Saturday, July 26, 2008

Trotting Lightly

The day starts early in the woods of Wentworth Location, NH, where the deep puddles of last night's rain are settling into the forest floor. Rick Alger isn't about to bring his horses Ruby and Emma out today if the rain were to continue. Logging a damp forest, horses or machinery, could spell disaster. Rick doesn't want to risk affecting the roots of the trees he would leave standing.

A narrow path must first be cut in a section of the woods for the horses' cart to make its way through. The mossy carpet covering the ground is spongy soft and makes for an ideal layer for the days activity. The horse barely make a mark as they trot over it.

Rick has been horse logging for years and is finding a niche with people, such as private land owners and trusts, who are truly concerned about preserving their property while sustainably harvesting trees. This particular job in northern New Hampshire won't make him a millionaire, but Rick finds beauty in the landscape, the solitude, his work and the respect the land owners have for the territory.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Prairie Crossing Farms - Sandhill Organics and Dea-Dia Organics

In Grayslake, IL ... a suburban town in Lake County not an hour from Chicago there is a bit of an oasis called Prairie Crossing, it's a bit of a progressive minded living community. Part of Prairie Crossing is the Prairie Crossing Farms, home to Sandhill Organics and other smaller operations like Dea-Dia farms. The location of Prairie Crossing is sublime considering the surroundings, which are more indicative where this place really is. From different spots on the Prairie Crossing farms you can see and/or smell a nearby landfill, ashphalt factory, railroads and suburban housing developments. This really isn't a bad thing, as a true escape is still pretty far away and this setting really makes you appreciate the developers vision putting a community like this in the middle of the suburbs. That, and unlike more rural farmers, folks at these farms have to travel less, sometimes significantly less to their markets ... making it a less expensive process in getting their food out to the local people.

Smaller farms like Dea-Dia lease the land (5 acres in their case) and see how they do farming a smaller plot of land. It's a starting point for hopeful future farmers where they have a good location, pay a good price to rent the land, and don't have to make the initial investment they would have to if they wanted to start a full fledged farm. Jeff Miller, who with his partner owns Dea-Dia is only looking to grow and learn more about farming while at Prairie Crossing, with the possibility of expanding to a bigger plot of land in the future.

Sandhill Organics owners Peggy and Matt and Sheaffer live on the farm and cultivate much of the land at Prairie Crossing farms. The food from these farms is distributed through a few local farmers markets as well as CSA (community supported agriculture) shares where local folks pay to come to the farm and pick up a nice bag of veggies and fruits every week.

Workers at Dea-Dia farms lay down a cover to protect salad greens seedlings from bugs. Beyond the trees in the background is the landfill.

Kenny (foreground) and Derek Kofoed tend to tomato plants at Sandhill Organics farms. In the background is a windmill that generates electricity for the farm.

A sampling of the produce available for CSA members to come pick up on a Thursday afternoon.

Andy Wunschel works on weeding out the celery plants at Sandhill Organics. The owners' home rests in the background.

Justin Galias (left) and Luis Cruz work on the farm during late afternoon. "You can't deny this...this is the truth" said Galias of the farm's location amidst a different lifestyle.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Fall of Paper

Logan McLain and Sam Essig of Berlin, NH, watched as the paper mill across from their house was demolished. What was left behind was the stack and building behind the field where they play football. The town and investors are hoping to soon convert the remaining facilities to a biomass power station. According to the local newspaper, the plans are being drawn up.
The town of Berlin, NH, has long lived off wood that has come from the hills surrounding it. Now that energy costs are high and paper costs low, the remaining mill in the town sees a bleak future. Officials at the mill said they have gone from over 600 employees to just over 200.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cedar River Horse Logging

This week I had the good fortune of meeting and spending time with Tim Carroll of Lyle, Minnesota. Lyle is a small rural town that nestles the northern border of Iowa and resembles as much of Iowa as it does Minnesota, at least in my mind. Beautiful, expansive plains as far as the eye can see with some rolling green cornfields every few miles to diversify the scenery just a touch.

Carroll is a horse logger with a slight rebel streak that exists for the good of the people that surround him. He is a watchdog for his community, an educator, a family man and a man of big ideas. After spending a week with him I saw that it's not really horse logging that defines who he is, but rather his passion for the land and appreciating the natural life around him. Horses are a means of doing logging without the destruction that normal skidders often use, and a means of doing so more cost effectively as well. "My horses cost me $2.50 a day to keep them running" he says.

Unfortunately the weather was not entirely cooperative so I never got to see horse logging in action, but I did get to see pretty much everything else. He uses his horses not only for logging but for mowing and raking fields, and to carry the trailer that will load up hay that they will eat in the winter.

He doesn't only do logging but he takes the wood "from tree to product" he says, with a lumberyard, mill and kiln drier all on his land, he produces quality woods in the varieties of cherry, walnut, maple and more depending on the market and recent jobs.

The way Cedar River Horse Logging operates is inherently more sustainable and friendly to the environment than traditional logging because of the lower impact on the forest, but besides the low impact business practice, Carroll is thinking big and outside of forestry in terms of living a sustainable lifestyle. One example of this is his current time investment in working with local companies to make briquettes out of sawdust (as opposed to charcoal) that can be used eventually to heat homes, cook food, or produce energy.

Spending only a week with Tim I could see that there is probably much more to his life that I couldn't even gather. He's more of a Renaissance man, with his fingers in many different baskets while horse logging remains his bread and butter source of income. Though this may be so, Carroll recognizes that what he does is hard work and he can't do it forever, and he also realizes that what he does isn't commonly practiced. "This isn't a field with a lack of work, it's a lack of practictioners" he says. "I'm trying to get young people involved." It's not only a good business practice to use horses, but in Tim's mind there is a connection with the land that you don't get using traditional machinery. A connection that he feels people are losing appreciation for. A connection that, if reestablished, he thinks can help this country make strides for a better, more sustainable lifestyle.

Tim Carroll of Cedar River Horse Logging poses with his scooter that gets nearly 100 mpg, and his dog Sadie. When the diesel truck is not required Carroll opts to use the scooter for local transport, going to towns upto 50 miles away with this vehicle.

Tim Carroll helps secure logs on a truck driven by Kent Erding, a friend and fellow logger. The logs were to be taken off site and to his home, where he has the option of selling the wood or milling it and kiln drying it himself. "This operation goes from tree to product" said Carroll, who finds as many uses as he can for the wood that he secures, with some of it going to nearby Amish folk who use it for furniture.

Doreen Carroll cleans the kitchen before a strawberries and ice cream dessert.

Hired hand Chelsey Cook (top) and Doreen Carroll load up hay onto a trailer carried by horses. I wouldn't ask these horses to do anything I wouldn't do" says Tim Carrol. "If it's too hot for me, it's too hot for them. If I'm tired I figure they're probably pretty tired too."

The hay from the field will be used to feed the horses in the winter. The Carrolls had the one hot day to load up the hay before the rain came. Had they waited an extra day it could have cost them. With hay's current steep prices, the amount that the Carroll's gathered in this day came out to roughly a thousand dollars, which is a thousand they won't have to spend to feed horses come winter

Doreen Carroll and Tim lead their horses to a new pasture late in the day. Dorreen works full time at a nearby hospital but spends her hours after work often tending to her garden or helping Tim out with the horses. "When I married her I married the horses" said Tim. Before their marriage Tim was not a horse logger nor was he into horses very much in general.

After bringing their horses to a new, replenished pasture across the street Tim and his wife Doreen walk home as the sun peeks out of the clouds at the day's end.

Some of Tim's horses take a quick break from eating grass. "These horses have a one track mind" said Tim, referring to their constant eating.

Last but not least just driving around the southern part of Minnesota once can see other people in the area making strides towards renewable energy, harnessing the power of the consistent winds on the relatively flat and endless plains in the area.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Living Forest Co-op (part deux)

I have now left Ashland and am spending a night catching up on editing in Duluth, Minnesota en Route to Lyle, MN. It's nice to still be on the Lake and in the home of Mr. Dylan.
Before I embark on the next week's work there are a few more photos from Charly Ray and his pals at the Living Forest that should see the light of day here. I have to thank Charly for giving me the opportunity to stay in his cabin/sauna made from wood largely of his own land. It was a great cabin in the woods (not exactly roughing it with a nice shower, internet and amenities about 40') and only a mile and a half from a nice, low traffic Lake Superior Beach which I had the good fortune to make a few jogs to. If I had to guess I would say that Charly's daughter would do better alone in the woods than myself. Just before I left he told me a story about how she decided that she wanted to sleep in a snow hut last winter .... and after the first night she was enthused about it enough to want to do it on a more consistent basis...fearless.

Anyways here are some photos, that hopefully can inform a little bit more about the people in the Living Forest Co-op.

LFC Forester Thomas Wyse marks out a land management plan for a 40 acre plot in possession of a Bayfield landowner.

Charly and kids water the blueberries...

Forestry Technician Andy Ledin manages a brushfire.

Charly and his kids spend a moment playing on a summer morning before he heads off to work.

Landowner Tom Frizelle walks through his land marked off for a commencing timber sale organized by the Living Forest Co-op.

Breakfast at the Ray's house where the family tries to eat locally produced goods as much as possible. Watermelon and yogurt are a few examples.

Forestry Technician Andy Ledin clears out a landowner's woods cutting low grade wood into pieces of fire wood that will be used to heat the home.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Living Forest Co-op

I'm here in Washburn, Wisconsin staying with Charly Ray in his amazing cabin in the woods setup, doing some photography of people involved with the co-op that he Generally Manages. He is part of a network of people of different skills and mindsets but all in harmony with mother nature. They plant trees, they kill weeds, they burn brush, they do forest management plans and they live a life in the woods and of the woods. The mentality of life with folks in the co-op extends outside of work. Charly's home is built in large part from lumber on his own property. The goal of the co-op is to give power to small landowners in the timber market while foresting sustainably.

Andy Ledin, the co-op's forestry technician, spends an afternoon planting white spruce on the edge of a woods and a field.

Charly's daughter Caroline spends a summer morning on their porch at their Washburn home, which is currently being worked on with local wood (from his lot even).

Emery, an independent logging contractor who works with the co-op, poses for a portrait during a lunch break at one of his jobs. Emery has been in the woods since he was six years old, turning 58 next week. He once spent 72 days in a row on a job. He's got some good stories and looks at his job as an opportunity to change one person's mind at a time when it comes to getting people informed on how cutting down trees can actually be good for their land.

More to come ...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

After photographing wood craftsmen in Vermont for the past two days I'm struck by how amazing their products are, how interesting their lives are, and how much I would love to furnish my house with these people's work. Although, today I watched a wood worker apply walnut oil to a $200 5-gallon trash can. It's also amazing that people have such enormous disposable incomes.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mountainous Houses

Russ Dinallo builds log houses most people could only dream about. Seriously. The one he's working on now has rumors spreading in the town of Littleton, New Hampshire, where it's being built for a successful land owner. "That's a million-dollar log house he's building," said a guy in town who was selling neatly stacked piles of hardwood to tourists for campfires.
Russ also happens to be one of the nicest guys I've met in Northern New Hampshire. Before I left his job site he filled my trunk with perfectly chopped pieces of firewood for my future nights of camping.

Russ builds for MountainHouse Construction, and when I say build I mean this in the true craftsman sense of the word. These logs are hand peeled, hand scribed, hand carved (aside from some chainsaw magic) and then placed together like a fine piece of Amish furniture. The fact that this type of craftsmanship still exists in the United States today places a silver lining on the stormy clouds of the American economy. It's just too bad this is a million dollar house.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wisconsin Family Forests

Appleton, Wisconsin -

Gerry Mich is the executive director of Wisconsin Family Forests, but in a previous lifetime used his other bit of knowledge, in the form of an M.D., as a general family practitioner in town. These days he spends his time caring for the environment in differing capacities, and not always in traditional ways. Besides being involved in foresting, he is involved in tree planting initiatives and does work with the Department of Natural Resources for fun (see goose banding photos below).

The goal of Wisconsin Family Forests (WFF) is a bit philosophical in nature in that they ultimately seek to educate and assist forest land owners in around different parts of Wisconsin including Oshkosh and Door County areas. The eventual hope is establish chapters throughout the state. The organization is still growing and looking for more advocates. Getting in touch with the right people is a difficult part. Funded mostly by grants thus far, they are continuously on the look out for new funding avenues that doesn't conflict with the interests of their organization. For them to provide a free service to landowners costs them money.

On the surface WFF may seem like any other forestry consulting service, but they have different motives than some. WFF, as a non-profit, seeks to gain nothing but the increased appreciation of forests by the landowners. What the WFF does is offer an advocate program to local residents, in which they send out an advocate for the organization and most times an expert in the form of a forester to help land owners realize the true potential of their forest and to help them tailor the land to their goals, all while keeping sustainable forestry in mind.
These are people that love the woods, period. They love the aesthetics, they love the space, they love the rural lifestyle. They want what's best for the woods in general, and that starts with helping the landowners realize what they have, and how to take care of it. Wood is a renewable resource, especially when dealt with properly. Often times this includes suggestions such as cutting down, or thinning out parts of the forest with dense growth, or old mature trees, so as to let newer trees thrive. "Everything's short term these days" says Mich., but WFF is in it for the long term health and benefit of Wisconsin forests and landowners overall.

Gerry is a living example of the philosophy behind the organization he runs and I wish them success in the future.

Forester Kim Quast checks the density of pine growth while evaluating a landowner's forest on a WFF advocacy outing.

The invasive autumn olive plant is discovered.

Landowner Dale Hempel waits in the rain during the middle of an advocate visit.

Forester Kim Quast and WFF folks Gerry Mich and Judy Newland joke around in a pine woods side during an advocate visit.

DNR folks and associates including Gerry Mich (left) carry panels through a prairie while searching for geese to band. Geese banding is the catching of geese during their annual molt, while they cannot fly, and attaching metal, numbered bands around their feet so that their origin can be identified either by hunters or DNR folks from different regions who come across the geese in another year.

Gerry's 7th grade neighbor Michael Daniels came along for the banding for the second year in a row.

Pilot Luke Wuest (left), DNR Biologist Mark Randall (right) and Gerry Mich (center) band geese at a local park near Fon du Lac.

Gerry Mich poses for a portrait along the side of Highway 10 near Appleton, Wi.

Mich mowes the area frequently because he spearheaded a tree planting effort there a year ago, and needs to make sure the trees don't get swallowed up by the tall prairie grass. Parallel to the highway is a recreational path in which joggers, cyclists and horseriders can often be seen. "Hopefully, some years down the road, this path can be shaded and not in plain site of the highway" said Mich, who figures he'll be mowing for three or four years. The stretch of trees he and volunteers planted was a mile long.

Mich's backyard prairie, with some tree seedlings.

Have a happy 4th of July Weekend! Next up you might see some pictures from Ashland, Wisconsin up in the far north near Lake Superior. I'm hoping for a few less mosquitoes there but somehow I think it will be the opposite ....