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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Forestry

by Barbara Corson of Dauphin, PA

For the past 70 years or so, industrial agriculture has been increasing CO2 levels in our atmosphere, depleting our soil, building up toxins in our environment, wasting the remaining oil, and devastating farming communities economically. Obviously, we need alternatives to industrial agriculture and more importantly, we need alternative farmers, millions and millions of them.

A parallel situation exists in forestry. After 70 plus years of industrial logging, the world’s forests are as degraded and diminished as its farmlands, or by some estimates even more so. And this is a big problem for all of us, because the forests of the world do much more than supply lumber, Brazil nuts, and maple syrup. Farmlands produce food, a basic need to be sure, but forests are responsible for protecting and purifying the air, water and soil which are even more basic. People can’t live without forests and to put it even more strongly, there is no way to have a healthy planet Earth, without healthy forests. We need non-industrial forestry methods, and millions of people to practice them if we are going to have a livable future.

Thanks in large part to the long efforts of Small Farmers Journal and similar publications, there is increasing awareness of the problem of industrial agriculture, and, happily there are also people working on solving the problems of industrial forestry. In May 2012 I was lucky enough to attend a conference devoted to this theme.

The conference was held at Allegheny College in Meadville PA, in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania. Forest products like hard-wood lumber are an important part of the economy in this area, and in fact according to some references, Pennsylvania produces more hard wood lumber than any other state in the US. In spite of this statistic, or maybe because of it, forest land in Pennsylvania is in decline; losing ground to “development,” invasive plants and insects, and environmental changes.

Sustainable Forestry

Local forest owners Troy and Lynn Firth were concerned about this trend, and in 2004 they started the Firth Family Foundation to protect and manage their timberlands in perpetuity. Realizing that there was a need for a broader conservation entity, the Firth family modified their foundation into the Foundation for Sustainable Forests in 2009. This non-profit organization is dedicated to forest preservation through sustainable forestry. As a land trust, the Foundation acquires forested land and manages it for ecosystem health, while at the same time supporting local jobs.

The conference in Meadville, called “Loving the Land through Working Forests” was the second annual conference hosted by the Foundation. The opening event, “A conversation with Wendell Berry” consisted of a reception followed by an auditorium presentation, and drew a standing-room-only crowd. For nearly two hours, the beloved author and ethicist engaged a panel and the audience in a discussion of forestry problems and potential solutions. The panel included Troy Firth of the FSF, Sarah Galloway (sustainability coordinator for the city of Erie), Terry Bensel (Allegheny College Environmental Studies), and Jim Finley PhD of Penn State University.

The second day of the conference consisted of a visit to a nearby wooded site currently being managed by the Foundation. Demonstrations of horse (and mule!) powered logging were ongoing throughout the day, with teamsters Ray and Bernie Blystone, and woodsman Patrick Maloney. In addition to the logging demonstrations, there were also several ‘concurrent sessions’ consisting of guided tours through the site. Session topics included “For the Birds” (management techniques that benefit birds and non-game wildlife) and “Reading the Understory” (using wildflowers and other understory plants to evaluate forest health).

The third concurrent session was called “Taking Hints from Nature.” This session was guided in part by Jason Rutledge, the president and founder of Healing Harvest Forest Foundation, based in Copper Hill, Virginia. Rutledge described forestry practices that set sustainable forestry apart from industrial logging and which are embraced by both HHFF and the FSF, including the following:

  • Respond to nature, don’t dictate — let the conditions recommend management rather than forcing management regardless of conditions.
  • Acknowledge that forestry is an art, not just a science. When it comes to understanding how trees and other parts of the forest community interact, science doesn’t have all the answers yet, so intuition and per- sonal experience must play a role.
  • Practice “worst first single tree selection” instead of high-grading or clear-cutting. Rutledge pointed out that much of our forested land is so degraded that it needs to be healed or restored before it can be sustained. Restorative forestry begins by identifying and selectively removing diseased or deformed trees and leaving healthy trees behind to grow with reduced competition. The increased health of the forest translates into increased economic value over time as well. In contrast, high-grading and clear cutting are analogous to “killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”
  • Use horses or other draft animals and a well-designed logging arch to move logs from the stump to a roadway. This minimizes damage to the remaining trees, the soil, and waterways. Rutledge explained that using draft animals to extract timber is slower than using petroleum-powered machines and although this is seen by conventional foresters as a negative aspect, from an environmental point of view it is a positive. Speed translates as damage to the forest and as in agriculture, the speed and “efficiency” of petroleum fueled forestry has disruptive socioeconomic effects as well. Slow Wood is just as desirable as Slow Food!

Sustainable Forestry

Of course using draft animals for power requires more skill than using ma- chines and the lack of skilled teamsters will be a limiting factor in efforts to create the millions of alternative foresters we will need in the future. A primary purpose of Rutledge’s non-profit HHFF is to address that problem through offering apprenticeships and private instruction in horse-powered logging. Rutledge calls his prote?ge?s “biological woodsmen” to emphasize their understanding of forest ecology and differentiate them from conventional loggers. Two of the woodsmen at the conference, Ray Blystone and Patrick Maloney, were former HHFF students.

Following the concurrent sessions on Saturday, participants gathered under a tent for a final discussion. I can’t say that we reached a definitive statement of how we should solve the problems facing us, but it was encouraging to see such a diverse group, including landowners and farmers, academicians, government representatives, and practicing horse-loggers gathered together with a common goal. There was a consensus that what FSF was doing was providing a great example and inspiration for many, especially those lucky enough to attend this wonderful conference. I know I will be looking forward to the third annual FSF conference as well as watching for more events like this to continue my education! Here are some references for those who may want to learn more:

FSF website www.foundationforsustainableforests.org

HHFF website www.healingharvestforestfoundation.org

Sustainable Forestry

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

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Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo: A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

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The bamboos are gaining increased attention as an alternative crop with multiple uses and benefits: 1) domestic use around the farm (e.g., vegetable stakes, trellis poles, shade laths); 2) commercial production for use in construction, food, and the arts (e.g., concrete reinforcement, fishing poles, furniture, crafts, edible bamboo shoots, musical instruments); and 3) ornamental, landscape, and conservation uses (e.g., specimen plants, screens, hedges, riparian buffer zone).

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

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Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

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Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

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We are approaching this from a seed quality standpoint, not just a seed saving one. Saving seed is fairly simple to do, but the results from planting those seeds can be very mixed; without a basis of understanding of seed quality, people can be disappointed and confused as to why they got the results they did. Both the home gardener and the seed company must understand seed quality to be successful in their respective endeavors.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Apple Cider Autumns Nectar

Apple Cider, Autumn’s Nectar

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While autumn’s beauty is food for our souls, autumn’s harvest provides food for our tables. Along with the many hours and days of canning and freezing our garden produce, harvest time also means apple cider making for our family. We have been making apple cider, or sweet cider as it is commonly called, for six years. Beginning slowly, the demand for our juice has resulted in a production of over six hundred gallons this year.

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

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Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

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Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

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Carrots and beets are some of the vegetables that are easy to kill with kindness. They’re little gluttons for space and nutrients, and must be handled with an iron fist to make them grow straight and strong. Give the buggers no slack at all! Your motto should be – “If in doubt, yank it out!” I pinch out a finger full (maybe 3/4” wide) and skip a finger width. Pinch and skip, pinch and skip, working with existing gaps and rooting out particularly thick clumps.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT