Posts By: Nathaniel Gibson

Nonprofit Goes Green – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on April 5, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

Nonprofit Goes Green

Nathaniel Gibson

A local nonprofit in Plymouth is discovering that being green requires both traditional wisdom and new technologies. Farm and Wilderness Foundation operates six summer camps for children ages 4 to 17 during the summer, as well as a year-round farm on 1,600 acres of land that it owns around Woodward Reservoir and Lake Ninevah. As the foundation moves toward carbon neutrality, it is relying on both old and new approaches. During this process, the campers are learning how to promote sustainability and reduce their own carbon footprints. A carbon audit conducted onsite in 2007 provided baseline data that the organization is using to measure its progress. Cutting back on heating oil – 6,141 gallons in 2007 – was the obvious first step because of the foundation’s abundant timber resources. Farm and Wilderness owns more than 1,600 acres of land with the potential to sustainably generate more than 50 cords of wood per year by removing hazard trees around buildings, trails and roads. Without management, these trees would die and rot, releasing over time the same amount of carbon they would if burned. With funds provided by the Vermont Department of Agriculture though the Renewable Energy for Agriculture Grant Program, F&W undertook an engineering study to evaluate the feasibility of using wood to heat its farmhouse, dairy barn and greenhouses – buildings used year-round to support the organization’s farming operations.

The results of the engineering study indicated that the optimal system could be completed in two phases at a total project cost of $65,000. The first phase was to install a wood gasification furnace and then, as funding allowed, a solar hot water system mounted on the farmhouse roof. The complete system is estimated to reduce fuel use by nearly 80 percent, equivalent to saving 4,000 gallons of heating oil per year. It will also decrease F&W’s propane use by 300 gallons per year and should pay for itself within seven years, based on heating fuel costs of $2.60 per gallon.

Pieter Bohen, F&W’s executive director, reports that sufficient funds have already been raised for the project.

“Farm & Wilderness donors very much understand that sustainability and social justice go hand in hand,” Bohen said. “We have to focus on how we’re going to both respond to climate change and produce enough food for everyone to thrive. F&W has the ability to teach hands-on techniques to create a sustainable world.”

The wood gasification furnace and solar system will heat water in a 2,500-gallon heat exchange tank. Water from this tank will supply heat and hot water to the farmhouse, dairy barn and greenhouses through insulated underground piping systems – an arrangement known as district heating. The warm water piped to the greenhouse will flow through small hoses under growing tables and soil. This root-level heating speeds germination and extends the effective growing season, which means that F&W will be able to grow food nearly year round.

The underground piping from the farmhouse to the greenhouses was installed during the fall of 2010. The remaining elements of the system – wood-fired furnace and solar panels – are currently in the design and permitting phase. F&W hopes to have the complete system installed by the end of 2011.

In moving towards its goal of carbon neutrality, F&W is also focusing on the sustainability of its new buildings. Bohen describes the LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) standards as a “game changer,” because instead of emphasizing only technological fixes for creating green buildings – such as photovoltaic cells or solar water-heating systems – the standards also identify more traditional ways to gain points, such as thoroughly insulated, durable building shells and local materials.

The recently completed resource (maintenance) building exemplifies the benefits of such time-proven techniques. Board member Paul Stone of Orwell, determined to create a well-insulated building, worked in partnership with Robert Owen, F&W’s project manager, and John Berryhill, principal of NBF Architects of Rutland, to ensure that this new building would use minimal fossil fuels throughout its history.

The original plan called for walls to be framed with 2 x 6s; however, this was later changed to 2 x 8s so that additional insulation could be used. “Insulation is the most cost-effective, green way to create a low carbon footprint building, hands down,” Bohen said.

The building also features a radiant heating slab in its floor. The end result, Bohen said, is a building that requires very little propane to heat.

Locally available construction materials were obtained for the resource building. F&W forester Silos Roberts works with local loggers to harvest timber from F&W’s own property and property owned by the Ninevah Foundation (more than 4,000 acres). The timber is transported by local truckers to Gagnon Lumber in Pittsford, less than 30 miles away, to be milled into lumber. By harvesting its sustainable forests plots, F&W is able to use its own timber for 60 percent of camp building projects and create local jobs for loggers, truckers and mill workers.

The camps’ increased reliance on wood for heating provides many teaching opportunities. Campers learn what kind of trees yield good firewood, such as ash or maple, and those to avoid, such as poplar or pine. They are taught how to cut, buck and split firewood.

Bohen says, “Campers have a very tangible sense of how one goes about growing food, milking a cow or cutting wood. What we’re trying to do is make the fundamentals of our communities very hands-on, so they know they have been part of a community that has produced its own food, created its own heat – all that a community needs to thrive.”

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and former Farm and Wilderness camper who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted at

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
April 3, 2011

From Stump to Consumer: Many Forest Products Take the Long Road to Customers – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on April 5, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

From Stump to Consumer:  Many Forest Products Take the Long Road to Customers (part 2 of 2)

Nathaniel Gibson

Woodworking, a key industry in Vermont for centuries, is a significant part of the state’s economy. Some environmental considerations include the practices of the loggers and mills harvesting it, as well as where the timber comes from. Timber that travels farther has a bigger carbon footprint. In recent years, various certification standards have been developed to certify lumber as sustainable or “green,” such as those developed by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forest Initiative. The Leadership in Energy Environmental Design certification system was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council for construction of green buildings.

Ideally, a house would be constructed with local lumber that was either FSC- or SFI-certified and built to LEED specifications. But this process can present some challenges.

J.K. Adams, a manufacturer of wooden kitchenware and furniture in Dorset, was one of the first companies in the industry to be FSC-certified, even though the cost of that certification required the company to raise its prices.

It also had to confront the logistical challenge of isolating FSC-certified lumber from non-FSC-certified lumber.

Maple Landmark Furniture of Middlebury, another company that faced challenges operating under FSC guidelines, eventually dropped its FSC certification because it was very difficult to get certified lumber from local sources.

More FSC-certified lumber is available now – but not consistently.

Tim Copeland of Copeland Furniture in Bradford reports that it is relatively easy to get FSC-certified maple, but some other species, such as walnut, are much more difficult to find.

FSC certification, oriented toward large forests, is costly to obtain. Much of the forest land in Vermont is in small parcels, so each 10- to 25-acre lot must be certified.

Consequently a landowner with a small woodlot often cannot justify the cost of certification, even if that woodlot is being managed in a sustainable manner consistent with FSC requirements.

And unlike some other states, Vermont has not obtained FSC certification for its state forests.

To address this problem, pilot programs are under way to eventually confer FSC status to local foresters who work with small landowners in the state. These foresters could extend FSC status to the people they work with at a much lower cost compared with normal FSC certification.

Other certification systems that are less expensive to obtain – such as the American Tree Farm System – are available.

One of the issues with LEED guidelines, according to Kevin Hastings of Amoskeag Woodworking in Colchester, is that they can dictate the use of nonlocal materials.

For instance, LEED guidelines sometimes require that certain materials used in building construction contain certain percentages of post-consumer-materials recycled content.

In Vermont and many other parts of the Northeast, these materials must be trucked in from distant producers. The carbon emissions generated by trucks as they transport LEED materials to work sites increases the carbon footprint of these “green” materials.

“There’s such a disconnect between the goods we use and where they come from,” observes Malcolm Cooper, president of J.K. Adams.

A LEED-compliant set of cabinets may not be as green as it seems, when the carbon footprint associated with transporting that product is considered. A different set of cabinets that is not LEED-certified might actually be more green, if made by a local woodworker who purchased the lumber from a neighbor’s sawmill that harvested its timber in accordance with sustainable practices.

As Mike Rainville, owner of Maple Landmark Woodcraft, says, “It doesn’t make sense to bring lumber in from 300 miles away when it’s in your backyard.”

Chris Olson, Addison County forester for the Agency of Natural Resources, agrees. Olson points out that harvesting practices in the developed world have largely evolved to the point where many of the related environmental concerns have been mitigated – or at least are addressed by regulations that may or may not be enforced.

Olson notes, “There are forest practices acts, acceptable management practices for protecting water quality, timber harvesting laws and regulations, water quality laws and regulations, FSC, SFI, and many other checks and balances for what happens near the stump. And then we have free trade and all the globalization trends that encourage goods to travel long distances. I would ask these questions: ‘What forest product did you use today? Where’s the stump? Where was it processed and manufactured?'”

Olson describes a typical scenario: “Trees are cut from stumps in Pawlet, limbed and skidded to be loaded onto a truck; trucked to a concentration yard in West Pawlet or Granville, N.Y., trucked or railed to a port, unloaded, loaded onto a ship, shipped across at least one ocean, unloaded, trucked to a concentration yard, unloaded, reloaded onto a truck or rail car, unloaded into a processing plant, sawn, loaded onto a forklift, stuck into a kiln, reloaded onto a truck or rail, unloaded at a furniture plant, manufactured into component parts, boxed, reloaded, trucked or rail freighted again, shipped back across an ocean and then trucked to a big box store. And then I go to that store and buy a chair and assemble it about 30 miles from the stump.”

Local sawmills are closing. David Williams, owner of Champlain Hardwood in Essex Junction, reports that Lakewood Lumber, a big sawmill near Syracuse, N.Y., recently closed because of poor profits and high overseas competition.

Vermont is exporting a larger portion of raw product than ever before.

“Pretty soon we might be exporting more unprocessed high-grade logs – with the bark still on – than we’d have the capacity to saw here in Vermont,” Olson said.

For more information on the link between local wood product producers and Vermont’s environment and working landscape, see the first article in this series, “From forests to furniture: Vermont woodworking businesses tie into the local landscape,” which was published Jan. 16.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and locavore who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted at

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
March 6, 2011

From Forests to Furniture: VT Woodworking Businesses Tie into the Local Landscape – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on April 5, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

From Forests to Furniture:  VT Woodworking Businesses Tie into the Local Landscape (part 1 of 2)

Nathaniel Gibson

The buy local movement has significantly increased both the availability and consumption of locally grown food in Vermont. Another major local resource – wood – looms in the background of the state’s numerous farms. Vermont’s landscape is 75 percent forested, and the abundant lumber supports an important value-added wood products industry.

Woodworking has been a legacy industry in Vermont for over 200 years. Woodworkers have passed down skills from generation to generation and developed an international reputation for craftsmanship, attention to detail and exquisite design.

In 2006 the forest products industry in Vermont supported 13,807 direct and indirect jobs, produced $1.83 billion in output, and generated $486 million in personal income for a net fiscal benefit to the state of $12.92 million, according to the report “The Economic Impact of the Value-Added Portion of the Wood Products Industry in Vermont,” prepared by Economic & Policy Resources, Inc.

But even though their industry is large, Vermont woodworkers still face challenges.

“There are fewer of us out there doing what we do – making domestic U.S. wood products,” said Malcolm Cooper, president of J.K. Adams, a manufacturer of wooden kitchenware and furniture located in Dorset.

The recent economic downturn and competition from China have put some less financially well-off companies out of business.Because the wood furniture market typically tracks the housing market, wood products manufacturers have had difficulty maintaining sales volume the past few years.

Manufacturers in China can copy products within six to eight weeks. Even when prospective buyers recognize the large carbon footprint required to ship materials from overseas, it can be tough to turn down imports from China. They are very cheap – so cheap that the prices cannot always be explained by low-labor costs.

Some Chinese manufacturers appear to benefit from significant government subsidy. U.S. trade groups representing wood manufacturers have had some success getting the Commerce Department’s International Trade Commission to increase import duties on Chinese bedroom furniture illegally dumped on the U.S. market.

These duties were renewed in 2010, which is good news for Vermont woodworkers.

But duties are not always foolproof; individual Chinese manufacturers have been able to secure exemptions from some of them.

Cost-cutting measures sometimes backfire on Chinese competitors. A recall of Chinese toys in 2007 due to concerns about lead paint content meant much higher sales volume that year for many domestic toy manufacturers, including Maple Landmark Woodcraft of Middlebury.

Owner Mike Rainville believes that this event made people think about the safety of their toys and where they were made.

“Christmas season was chaos for us because everybody was looking for alternatives,” he remembers enthusiastically.

There have been success stories despite the rough economy.

Kevin Hastings, owner of Amoskeag Woodworking in Colchester, was able to buy Morse Hardwoods and Millwork when they went out of business and keep those jobs in Vermont.

After that acquisition, Hastings moved the business into a larger facility and hired even more employees.

J.K. Adams hosts a weekly Sunday farmers’ market in Dorset that runs year round except for a small break in February. Beyond boosting the company’s Sunday business, the farmers’ market has raised public awareness of local farmers and artisans.

Local wood products manufacturers represent a boon to the state’s economy in many other ways.

They support local wood mills and loggers practicing sustainable forestry.

As a major renewable natural resource, Vermont’s forests require careful management to ensure their future and maintain Vermont’s working landscape.

The local wood industry has traditionally worked with foresters and landowners for years to sustainably manage this natural resource from forest to finished product.

“One of the neat things about Vermont is that you have a long-term pattern of small landholdings passed down from generation to generation. You have people that live in and among and on the land that they own, and there is a built-in ethic of conservationism,” says Tim Copeland, owner of Copeland furniture in Bradford.

In their schoolhouse naturals product line, Maple Landmark Woodcraft focuses on using local maple lumber bought only 9 miles down the road from a Bristol mill run by Tom Lathrup, who represents the fifth generation of his family in the business.

J.K. Adams buys its raw lumber primarily from brokers in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York, although Cooper points out with some disappointment that with the decline in the working landscape in Vermont fewer local sawmills are operating.

Occasionally he must procure lumber from Canada that originated in Vermont and was exported for processing.

J.K Adams also buys reject ash wood shovel handle blanks from a local manufacturer and uses them to make their wine racks, recycling what would otherwise be waste.

Copeland Furniture uses sustainably harvested hardwoods from the Northeast.

Most of their maple comes from Vermont; however, not all species are abundant in-state. Some wood, such as cherry, must be purchased from New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

But the ease and environmental benefits of getting local materials does factor into their design process.

“We have a predisposition to making things out of maple because we can get maple from local sawmills,” Copeland said.

Amoskeag Woodworking also uses sustainable, local materials. They recently worked with the University of Vermont on a project using timber from UVM property that had been harvested by a Vermont logger and finished by Amoskeag – a local endeavor from start to finish.

Wood products made in Vermont from local, sustainably harvested materials support the state’s working landscape and the local economy. The next article in this series will look at the environmental problems associated with importing wood furniture from overseas and the issues related to sustainability certification standards for wood products.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and locavore who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted at

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
January 16, 2011