps the strong economic demand that once eradicated it from our area
can be the catalyst for its return. Ginseng cultivated in the woods in tilled up beds can bring $100
per pound in the market place. Plants grown without tilling in the woods bring about $200 per
pound. In other states where permits are available to harvest wild colonies, these fetch a premium
of about $450 per pound. For those with a “get rich quick” scheme in mind, site conditions,
weather, time, slugs and deer can be limiting factors. Like
other forest enterprises such as maple sugaring and shiitake
mushroom growing, it may be neither possible, nor desirable
to develop a large scale operation. Perhaps these are best
suited to small-scale, diversified enterprises.
Relationship to Neighboring Lands
Clearpath Herbals grows or wildcrafts much of the plants it
uses from right off their own property. By now they have a
network of friends and neighbors that allow them access to
various plant colonies when the supply is particularly
abundant and accessible, such as partridge berry, raspberry
leaf, or black birch bark. On other private lands, permission
is always requested.
Marano and Maples are committed to teaching others about
the healing properties of plants, and so they are beginning to
offer weekend workshops at their home site. With numerous
gardens and wooded trails, they envision creating tent
sites on their property and more of a trail system to access various micro-sites where a range
of different plants grow. With dedicated practitioners like these two, perhaps more of us can
learn to tap this rich healing dimension of our native woods.
3. Growing Landscape Plantings in the Understory
The landscaping industry has done booming business in the Northeast for years. Many people
spend a surprising amount of money to beautify their own small corner of the earth—digging,
planting, tending and reaping a harvest of greenery and bloom. A small, but growing sector of this
industry concerns itself with native plants—those that were found here before European settlement,
according to the New England Wild Flower Society’s definition. This organization, dedicated to
all aspects of native plant conservation, believes that using native plants for landscaping fosters
regional identity and increases connection to habitats around us, including the wildlife on which
it depends.
Two Hilltown forest landowners and landscape designers see the possibilities for gradually
expanding their businesses into the forest understory. Kathrin Woodlyn Bateman of Worthington
and Paul Waite of Chester each have extensive knowledge of wild and cultivated plants, and
each cherishes a rural lifestyle living close to the land.
Wild Colonies of Herbaceous Perennials
Bateman’s home site is surrounded by woodland landscaping, which is the main source of her
small international business, Flower Essences of Fox Mountain. This enterprise currently produces
and distributes a form of internal medicine to 10 countries, using the 370 varieties of plants
from her land. She is also an experienced landscape designer who has felt the burgeoning
demand for native plants within the domestic landscape. Her vast knowledge of forest understory
plants, combined with her network of contacts within the landscaping and alternative medicine
fields, point to a logical next step for her business.
Bateman is keen on growing colonies of plants in the understory. Squirrel corn, Dutchman’s
breeches, wild ginger, and maidenhair fern are just a few examples of shade-loving plants that she
would like to cultivate. Key to such an enterprise would be suitable access to her 25 acres of woods.
Some years ago when a neighbor’s property was harvested for cordwood, she agreed to the same.
Unfortunately, the felled tops that were to have been firewood were not removed as promised, and
Bateman was left with an unacceptable amount of logging debris in her woods that obstructed trails.
Like so many landowners, both aesthetics and good access to her woods greatly enhances her
enjoyment of it.
Once woods trails are reopened, Bateman envisions using her small four-wheel-drive tractor to
widen and create planting beds along suitable portions of the trail. These easy-to-work shoulders
would serve as her woodland nursery, as well as showcases for various species combinations.
Bateman sees these naturalized settings as a savings bank of plant material for future work. She
plans to add value by growing them for one to five years, but the beauty of this set-up is that
the plants can last indefinitely, as long as the site conditions are stable. Costs for this business
expansion would include preparing the site, the start-up plant material, and labor. With retail
prices for perennial plant material ranging from $6.50 to $15.00, Bateman would need to cover
her labor and plant material costs with roughly two-thirds of this amount.
Understory Shrubs
Several miles to the southwest, lives Paul Waite of Chester, a friend and collaborator of
Bateman. Having grown up in these hills and roamed their wooded flanks, Waite knew he
wanted to own his own property. Six years ago, he found 185 acres that had just been heavily
logged. The homestead dates back to the mid 1800s, and below it is a maze of old stone walls
and foundations with a lively stream and waterfall running through at run-off time. This lovely
quiet spot has an old feeling to it and makes a natural garden area for this landscape designer.
Waite has planted some colonies among the young pole-size trees in one section and talks of
establishing others inside the stonewall enclosures.
What native plants he does grow in his woods or nursery don’t meet the demand he encounters.
His clients seem to be especially interested in striped maple, maple-leaf viburnum, huckleberry,
a native honey suckle, and serviceberry (shadbush). To augment the small trees and shrubs that he
can dig up from the woods, Waite has planted some trial plots of rhododendron, mountain laurel
and huckleberry in the shady understory of a low-quality hardwood stand near a woods road. Were
he to expand this part of his business, Waite would invest in a large order of bare root stock serviceberry and grow them in his nursery beds for one or two years. Then he’d transplant them out to
the woods for further growth. There they can sit in the woods until needed, up to about 18 to
20 feet tall. An initial investment of $300 to $400 in bare root stock (2002–2003 price list) could
launch the project. Waite would need to factor in the costs of labor to plant, transplant, harvest,
deliver and install each plant.
through Cornell
One of the difficulties of
establishing a new business using understory
crops today is that it
hasn’t been done to any
great extent—at least in
the context of today’s
economy. Re-creating a
vibrant, local forest
economy requires
blending new and old
ways to find solutions
that work.
Cornell University, a
New York Land Grant
institution in upstate
New York, began working
with forest landowners
in a unique way. With the
goal of experimenting
with cultivation techniques and sharing
experiences, ideas,
resources and marketing strategies, Cornell
Extension staff developed
Agroforestry Learning
Comprised of farmers,
forest owners, educators
and scientists, these
groups test the feasibility
of practices that might
hold some promise
for economic use.
Elements of the
Learning Communities
include training workshops, trial practices
monitoring, listserv
discussions via the
internet, site visits and
a website. Today dozens
of growers and resource
professionals around
the northeast are testing
cultivation practices for
ginseng, goldenseal,
mushrooms and sugar
maple improvement.
Access, Deer, Rescue and Protection
Access to planting sites in the woods is critical to making this sort of
enterprise cost-effective. Waite’s woods, which are managed according to a
10-year plan, have a decent network of skid roads that will accommodate
his small four-wheel-drive tractor and dump truck. As already noted,
Bateman’s access needs some improvements, which may be one of her
biggest project costs.
Deer can be a serious problem and strategies for dealing with these creatures
must be considered. On the one hand, Waite has created a permanent
two-acre clearing in his woods, seeding it with clover to attract the
wildlife that he loves to see. On the other hand, they eat his nursery plants,
which are his livelihood. Like many organic gardeners, he seems to be
opting to share some of his bounty with the native residents.
Bateman intends to use wild plants to start colonies, but then actively
propagate more by distributing seed in new locations. She also finds that new
building sites in wooded areas can be a source of wild plants. In this case,
these doomed plants can be rescued for use in another wooded landscape.
The New England Wild Flower Society cautions against the commercial
wild collection of plants, especially when they are rare or sensitive species.
Aside from being illegal in some cases, this practice can have a negative
impact on wild populations. They recommend that the public buy nurserypropagated native plants. As native plant landscaping increases in practice,
it will be important to keep abreast of these and related issues.
4. Enduring Household Goods
A visit to Historic Sturbridge Village or Plimouth Plantation gives us insight
to the lives of the early European settlers of this region. We recognize the
simple machines and tools that were the mainstays of household and village,
providing people with the goods they needed to create shelter, grow food
and weave clothing. At the same time we marvel at the convenience of
modern technology, we worry that our children won’t know that milk
comes from a cow, that paper is made from trees or how to mend a pair of
trousers. In an economy where it is so often cheaper to buy new than to
repair, we use up household goods, then throw them away.
The ash splint baskets that Milton Lafond individually crafts at The Basket
Shop in Chesterfield are testimony to different values. He produces his baskets
from log to finished product, just as his father-in-law, Benjamin Higgins, did
for most of the 1900s. The baskets are beautifully made and will last at least
a lifetime. All the more enriching is the opportunity to visit his small woodshop
to see and understand first-hand, the process from start to finish.
Lafond chooses the clear white ash logs from nearby woodlots, splits the log
into four wedge-shaped lengths, then roughly shapes each of these with a
drawshave. When pounded, the unique arrangement of wood cells between
growth rings makes this species easy to separate into the strips that make up
Lafond’s baskets.
When he took over his deceased father-in-law’s shop in the late 1980s,
Lafond continued to use the same hand and machine tools and the molds
around which the baskets are shaped. A visit to the shop is a glimpse of a
local enterprise that served the community in a time when wood was used for a much wider range
of household products. Thankfully, the tradition is carried forward today. While on the potluck
circuit, keep a lookout for an ash splint basket designed to hold two pies. Chances are it was
made in Chesterfield at The Basket Shop.
5. Tracing Cultural History through Forest
Products: Native Baskets in an Attic
The Freeman Family of Brimfield is an unusual forest landowner by
today’s standards, because far more than most, their woods and fields
directly support their livelihood. Over the years, the enterprises on
their 300-acre property have evolved to include: custom sawing on a
stationary circular sawmill, a 500-tap maple sugaring operation,
Christmas trees and greens, firewood, bundles of campfire wood;
vegetables, cut flowers, herbs, and wildflower bunches; lamb, wool and eggs. Three adults—
mother Harriet, daughter Jane, and son John—shoulder this work, with just one earning parttime income as a substitute teacher in town. This humble and hard-working family’s store of
knowledge and history, gained empirically from years of working with their land, is a rare treasure
in our uprooted, excessively mobile society.
Unlike an armchair historian surrounded by books, the Freemans are immersed in their land’s
history each day. For them history is unearthing Stone Age artifacts while hoeing in the pea patch;
walking in the footsteps of the Nipmuc Tribe, when following the Bay Path Trail that winds through
their woods; interpreting glacial features on their property when geology students visit on a field
trip. Tending their land, the Freemans bring us closer than ever to the history of our home region.
A Kindness Returned
The Freemans came to their property through serendipity and friendship. They lived in Warren
when an old family friend, Rose Dore, could no longer live alone. Dore invited Harriet Freeman,
whom she’d know for years, to come live with her at the old Allen homestead in Brimfield
which she’d single-handedly farmed for years. Already committed to caring for a handicapped
foster child at the time, Harriet instead persuaded her friend to come live in Warren with them.
When Rose Dore died, she left no survivors, and willed the Allen Homestead and land to the
person who had shown her great friendship throughout her life—Harriet Freeman.
In 1976 when the Freeman family first moved onto the 50-acre property, they set about reclaiming
overgrown fields and fixing up the two hundred-year-old homestead. John worked at a local
sawmill, but eventually bought it from his retiring employer and moved it to their new home. There
he rebuilt and refurbished it and constructed a shed to protect the mill from the elements. Jane
headed up the livestock enterprises, while everyone pitched in on the gardens, Christmas trees
and maple sugaring.
Early European Families
Over time, interesting bits of history
surfaced at the Allen Homestead. While
making repairs to the kitchen fireplace,
they discovered an old scythe blade
embedded in the throat of the fireplace
—a 17th century practice believed to
keep witches from the house. Several
arrowheads were unearthed from the
pea patch (later dated at 3,000 years
old from the Brewerton period) and a
hoe stone (dating around 4,200 BC)
was found in the vegetable garden west
of the house. While cleaning out the
attic one day, Harriet came across a
bundle of old items that would have
belonged to the family that built the house: Elijah Allen. From deed research done in their
spare time, the Freemans learned that Elijah Allen had four children. One of these, Charles,
owned the farm and then sold it to Jenny Dore, Rose’s mother. This made the Freemans only
the third family to own the house since the 1700s. Tracing the early settler history back even
further, they found that the Allen property was part of a 1,000 acre grant made to Reverend
John Eliot in 1655, by the Mohegan Indians. John Freeman has since found the original stone
marker to the southwest corner of this grant, placed there more than 350 years ago.
Warren Herald Links to Native People
More treasures in the attic made another connection to these earliest inhabitants of this forest
region. First, an old newspaper clipping from the Warren Herald, dated 1897, was written by the
then 77-year old Emily Allen Woods (sister to Charles, above), who was born in the Freeman’s
house. The article recounts Emily’s childhood memories of the Mohicans and Nipmuc people
that lived in the neighborhood around 1820. She recalls that some native families lived in the
woods in a shanty and wandered to nearby farms from time to time. Here they helped with
farm work in exchange for food or sold baskets to the settlers for various household uses. Emily
reports that her family kept a separate pile of old blankets and quilts so that in cold weather
the itinerant natives could sleep by the hearth when work kept them several days at the Allen
homestead. Emily notes in her article, “There are few now living in Brimfield who have seen real
Indians in their native condition, except as we see them at Niagara Falls or the seashore, and
they are nothing like the old families I have written about. One generation more and their
memory will be obliterated.” When we encounter today’s homeless people at the margins of our
own culture, whether in urban or rural settings, it becomes possible to imagine what disease,
war, genocide and dislocation did to the Native American people that once lived here.
Accompanying the newspaper story from the attic, the Freemans found several ash splint baskets,
presumably the same ones made for the Allen family by the disenfranchised Mohegans. One of
the rarer ones employs a technique called “porcupine” where the ash splint is twisted into a loop
to give the basket a unique texture. It may be that the “mushy” quality of black ash splints permits
this manipulation, in contrast to the rigidity that Milton Lafond seeks in his white ash splints.
Regardless of species, the Ash genus is well-suited to splint-making. When Harriet shares these
baskets with visitors, we touch something expertly crafted by a people that knew these trees,
these forests, these hills—and wonder at what knowledge we have lost about living in balance
with nature, in this place.
Medicine from the Land
Not long ago, Harriet Freeman was diagnosed with colon cancer. Tests turned up further complications that made doctors reluctant to take on her case. In the following three months that it
took her to find a doctor, she, like many others, did her own research into alternative treatments.
Harriet reasoned that the land has yielded treatment and cures for all kinds of disease, and so was
open to seeking an herbal cure. She learned of a Canadian nurse, Rene Caisse, who in the 1920s
used an Ojibway Indian herbal mixture to successfully treat many cancer patients in the course of
her career. The preparation uses sheep sorrel, burdock root, slippery elm bark and turkey rhubarb
root. A registered nurse herself, Harriet decided to make her own preparation of Essiac and took
it each day for three months. When she did find a new doctor and had follow-up tests done, the
results showed that the tumor was now benign. With lifestyle, work and outlook so closely rooted
in the land, the Freemans believe that it only makes sense that antidotes to disease come from the
living world around us. Even western medicine knows of taxol, a chemical from the woody plant
yew, that is successfully treating breast cancer today.
The Future
In spite of rapid development occurring around them, the Freeman family doesn’t seem bitter—
or perhaps they’ve learned to take things in stride. In the 1950s, the Massachusetts Turnpike
permanently bisected the original Eliot Grant, and the sound of cars and trucks streaming by is
constant. They are comforted by the fact that they have added to the original 50-acre parcel so
that now the homestead is buffered by more than 300 acres. This allows them plenty of room for
their forest and farm-based enterprises, and with the Army Corps along one boundary and a large
swamp along another, they feel well-protected from encroaching development. Like others
who are successful in land-based enterprises, the Freemans have been willing to change with
the times. For example, the growing number of summer cottage families that occupy the shores of
Little Alum Pond to the south, are now the consumers of fresh produce from the Freemans’ new
farm stand. This family demonstrates the flexibility and resilience that comes from a diversity
of enterprises. It is with these enduring qualities that they will endow the next generation.
The Black Locust Project
Rethinking Conventions on One Acre
ccupying center stage in this project is the tree species, black locust
(Robinia pseudoacacia). Desirable wood characteristics and an aggressive
growth habit have led to the conflicted status of this non-native tree.
Brought here by early European settlers from its native range further south,
is it a troublesome invasive or useful and long-lasting building material?
This case study is a challenge to reconsider underlying assumptions about
the right species for an end use, the size of trees that can be processed into
useful materials, and the scale of harvest operation. It also challenges us to
look closer at the diversity of plants, including exotic invasives, and their
many uses. One aspect of strengthening the local forest economy is finding
markets for our native species.
In the third pilot project of the Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative, L.L.C. (MWC), members
Walter Wright and Sarah Buie of Worthington offered up a small stand of black locust for this
experiment, to see if the wood could be marketed to capitalize on its strength and durability
and cover the costs of a careful harvest operation that would occur in their front yard. As forest
operator and buyer of the black locust, Peter Jensen of Openspace Management, a trail designer
and builder with a regional reputation, took up this unusual opportunity to harvest, utilize and
purchase building materials to his exact specifications. Dave Bowman, portable sawmiller and
timber framer from Cummington, milled the material on site. From this project, MWC gathered
data on harvesting costs, tree and log volumes and sawmill yields. They also explored uses for
the wood beyond posts and lumber and were able to utilize surprising amounts of the tree for
products more valuable than firewood.
Walter Wright shares his perspective as a new forest landowner who had never
sold wood products from a harvest. He describes his reaction to best management practices, small-scale equipment, working with professionals and the
aesthetic results of excellent tree utilization in the woods.
In the same vein as using black locust for trail building, Kathleen O’Rourke,
owner of Oxalis, a naturalist and herbalist consulting business in Shelburne
Falls, writes about the commercial possibilities of using other invasive plants—
Japanese barberry and Japanese knotweed among them—at the same time that
we attempt to eradicate them from our native landscapes. These invasive
plants that encroach on native plant habitat have medicinal and nutritional
value that should not be overlooked.
Two cultural institutions put black locust wood to uses that make the most of
its rot resistance and strength. The Laurel Hill Association of Stockbridge, as
the nation’s oldest village improvement society, contracted with Openspace
Management to build an accessible trail along the Housatonic River, in honor
of a beloved citizen, Mary V. Flynn. This project is the first of several to use
the black locust posts, railings and bridge lumber from the Wright/Buie project
described herein. This public work-of-art embodies the best of what our
forests can give us: useful building materials and a place to renew our connection
to nature.
A volunteer parent group from the Greenfield Center School, a small private
school of 140 students in kindergarten through 8th grade, chose black locust
for their parent-designed and built play structure constructed in 2000.
Looking for an alternative to copper chromium arsenate (CCA) treated lumber
and interested in using their own design, the project team found a local business,
Colrain Tree Service, that could supply them with black locust.
1. Introducing Black Locust: Its Wood Properties
& Growth Characteristics
Black Locust is a very dense, strong hardwood species, native to the southern Appalachian and
Ozark regions. As a member of the legume family, black locust has the ability to fix nitrogen
and thus improve the condition of the soil. It thrives in full sunlight and is an early colonizer
of open areas. Its ability to resprout vigorously from cut stumps and underground roots can create
a thicket of growth. The species is easily identified when clusters of its white flowers open in
June, a time when most other flowering hardwood trees are past their bloom. Honey from
these flowers is highly prized.
Historical Uses
Because of its useful qualities, early European settlers to America transplanted black locust,
extending its range north and west. Black locust is one of a few rot-resistant hardwood species
in the Eastern United States. This, combined with its strength and rapid juvenile growth, made
it ideal for fence posts and other homestead applications. Many people planted these trees in
their door yard, which over the years, spread into field edges. Because of this ability to rapidly
colonize open areas, in the 1960s and decades to follow, black locust has been used extensively
for land reclamation projects, particularly the mining spoils of coal regions. Able to grow on
poor soils, the black locust grows rapidly, physically binding the soil with its roots. The soil
nutrition of these spent sites improves as nitrogen is fixed by this legume.
Present Day Pest
Today black locust is on the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Working Group’s unwanted list, as
well as others in the region because it is an “exotic invasive”—a non-native species that can
encroach on the native flora, thereby impacting the web of biological relationships between
creatures that have evolved together over the millennia. This is a threat to native ecosystem
resilience. Some feel that black locust is less of a nuisance than some exotic invasives because
it doesn’t seem to spread easily into the deep forest, and its wood has unique properties. Even
if we wanted to rid the region of black locust, it may be nearly impossible, if not impractical
to do so. Like other prolific sprouters (aspen and beech are two others), the harder you cut it,
the more vigorously it can reappear. Of course there are chemicals that can poison the plant,
but it takes a licensed applicator, vigilance and repeated applications to completely kill that
underground root mass supporting the clones of the parent tree.
The Right Species for the Job
And, speaking of chemicals, Copper Chromium Arsenate (known as CCA, the compound that turns
pressure-treated lumber its greenish hue) is now under review by the United States government
to determine whether it poses an unreasonable health risk. In response, industry is voluntarily
phasing out its manufacture and sale of the product by the end of 2003. After that, it will not
be allowed in residential use for boardwalks, fences or playground equipment.
While manufacturers will develop chemicals to replace CCA, others will look harder at naturally
rot-resistant species. Redwood and western cedar are excellent examples and will continue to
be valued for their longevity. Our beloved chestnut (still present in our forests but reduced to
a shrub-sized tree by an exotic insect/fungi complex) once provided strength, rot-resistance,
flexibility and relatively light weight all in one species—a combination of traits difficult to surpass
in building materials. There are some northeastern conifer species that make good fence posts—
northern white cedar, Atlantic white cedar and eastern red cedar (actually a juniper)—but
these all grow in limited amounts on specific sites. Though not occurring in great abundance,
black locust is a good alternative to pressure-treated lumber in certain applications, particularly
because of its “unwanted” status.
F O R E S T- B A S E D
2. The Pilot Project: A Harvest of Trail-Building Materials
If the early bumps and jogs of this project were a foreshadowing of its value, it should not have
left the starting blocks. The wet spring followed by a wet summer kept the operator on another
job and the Black Locust Project delayed five weeks later than hoped. The portable sawmiller,
who remained flexible throughout the delay, saw his busy season kick in with a vengeance just
when the operator was finally available. Luckily, the landowners had flexibility that summer, or
surely the project would have been stymied for good.
The Landowners and Their Woods
Walter Wright and Sarah Buie moved to Worthington five years ago in search
of a quiet primary residence in the Hilltowns. Here they purchased an 85-acre
property with fields and woods under a long term management program
through Chapter 61. Early on they met another forest landowner and
Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative (MWC) member from Worthington
who approached them to join the group. Wright and Buie soon found that
they shared values of excellence in forestry standards, wildlife and aesthetics
goals, and the support of the local wood economy. Their professional and personal lives had led them to ask themselves: how can we live sustainably on this
earth? As new members of the Coop their commitment was evident. Buie, as
Director of the Studio Art Program at Clark University, enlisted her senior
design class in the task of developing a design identity for the MWC. Wright
made time in his busy professorial schedule to join the Coop Board of
Directors and participated in the Massachusetts Coverts Program. This intensive
four-day educational workshop for forest stakeholders is held each year for
local leaders who, after the training, agree to return to their home communities
as advocates for forest conservation. After these visible offerings, Wright’s and
Buie’s willingness to sponsor an MWC pilot project in their woods was no surprise.
The one-acre block of black locust in question sits about 150 feet from the
house and is bordered by stone walls. The large black cherry, sugar maple and
elm along the perimeter are the parent trees for the interior of the block,
which was once a small pasture or hayfield. Shade does deter this species, and
it was the hope of Wright and Buie’s consulting forester, the late Karl Davies
of Northampton, that removal of the black locust from the stand would allow
the pole-sized elm, ash, cherry and maple that were scattered in the understory,
to more fully occupy this one-acre site. It’s likely that the black locust won’t
have enough sunlight to regain a foothold, but if it does, Wright and Buie are
inclined to let these black locust stump sprouts grow to fence post size and then use them
around their fields—not a bad strategy to keep options open.
Because this stand is so small and is close to the house, the aesthetics of the stand is an important
issue for the landowners. This block of woods is essentially in their front yard, and the “wall” effect
that the tall trees created so close to the house was less than ideal. Wright and Buie envisioned
some openings in the stand through which the setting sun could be enjoyed and one could better
see into the woods. For some landowners, one of its highest and best traditional uses might be
firewood for home use, especially for the do-it-yourself types. But with their full professional
lives, the recommended treatment would most likely get scheduled in combination with other
forestry work that needed doing. The stand was hardly large or valuable enough to justify the
overhead costs of a conventional harvesting job.
Black Locust Put to Its Highest and Best Use
Peter Jensen, of Openspace Management in Stockbridge, is one who appreciates the virtues of black
locust. A licensed forester with an educational background in soil science, Jensen’s specialty is trail
building and design. Much of his work is enjoyed by the public, and his clients are typically
public or non-profit organizations. Berkshire Natural Resources Council, the National Park
Service, the State of North Carolina and many others know his careful engineering and graceful
design of woods trails. He’s used black locust in only one other trail building project in 1998,
but would use more if he could get the dimensions and quantities that he needs.
It only makes sense that Jensen likes black locust for its strength and rot-resistance, and that
the prospect of stockpiling material for future projects would tempt this careful planner. When
broached about a small MWC black locust harvest, his interest was piqued. But several other
opportunities made this project enticing to him: as builder/designer, a desire for quality material
cut to his precise job specifications; as forester/steward, the desire to operate in the stand so as to
protect the young trees left to grow; as thrifty consumer, a desire to find as much use as possible
for the trees marked to cut. Jensen signed on both as woods operator and wood purchaser—a
rather unique situation. To remove any conflict of interest from Jensen’s work, Wright and Buie hired
John Clarke, of Bay State Forestry, to mark and tally the trees to be cut in advance of the harvest.
Jensen was interested in exploring the economic viability of such a small harvest, knowing that
some of his land trust clients might only be persuaded to harvest timber if they could start
small. This pilot project could be a unique opportunity to track costs, yields, and examine
questions about the flow of wood in the local economy. Years of experience and a range of skills
have led Jensen to participate in the many aspects of woods work: ecological/economic assessment,
planning, silvicultural treatments, felling/bucking, equipment operation, and transport of wood
products. His vantage point allows him to question the underlying assumptions of the traditional
wood economy and the ways that it can pit harvester against forester, landowner against buyer
and wood production against the long term health of the land.
Dave Bowman, of nearby Cummington, agreed to bring his portable sawmill to the meadow
adjacent to the black locust stand and mill the logs that Jensen recovered from the woods.
Bowman was the right person for the job because he lives five miles away, his sawmill is efficient
and routinely exceeds predicted yields, and he is willing to mill the small logs down to a 6- or
7-inch tip diameter.
With a work crew assembled, the project came into sharper focus. Could the silvicultural
objective be accomplished at no out-of-pocket cost to the landowners? Can the wood product
extracted support the hourly costs of lower efficiency, small scale equipment and crew? How
does foreknowledge of customer specifications influence wood utilization, economic viability
of the project, and the condition of the forest?
Figuring and Planning
Before the harvesting was to begin, a logistical meeting was held on site with Wright, Jensen,
and Bowman to discuss details about access to the stand, portable sawmill location and milling
dimensions. The equipment would have to be driven over the lawn to the field, but with August
typically the driest month of the year and equipment on the small side, landowner worries over
a rutted lawn faded. The sawlog pile was to be situated on a gentle slope and perpendicular to
the spot where Bowman would position his portable sawmill. This arrangement let gravity and
a shove with the peavey send the logs downhill and onto the hydraulic lifts of the saw carriage.
With Jensen interested in 2-by-6 stock for boardwalk joists, Bowman was willing to mill logs
as small as 6.5 inches diameter at the small end. From each of these, he knew he could mill a
few 2-by-6s and surplus boards. Another key outcome of this early logistical meeting was
Bowman’s recommendation to use a 1.5-by-6 inch dimension for the joists because for Jensen’s
purpose, the lumber would sit “on end” and the strength needed in the vertical dimension
would be adequate. What’s more, Bowman rationalized that when purchasing dried, planed
lumber, a 2-by-6 inch board has actually shrunk to 1.5 inches, and Jensen would not be drying
the wood. This adjustment in product dimension didn’t change the board foot yield of the
project, but is a good example of how the milling was tailored to the buyer’s specifications. In
the end it would net Jensen a greater number of joists for his own use.
At the outset, Jensen committed to pay $1.70 per board foot for black locust dimensional lumber,
based on what he once paid in the past for this material. With an expectation that the project
would yield about 1,700 board feet, this gave an anticipated project income (budget) of
$2,890. He also estimated that it would take 2 days to complete the harvest, and at $530 per
day for labor and machinery, he was willing to contract to do the work for a total of $1,060.
That left $1,830 to cover milling, project coordination, and stumpage payment to the
landowner (from which the landowners would pay their forester). It appeared that the project
could cover its costs with a margin left to pay the Cooperative’s cost of doing business (see
Hardwood Flooring for more details on projecting this margin).
The Harvest
Jensen and his assistant Charlotte Crittenden arrived at the job site in a flat-bed truck with a
tractor and forwarding trailer tidily stowed on deck. Because of his trail building bent, Jensen
owns small scale equipment that was particularly appropriate on this one-acre job. He uses a
small, but powerful (64 horse power) four-wheel-drive, articulated tractor that pulls a trailer
with a hydraulic loading arm. In this way, the tractor carries logs from the forest instead of
dragging them. Outfitted with two chainsaws, safety gear and an array of wedges, axe and
measuring tape, the pair was set to work.
Through the most sultry of summer days, Jensen and Crittenden worked hard felling, limbing,
bucking and forwarding material out of the woods and into the brush-mowed field. There
Jensen operated the hydraulic arm to unload each piece onto piles for sawlogs, posts, rails and
bog bridge sleepers1. As the piles grew, early concerns that there be enough lumber product to
cover the cost of the crew were allayed. Jensen and Crittenden kept bringing out more and
These are 3 to 4-foot chunks of log with one side slabbed off. A pair of these supports two planks, making an 8foot section of bog bridge that can rest on soggy ground.
more material, beyond the estimated 1,700 board feet of logs and four cords of firewood. In
fact, as time went on, it was looking more like twice that volume would come out of the woods.
Products, Costs and Income
Jensen recovered a surprising amount of useable wood from the harvested trees. Even so, the site
looked neither denuded nor damaged. Just under 100 eight-foot sawlogs came out of the
woods to the portable mill, ranging from 6.5 to 18 inches in diameter at the small end, though
most were in the 8 to 11 inch range. With 3,197 board feet of this material at $1.70 per board
foot, its total value to the buyer (Jensen) was $5,435. As the projected volumes were exceeded,
so too, were the predictions of labor—taking six instead of the predicted two days to complete
the work. Luckily, the increased log volume proportionally supported the increase in labor
costs. Had the additional product been only firewood, this would not have been the case.
A Tricky Comparison to Make
To explore how local niche markets and foreknowledge of
customer specifications impacts the economic viability of
the project, it is helpful to ask, what if this job were operated
under conventional market conditions? To do this, we have to start
with some assumptions. First, this single acre of black locust
would have been operational only if it were a section of a
larger harvest area. Second, without a strong established
market for black locust, the predicted 1.7 thousand board
feet of logs would probably have been sold for low grade
pallet stock, and conventional minimum standards would
dictate that any log with a tip end smaller than 10 inches
in diameter would go into cordwood. For the conventional
scenario we use a hypothetical value of $225 per thousand
board feet ($120/mbf and $105/mbf for average harvesting
and stumpage costs, respectively), which is the cost of
getting the wood to the landing.
Economic Activity from
59 Black Locust Trees
3,197 bf dimensional lumber
for trail bridges and boardwalks
@ $1.70/bf
$ 5,435
156 8-foot posts @ $8/pc
$ 1,248
100 bridge sleepers @ $8/pc
50 8-foot railings @ $.50/lineal ft
6 cords of firewood @ $65/cd
$ 8,073
For the Black Locust Project, we use actual costs: $417 per thousand board feet which comes from
dividing the total labor costs by the total volume to yield $312/mbf, and to this adding the
stumpage cost, $105/mbf. When the log value for each scenario is multiplied by the two different
project yields, the logs on the landing are worth
$248 in the conventional scenario and $959 in
the Black Locust Project scenario.
The scaled log yields for the Black Locust
Project were twice as much as the conventional
scenario because the portable bandsaw mill
operator had agreed to cut logs with a minimum
tip diameter down to 6.5 inches—logs that in
the conventional scenario would have become
cordwood. Even though the table above only
compares the value of the logs at the landing, the
Black Locust Project sawyer further increased the
yield of these logs by 18% due to the small saw
kerf on his mill. We can project that if the logs
go into the commodity market as pallet grade
lumber, their eventual wholesale value is significantly lower than the $1700 per thousand board
feet that Jensen is willing to pay for a local niche
product that puts black locust wood properties to their highest and best use. The power of this
niche market to generate greater volume and value in the local marketplace is real.
Now, looking at the yield and value of the cordwood that came off this harvest site, let’s assume for
comparison’s sake, the conventional scenario yielded the same estimated 14 cords of firewood.
(Realistically, it is quite likely that much of this would have been left lopped on the ground because
the cost to the operator to pull it out of the woods is often not economical.) With the right firewood market connection, an operator without an efficient firewood processor himself might sell
14 cords of tree-length wood by the truckload for about $65 per cord, or a total value of $910.
From the same 14 cords of wood, the Black
Locust Project yielded an array of more
valuable products. Eight-foot fence posts,
(measured at the log landing)
ranging in diameter from about four to
seven inches, contributed $1,248 to the
Conventional Black Locust
total value. Priced at $1.00 per lineal foot
Sawlog volume (mbf)
or $8.00 each, this is consistent with
another local black locust post producer.
Cordwood volume (cds)
Bog bridge sleepers were a handy use for
Sawlog value ($/mbf)
logs that were too crooked to mill and too
Cordwood value ($/cd)
thick for posts. Jensen’s experience in
Total Sawlog value
building these walkway sections suggested
Total Cordwood value
a value of $10 per “slabbed” sleeper, so the
value at the landing was projected at $8.00
each or a total of $800. Jensen also needed
* Six cords of firewood plus value-added posts, sleepers, and railings.
** $185 is an average; the actual values ranged from $65–$400/cd.
long, narrow pieces for walkway railings
and salvaged these two to four inch pieces
from the firewood pile. Without a market comparison, we assigned a value of $.50 per lineal foot,
for a total of $200. Finally, what wasn’t used for any of these purposes went into the firewood
pile—a total of about 3 cords of round wood and three cords of slab wood from the milling.
This would stay with the landowners for their own use. For the purposes of the comparison, it
will be assigned the same unit value as the wholesale firewood, for a total of $390.
Project Volume and Value
in Two Marketplaces
The bottom line for the Black Locust Project was good on several accounts, as it ultimately
generated three times the dollar value of the conventional scenario. The landowners received
twice as much for the stumpage than they might have under the conventional scenario, and, as
important, the high utilization of cordwood left the stand in a more aesthetic condition. The
additional volume processed for this project also increased harvesting, milling and management
costs. However, the increase in project value more than made up for these added costs. Local
businesses benefited as project income was spent within the community. And finally, hikers in
Stockbridge and surrounding areas can enjoy a new handicapped-accessible trail along the
Housatonic River (see Section 4 of this chapter) for years to come.
The Role of Project Coordination
Coordination was a key element of this project’s success, and because this was a pilot, the cost of
coordinating a one-time (and first-time) project was difficult to assess. With numerous people and
types of equipment needed to get a standing tree from its stump delivered to a final customer, the
timing and flow of activity is complex, especially when dealing with independent contractors.
Less of a hierarchical process and more of a collaboration, communication and knowledge of
each player’s assets and limitations will be critical to this type of local enterprise.
A Neophyte Owner’s Perspective by Walter Wright
Although our “Black Locust” cut was very small, it
has been an eye opening experience, one that
contradicted the horror stories we had heard from
other landowners about what can happen while
harvesting forest products. Sarah and I are new
landowners, and we have no prior experience
with cutting wood. We had many questions and
concerns about the impact of what we were
doing, environmentally and aesthetically. So, for us,
the project’s most important element was our full
participation with Susan Campbell and Peter Jensen
in planning and overseeing the work. Participating
fully helped us learn what is involved and enabled
us to identify our needs along the way. As a result,
we saw first hand what good planning, “best practices,” and value added can mean on the ground,
and we came to appreciate how important explicit
understandings and good working relationships
can be on such a project.
we were concerned for the job’s environmental
and aesthetic impact. Peter’s small, low impact
equipment and his meticulous attention to every
detail quickly allayed our concerns. He and his
assistant Charlotte worked carefully and deliberately. They removed the marked trees efficiently,
while leaving smaller poles of maple and ash
undisturbed. As a result, the woodlot has been left
in good condition to regenerate. David Bowman’s
portable saw mill was positioned in a field directly
behind the stand of trees. His milling operation
went very smoothly, and at the end of the job, the
woodlot and field showed virtually no signs of the
activity they had seen, beyond two neat piles of
slabs and end pieces ready to be bucked up for
In a series of communications we planned every
aspect of the cut, discussing finances, equipment,
access, aesthetic issues, and even end use of the
trees. Before any work was done, we had clear
mutual agreements about all aspects of the project.
Susan Campbell’s involvement was crucial. She was
on site at key points, and her presence convinced
us that having professional supervision for a wood
sale is indispensable. Both she and Peter were excellent collaborators. They communicated effectively;
they had forest conservation values compatible
with ours; and they seemed to be having as much
fun with this project as we were.
Two very important reasons for the project’s
superior aesthetic results were (1) on-site valueadded processing, and (2) the high percentage of
the cut trees that Peter was able to use. Because
the trees were milled on site, we did not have to
truck whole logs across the yard, minimizing the
disturbance. Further, David’s efficient, small scale
milling enabled him to saw smaller diameter
materials than might ordinarily be the case. Peter
was also able to take some larger twisted lengths
of trunk as foundation pieces for bog bridges.
Material that ordinarily might have been cord
wood became posts and railings for Peter’s trail
making. These various efficiencies meant that we
doubled the final tally of milled lumber beyond the
total projected by the forester who marked the cut.
As it unfolded, the project impressed us with
what “best practices” can mean. The area being cut
was close to our house, and the access for equipment and hauling went over our lawn. Naturally,
At the end, we came away with a better appreciation for what it means to work in the woods, and
real gratitude for the skilled and thoughtful people who do it well.
3. An Alternative Use for Exotic Invasive Plants
As the Black Locust Project demonstrates, it may be possible to find some uses for the unwanted
invasive species that threaten native biological diversity. Market forces can contribute greatly
to the extinction or decline of some native species (passenger pigeons for the use of their feathers
in fancy hats; ginseng for its prized use in medicinal applications), but perhaps these same
forces can be harnessed to reduce the numbers of unwanted invasive species.
A Local Advocate
Kathleen O’Rourke is a naturalist and herbalist from Shelburne Falls. She started her business, Oxalis, after a career in nursing
and eight seasons working in National Parks, when the need arose to stay closer to home to care for an aging parent. She teaches
classes and workshops, leads naturalist hikes and conducts herbal inventories for property owners who want to learn more about
what their land has to offer. This work has led her to think about the development of commercial uses for exotic-invasive plants
as a way to reduce their presence in our ecosystems and pay for this labor-intensive work. Her own words follow.
Adapted from “Taking Good Care,” a West County News column written by
Kathleen O’Rourke for the October 23–29, 2003 issue.
the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife,
the Sierra Club, Audubon and local towns have
been working hard, but they cannot keep up with
this very aggressive plant. They cut the prickly
shrub at ground level and then spray the root to
kill it. But we could be using this root for medicine.
The axiom “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”
applies well to a problem in the plant world. Want to
get rid of invasive species? Eat them. As advocates of
biological diversity work to eradicate these aggressive plants, many can be used as valuable medicine
and nutritious food.
Japanese Barberry as
an Alternative to Golden Seal
Japanese Barberry is an invasive shrub that becomes
a huge problem when it takes over the forest
understory. It is so adaptable that it will spread from
garden into fields and become especially thick
along the edge where forest meets meadow.
Eradication programs sponsored by groups such as
Barberry is a substitute for the well known and
respected herbal medicine golden seal root.
Since golden seal has been endangered for years
and should not be harvested in the wild, doesn’t
it make sense to use its invasive cousin, barberry
root? Both contain the biochemical berberine
(although barberry root has less of it), and the
herbs may be used for similar conditions. Here are
some of the ways barberry root has traditionally
been used: It helps stimulate bile flow, eases liver
congestion, and is useful for treating gall stones. It
has been used for malaria, arthritis, cancers, hepatitis,
cholera, skin diseases, candida, bronchial congestion,
and to lower blood pressure. It is considered antibacterial and may be antiviral (more studies are
needed on this). So why aren’t we using this valuable
and, yes, pesky root?
Golden seal sells for over $300 a pound and barberry root sells for about $17 a pound. However,
none of the health food stores I checked have a
source for supplying them with barberry root. In
the long run, eradication groups might be able to
financially sustain their programs by harvesting
and selling it. Perhaps they could even pay people
a good wage for the work instead of relying on
volunteer efforts. It would take a bit of ground
work, but it can be done.
First, health food stores and herbal product companies would need to be educated so they, in turn,
might educate their customers about the value of
using barberry root instead of golden seal (or
Oregon grape root, a similar and at-risk plant in the
west). Second, the invasive species eradication
agencies would dig the roots, wash and grind the
product, sell it, and put that money right back into
the loop. The program could then be self-sustaining.
Japanese Knotweed
on the Dinner Menu
The bamboo that you see lining river banks
throughout the region is Japanese knotweed. We
cut, spray, and dig this nasty invasive in a failing
effort to eradicate it, but we could also sauté it in
a stir fry or steam it with a little salt. In the spring,
when the new shoots are only a foot high, it can
be cut at ground level and cooked up as a delicious vegetable that has been shown to lower
cholesterol. It tastes similar to rhubarb, but
milder and not as sour.
able food product, the money earned could go
back into funding their programs which so often
are halted because the funds and the volunteers
needed are unavailable.
Other Edible Invasive Plants
I’ve only discussed two invasive plants, but there
are several others that grow around here that are
good herbs and edibles. Goutweed is a plentiful
early spring salad green. Garlic mustard’s young
leaves are good in salads. Black locust flowers can
be used to make tea. Mugwort can be dried and
used for tea to drink during flu season. Multiflora
rose petals can be used to make tea and the hips
can be used to make a pectin high in vitamin C.
And by the way, black locust blossoms are edible—they have a mild sweet flavor and can be
used to make tea, for salads, or simmered for five
minutes in soups. Mystify your friends!
Make a mental note or draw a map of where these
invasive plants grow near your home so that next
spring you can eat wild salads and make your own
teas, juices, pectins, and herbal remedies while you
tend to the important job of reducing their numbers.
In Japan, knotweed has been used for centuries to
treat cardiovascular disease. We now know why.
It contains resveratrol, which has proven to be
beneficial to the heart. Like most sour foods it is
high in vitamin C. In addition, the mucilaginous
texture of this vegetable is soothing to the stomach and intestines, and it will help metabolize fat
and stimulate healthy digestive processes. I have
read that it can also be used as pectin to help set
up jams and jellies. I haven’t yet had much success with this, but I’m sure some creative and
dedicated cook could figure out how to use it
effectively for that purpose. Perhaps a natural
pectin company could experiment and finally this
invasive plant would be used in large quantities.
If local, state, and regional eradication programs
could sell large quantities of knotweed as a desir-
4. Mary V. Flynn Trail in Stockbridge
Put black locust lumber and posts in the hands of a talented trail
builder who was contracted by a 150-year-old community organization, and you’ve got a public work that will give great pleasure to
residents and visitors for decades to come. Boardwalk lumber, posts
and railings all came from the Black Locust Project in Worthington.
With the talent and hard work of Peter Jensen and his work crew, now
people of all ages—especially parents with children in strollers and
seniors with a walking stick or wheelchair—will be able to partake of
these woods along the Housatonic River in Stockbridge, thanks to
a community group that loves and stewards its forested landscape.
To celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2003, the Laurel Hill Association gave the community a
wonderful and lasting birthday present: a new walking trail. Named for a beloved teacher and
citizen, Mary V. Flynn, this accessible trail begins just after crossing the Goodrich Memorial
footbridge over the Housatonic from a small trailhead parking lot at the end of Park Street.
This is also the starting point for two other popular trails maintained by the association, Laura’s
Tower, and Ice Glen.
The Laurel Hill Association is the nation’s oldest village improvement society. It was founded
in 1853 by Mary Hopkins Goodrich who sought to address village problems such as the
unkempt cemetery, trash disposal, muddy streets, and untethered cows that wandered willynilly through town. With her leadership, Goodrich organized a group of townspeople and
raised $1,000. With this ample beginning the improvement society planted street trees around
the village. The Laurel Hill Association has endured for a century and a half thanks to a committed board and a generous endowment that has built up over the years. Today it owns and
cares for 386 acres in town, most of which are open space for public use.
5. The Greenfield Center School
Play Structure
When a group of parents took on the project to build a playground structure at their children’s school in Greenfield, Rich
Sweitzer, a builder among them, brought up the subject of Copper
Chromium Arsenate (CCA). Ever since creosote was taken off the
market, CCA has been the pressure treating substance of choice
for extending the life of wood. As it turns out, it is particularly
toxic to the workers that make it. Nonetheless, CCA-treated
southern yellow pine was built into play structures all over the
region. This parent group, however, decided that they would only
use CCA-treated wood as flooring joists where children would not be in contact with it. For
the exposed supporting posts they would use black locust.
Completed three years ago, the play structure was designed by an architect/parent, Kiki Smith.
It is a series of three slightly slanting platforms, much in the shape of a ship’s decks. The black
locust posts, around which the decks are assembled, reach 20 feet in the air to make the ship’s
masts. The local power company augured the post holes at no cost, and the posts became firmly
lodged in the ground. Blue Sky, of Colrain Tree Service, provided the locust posts at $1.00 per
lineal foot. He cut them from a lot in Shelburne from which he continues to market a supply
of black locust products for local use.
The Greenfield Center School’s play structure, with its tilting decks and tall masts, resembles
a tree house as much as a ship at sea. Whatever the fantasy, the sturdy structure will support
years of children hard at play.
Author’s End Note
Trees and wood are elemental. As children we climb them, collect colorful fall leaves, learn to
build a campfire and make that first building project from wood. Later on, a forest walk consoles
us, our woodstoves warm us, and our fireplaces urge us to look inward. Connecting us to all stages
of our cultural evolution, trees and wood have been used in the same ways over the millennia.
For these reasons, I will always treasure this diverse, complex and precious natural material.
From my own love of forests comes the hope that these profiles will allow people to consider ways of
cultivating our local forest economy. After all, this region has a blessed abundance and diversity
of trees. Researching and writing about people who work in and steward these woods renews my
love of this geography and the potential that its natural wealth might hold for its cultural wellbeing. It also reminds me of what all people require: food, shelter, love, decent work, creative
expression and nurturing communities.
This work embraces the vision that a thriving local forest economy is compatible with forest
ecosystems and good for its human communities. It is intended to counter in a human way, the
constant and accelerating press of technology and information, environmental set-backs and
shortsightedness, rampant materialism and consumption, and political arrogance when humility
would better serve. There comes a time when focusing on one’s own corner of the earth—
integrating professional skills with personal values—may be the best way to dig in and work
for a meaningful future.
If the ideas and aims of this work strike a chord with you, I invite you to contact us at the
Massachusetts Woodlands Institute with feedback, ideas, resources, and most importantly,
other individuals and businesses that can help bring to fruition a sustainable forest economy
for our region.
Susan Campbell
December, 2003
Businesses Featured
In These Case Studies
Blue Heron Farm Stays
Norma and Bill Coli
Clearpath Herbals
Chris Marano
[email protected]
Dave Bowman
Timber Framer
[email protected]
Hall Tavern Farm
Jay Healy
[email protected]
High-Pocket Farm Bed
& Breakfast
Mark and Sara McKusick
Hull Forest Products
Kathryn Woodland Bateman
Klaus Land Improvements
Ed Klaus
Massachusetts Woodlands
Cooperative, L.L.C.
New England Wild Edibles
Paul Lagreze
Openspace Management
Peter Jensen
[email protected]
Kathleen O’Rourke
(413) 625-9426
7 Warren Court
Shelburne Falls, MA 01370
Patchwork Farm Writing Retreats
Patricia Lee Lewis
Porter & Noonan’s Draft Horses
Kip Porter
[email protected]
Stump Sprouts Guest Lodge &
Cross Country Ski Center
Lloyd Crawford
More Forest-based
Businesses &
Appalachian Mountain Club
Hut system
Cornell’s Agroforestry
Learning Communities
Forest Stewardship
Council USA
Forest Stewards Guild
Franklin Land Trust
Massachusetts Licensed
Forester List
Heartwood School
Massachusetts Association
of Professional Foresters
Hilltown Land Trust
Massachusetts Forestry
Massachusetts Maple
Producers Association
Portable Sawmill Businesses
Primary Wood
Producers Directory
Secondary Wood
Producers Directory
Sylvan Botanicals
Highland Communities Initiative
Laurel Hill Association
MA Dept of Food & Agriculture’s
Farm Viability Program
New England Forestry
New England Wildflower Society
North Quabbin Woods Project
(and Guide Training Program)
The Trustees of Reservations
Timber Framers Guild
Technical Resources
Vermont’s Inn to Inn system
Fungi Perfecti
& Programs
Berkshire Grown
Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Certified Wood
Community Involved In
Sustaining Agriculture
The Basket Shop
Milton LaFond
National Park Service’s Plant
Conservation Alliance’s Alien
Plant Working Group
New England Wildflower Society
United Plant Savers
USDA-Forest Service
Silvics Manual
USDA-Forest Service
About the Author
Susan Campbell, a Massachusetts native and professional
forester for 20 years, spent a decade of those years shaping
the state’s Forest Stewardship Program which supports
thousands of landowners in making informed decisions
about their forests. During the researching and writing of
this book, she was Research Forester with the Massachusetts
Woodlands Institute, and recently has become the Associate
Director of the Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative.
She makes her home in Montague. To contact her, please
e-mail [email protected] or write to P.O. Box
301, Montague, MA 01351.
P.O. Box 301 • Montague, MA 01351
The Massachusetts Woodlands Institute is a 501(c)(3)
non-profit organization that helps forest landowners
and the general public maintain the environment and
character of the forests of western Massachusetts,
promotes conservation and enhancement of forest
resources, and fosters community development.

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