Lawrence and Mercer CO Dave Cole
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IT TAKES GENERATIONS TO GROW A FOREST By Dennis & Jackie Waldorf
What the heck are we going to do with that old farm other than pay the taxes and pour money into building maintenance? At that time Dennis was referring to it as “The Money Pit”. The farm’s first family owners were in the charcoal business and spent their time striping the trees from the land. They were followed by sheep and dairy farmers until the late 1950’s when Dennis decided he would not continue the farming operation. Afterwards it had been mowed by a neighbor, preventing it from growing wild, but adding nothing to an income stream that would make keeping the place feasible for future generations. When the farm was given to us, it became a priority to keep it maintained and plan for the continuance of the family’s 164 years of ownership.
Jackie was raised in a metropolitan area and had made it clear early in our marriage that hearing and seeing the daily traffic of civilization and, having neighbors and stores very close by were essential. Even the suggestion that she might find some of the homes being built on 5-acre plots, several miles outside of town attractive would bring her defense mechanisms into play and she would restate that Dennis was not going to drag her off into the wilderness to live. Our idea of wilderness was, to say the least, divergent. Returning to the farm to live was a very remote possibility. Many of the farmers in our area are going out of business. For Dennis, traditional farming was never a consideration and endless mowing seemed pointless.
As a child, Dennis spent a lot of time in the woods on his family farm and, like a lot of animal species, he found the most comfortable place to be was at the edge of a forest. It seemed to be some primal instinct of his subconscious mind that drew him to research the idea of reforestation of the farm. In 1999, he corresponded with a USDA representative via the internet and was directed to the Clarion County Service Forester, Gary Gilmore. His enthusiasm for all things forestry was infectious.
When we were deciding whether joining the Forest Stewardship program was a good idea, we knew nothing about forests except that it take a long time to grow one. We discussed the idea of reforesting the farm with our adult children and received positive feedback but not the kind of enthusiasm that would have made us happy. Perhaps our inquiry as to how much money they were going to contribute curbed their excitement.
From the beginning we understood that forest stewardship required more time than our remaining lifetime; it is a commitment that never really ends. The seedlings we were planting will mature beyond our children’s and probably beyond the lifetime of our older grandchildren. So it was decided that while we planted tree seedlings each year, we also needed to plant the seeds of “love of place” and re-establish the farm as the family’s center.
To this end, we decided to reconvene the annual family reunion at the farm. At the same time, in 2003, we had the idea of planting trees at the family reunion. For the next couple of years, we invited the young (or young at heart) attendees to plant a tree. The idea was that each year when they return to the farm, they can find their tree and see how it has grown. We bought potted red oak seedlings, tilled and herbicided five foot square plots 20 feet on center so little ones could easily dig a hole. That first year, despite pouring rain, we planted 19 trees (33 people had attended the reunion. We were actually surprised by the number of people interested. Our youngest planter was three-years-old and our oldest was 91. We have established a “reunion grove” and have added trees as new attendees have expressed interest.
Now 13 years later, we continue to tend the “reunion grove”, replacing trees as required.
It is our hope that others will share their ideas about how they are attracting new generations to continue their forest.
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