Jeromy Biazzo and Margaret Meixner

by Briana Binkerd-Dale

Jeromy Biazzo was born and raised in the Town of Cortlandt Manor in the Hudson Valley, about an hour north of New York City. Perhaps partially inspired by the 50 acre block of forest “playground” behind his childhood home, he went on to attain his master’s degree in horticulture. He is currently a biologist with the USDA-Agriculture Research Service, developing biological control for exotic invasive weeds. His wife Margaret Meixner, raised just outside Albany in Delmar NY, has her master’s degree in environmental education and currently works for SNUG Planet in Ithaca. Their first child, Marcella, was born December 1, 2015.

Jeromy and Margaret moved to Ithaca in 2000 and purchased their 92 acre property in the Town of Hector in Schuyler County in 2005. They first heard about it via word of mouth from a friend who knew the previous owner. Captivated by the proximity to the National Forest and Finger Lakes, the gorge, and the beauty of the parcel, they fell in love with it. After a year of uncertainty, they were able to make it their own. They have ten open acres for grazing and blueberry cultivation, with the remaining 82 acres in woodland. In the blocks of woods surrounding the open fields there are many walnuts of timber quality. The back 50 acres were never plowed due to the steep terrain. Hemlock and some yellow birch predominate in the gorge, while the upland woods are mixed transition woods with maples, red and chestnut oak, some hickory, white pine, a really nice stand of red pine, and iron wood, spicebush and witch hazel in the understory.

In addition to the blueberries, Margaret and Jeromy started raising Icelandic sheep in 2010 for meat and fiber. Their business, Wolftree Farm, is certified organic through NOFA-NY Certified Organic LLC. They had to think creatively about how to extend grazing opportunities due to their limited open acreage, and decided to go the silvopasture route. Brett Chedzoy of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Schuyler County “is a great resource,” Jeromy said. They ended up pasturing the sheep on blocks of woods that were former fields abandoned in the 1950s and 60s. Jeromy spoke highly of the sheep’s skill as woody foragers (even with honeysuckle), very comparable to goats in their ability to clear out the understory and create opportunity for further pasture regeneration. They will even strip bark off saplings Jeromy cuts and leaves on the ground for them.

Both Margaret and Jeromy make the decisions on woodland management and share in the work. When they first purchased the property, Jeromy did some research and learned that the DEC charter includes a mandate for their foresters to provide services to local landowners looking for advice on forest management. Jim Bagley, the DEC forester for their region (now retired), constructed a forest stewardship plan for them, which is a prerequisite for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). They received Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) EQIP funding for two years to renovate logging road water bars and assist with crop tree thinning and interfering vegetation control. The efforts have been successful in managing their beech scrub and increasing growth rates in the already established over-story.

The first management activity they tried was planting trees in tree tubes, with the notion that they might get some targeted species to establish. “We quickly learned that this effort can be expensive and time consuming with very little return,” Jeromy reminisced. “Our efforts have changed, driven by the understanding that it is far better in the long run to put management efforts towards letting the forest regenerate itself.” However, this has been a struggle due to threats from invasive species and deer pressure. “While I enjoy providing food for my family with deer meat I am under no illusion that my hunting efforts can change the deer impact on my forest,” Jeromy said. “Forest regeneration happens on a landscape level — landowners need to try and influence lawmakers to do more about deer pressure. It has to be a community effort.”

The need for cooperative efforts to address forest regeneration issues is a passion of Jeromy’s, one that comes up again where the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) is concerned. They have many hemlocks on the property which are infected with HWA. While Margaret and Jeromy plan on attempting some chemical controls to save a few trees, they are aware that many of them will be lost. He considers their biggest challenges when it comes to managing their property and the woods to be lack of regeneration from deer pressure and understory invasive woody vegetation (mostly honeysuckle), and the current lack of vision and funding from the state to support private landowners to regenerate the forest resource. Also a tax system that seems not to support conservation, i.e. land taxes that encourage people to exploit their wood lots at the expense of forest health in order to cover the tax burden.

“New York State makes a lot of money on timber resources, and the only way that is going to continue to happen is to support private landowners in sustainably managing their forests,” he said. “Some of my neighbors have loggers come out every two years, and their woods now have no crop trees, no seed trees… everything is gone.” While he is pleased with some current efforts, including the DEC’s new draft of a management plan for deer that is currently under public review, Jeromy would like to see more being done to support landowners who are participating in forest regeneration efforts, including funding for more DEC foresters, deer exclusion, and biological controls for HWA and other invasive threats.

Margaret and Jeromy have had success, however, with the 200 black locusts they planted in 2006 on a portion of a sloping hay field. In addition to being an excellent cash crop, they plan to harvest them for use as fence posts; due to their organic certification they cannot use pressure treated wood in proximity to their livestock. Jeromy owns and uses a chain saw, and has a 65 horsepower tractor with a folding rollover protection system and belly mounted exhaust pipe which enables him to drive in the woods. He participated in Game of Logging level 1 & 2 classes that were subsidized through the New York Center on Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH), which also administers the Roll Over Protection System (ROPS) rebate program.

When Jeromy and Margaret aren’t at work or busy tending to the farm, they enjoy hiking in the woods, observing wildlife, and collecting plants and mushrooms. “We’re both biologists,” Jeromy laughed. “We can’t walk five minutes without stopping to examine something.” He collects wood for greenwood working projects such as spoon and bowl making, using a pole lathe to turn bowls with foot power.

Jeromy appreciates the connection to other forest owners, both local and farther afield, that membership in NYFOA has brought him. He has completed the Master Forest Owner training and is very supportive of the role he sees it playing in forest management, lending opportunities to gain a deeper knowledge, as well as license to visit with other interested forest owners and help make them aware of resources that are available to them. His advice to other forest owners is to enjoy their woods regardless of the state they are in, but also to advocate for public funding and policies that will encourage regeneration, such as deer herd reduction. “We are a species that relies on wood and woodlands for our survival even in the face of utilizing so many synthetic materials,” he said. “I love tree diversity, their beauty and utility. That is why I steward this plot of land while I have the opportunity.”

Briana Binkerd-Dale is a student in Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology at Cornell University. If you are interested in being featured in a member profile, please email Jeff Joseph at jeffjosephwoodworker@gmail.com


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