Kids, Parents Learn About Wood Products, Forestry

Dan D’Ambrosio, Burlington Free Press

SHELBURNE, VT - About 20 kids and their parents were foresters for a day at Shelburne Farms Saturday, learning the importance of trees to the Vermont economy and the environment. The highlight of the two-hour program was the felling of a 125-year-old Norway spruce in a wood lot near the Farm Barn.

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Shelburne Farms Woodlands Manager Marshall Webb (right) explains how the farm utilizes its trees, flanked by Groundskeeper Travis Bessette and Educator Susie Marchand./Dan D'Ambrosio

The program began inside the McClure Education Center where educators Cat Wright and Susie Marchand gathered the children and their parents around a few examples of what trees give us, from hot chocolate to wooden salad forks.

Marchand explained that chocolate comes from the fruit of the cacao tree, not a native to Vermont, but to the tropical regions of the world.

"The goal of this workshop is to make sure everyone is aware of how special and important trees are in our everyday lives," Wright said before the workshop began. "If trees are so awesome, why are we cutting a tree down today? We'll talk about why trees need to come down if you need to build something or manage a forest to allow more light to come in for smaller trees."

Megan Camp, vice president of Shelburne Farms, explained that the farm is a microcosm of forest and agricultural enterprises statewide. She said maple production is one of the fast growing sectors of that economy, which is why Shelburne Farms invested this year in a reverse osmosis machine, vacuum lines and a new, efficient boiling system for the farm's sugarbush.

Unfortunately, Camp said, the forest economy is not going through the same revival as maple syrup production.

"The forest economy is on a decline," she said. "The forests are such an important part of what makes Vermont Vermont. How do we get people excited about it?"

One way, Camp said, is with programs like the one at Shelburne Farms on Saturday. Camp wants the children attending to think about the possibility of careers in forestry.

"When we think about forestry it's not just who's out in the woods taking down trees, but the whole value-added chain," she said. "Designing furniture, milling lumber."

Taking down a tree was next on the agenda as the group walked to a nearby woodlot where Woodlands Manager Marshall Webb and Groundskeeper Travis Bessette waited for the group. Pointing to a nearby stand of trees with soaring pines and an understory of younger trees, Webb explained that the big trees were 125 years old, and the shorter ones were planted 17 years ago.

"What we're trying to do here, obviously once the big trees leave we want little ones to grow up," Webb said. "The idea is to have a continuous crop of trees so we have lumber for building projects."

Webb said most of the projects at Shelburne Farms are undertaken with "our very own lumber."

Arriving at the site of the tree to be cut, Bessette explained exactly how he was going to fell the tree with a series of cuts, stepping back at least 12 feet once it was ready to fall. He told the group he would signal them with a high five when the tree was about to go.

"You guys got one job," Bessette said. "What is the word I'm looking for when a tree is falling? Timber! When the tree is falling, we yell timber!"

Elizabeth Martin was visiting Shelburne Farms with her two boys, ages 5 and 9, from New York City. Martin, who is a museum educator in the city, grew up in Lyndonville, where she still has family. She visits Shelburne Farms often.

"I tend to force my children on education trips," Martin said. "Also they're very into outdoor wilderness activities. We watch a lot of building shows. This happened to be a perfect program for us."

Read the article in the Burlington Free Press.