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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).

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Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

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Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

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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.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

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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.

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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.

Onion Culture

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The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Making Sorghum Molasses

Making Sorghum Molasses

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How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

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Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

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What We’ve Learned From Compost

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Our compost piles will age for at least a year before being added to the garden. We have learned that the slow aging is more beneficial to the decomposition process as well as not losing nearly as much nitrogen to off-gassing as happens with the hot and fast methods. Another benefit is the decomposition is much more thorough, destroying weed seeds, pathogens and any unwanted chemicals much better in a slower composting setup.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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