Sunday, March 9, 2014

How Not to Make a Farm

There's a vast area, some four or five thousand acres, of second growth woodland behind our house. There are even small pockets of old, old trees that have never been logged, as well as the extensive wetland of the Great Farm Brook. 

A large portion of this wildland once belonged to the Great Farm that Israel Thorndike had cleared. One area that was allowed to grow back to woodland only in the last thirty years or so is the so-called Hundred-Acre Hayfield. This starts just beyond our back fence and continues for a half mile or so east and about a third of a mile south. You can tell where the hayfield was because most of the trees are, or were, young ash under ten inches diameter. Elsewhere the trees are older and more established.


No longer, because the young fellow that now owns it has had it logged clear, or almost so. The ash trees are now in a giant pile waiting to be chipped by Sappi Paper Co.


This is, to say the least, a scene of some considerable devastation. The idea is to make a livestock farm, and I suppose that with effort a decent crop of fodder will eventually grow where the trees were. But it will be many years before the stumps rot and allow machinery to be used, and until then there will be a lot of weeds and less than optimal forage.



Here's the giant forwarder moving the cut trees in bundles to the yard.



Here's the log yard, where a chipper will stand in a few days time and reduce all these trees to chips.


Here's the new access road that was put in.A house will be built here this spring.

This is a relatively new development in Maine agriculture. It's been a century and a half or more since farmers cleared land in Maine. Farming declined after the Civil War around here, as the people moved west to warmer climes with better soils, and land was cheaply available for decades for those few youngsters who did want to try their hands. Now that the nearby coast has become such a tourist and second-home magnet, old farmsteads are too expensive, but timber land is not, and the equipment now exists to remove an entire forest in a few days.

This particular young farmer wants to grow organic beef. I'm not sure the founders of the organic movement had this kind of approach in mind. And it will take a lifetime of organic beef-raising to offset the climate emissions caused by the removal of the forest. That was a fast-growing second-growth New England forest, the kind that sequesters most carbon of all.

This is one of those cases where the desire to own a farm over-rode other principles. As someone who dreamed of a farm for many years, I'm sympathetic. But it will take a mighty act of denial to go through with this. I feel sorry for this kid that he can't afford to buy one of the established old farms that are for sale around here, but that would have probably cost three or four times what he paid for this forestland, and there would have been no income from logging to tide him over until other income arrived.  But I don't think an enterprise based on so large an act of denial can succeed in the long run.

Removing large areas of active climate-sequestering forest to make an organic farm probably shouldn't be allowed by organic certification standards. Organic certification, based primarily on not using artificial chemicals,  means very little if other kinds of environmental damage are not taken into account. I've talked it over with some of the staffers of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener's Association, of which we've long been members, but they say that with the USDA now issuing organic standards, some of the authority is out of their hands. The beef raised here can be marketed as organic and customers need be none the wiser, at least until the authorities wise up, or a more comprehensive climate bill is passed. In Europe, the landowner would have been better compensated for the climate sequestration value of the forest, but not yet in Maine.

Aimee is of course, the Steward of the Great Farm Brook Preserve. Although the preserve is fine, the trail that goes from our house to the preserve is over part of this cut-over land, and the right-of-way is now covered in chips and cut brush, with machinery blocking the way. The snowmobiles have taken an unauthorized detour to the north, over a different owner's land. We don't know whether or not we'll be able to resume the public access that used to exist.

All in all, a major countryside disaster at the Great Farm. Very sad.

3 comments:

Ryan Green said...

Hi Mick,

Ryan Green, here. I wonder if I may know this young fella? Is his name Graham? Anywho, I came across your blog (once again) while trying to remember the name of the text we used for Natural Resource Consevation, would you mind passing it along? The one by Daly not Schumacher. Hope all is well, tell Aimme I said "hello".

Ryan Green said...

Hi Mick,

Ryan Green, here. I wonder if I may know this young fella? Is his name Graham? Anywho, I came across your blog (once again) while trying to remember the name of the text we used for Natural Resource Consevation, would you mind passing it along? The one by Daly not Schumacher. Hope all is well, tell Aimme I said "hello". Thanks!

Mick said...

Hi Ryan. The book was probably "Ecological Economics" by Herman E. Daly and Joshua Farley.