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by Briana Binkerd-Dale

Jonathan Farber grew up in Rockland County, NY, about 45 minutes outside of Manhattan. At that time there were still farms in the nearby area, and patches of remnant woods that felt immense to him when he played in them as a child. Though he lived in the city most of his life and loved it, Jonathan was always drawn to the natural environment. He attained a bachelors degree in environmental design from SUNY Buffalo and a masters in public administration with a concentration in environmental policy from Columbia before going to Washington, DC to work for a U.S. senator on environmental policy, where Jonathan realized that he needed to spend more time working outdoors. He starting designing gardens for people and went back to school for a masters in landscape architecture from Cornell. Since 2001, Jonathan has run a small landscape architecture firm with offices in Leeds and Brooklyn, NY. His landscape architecture projects include city gardens, country residences, parks, and working farms and forests for private, corporate and institutional clients. He also owns and operates a 176-acre farm in Leeds, NY named Wellaway.

Jonathan bought Wellaway Farm in January 2015 after looking for the right property throughout the Hudson Valley for several years — approximately 200 acres with both forests and fields in good condition. “It was easy to find clean fields but much more difficult to find woods that had not been severely diminished by past logging practices,” he remembers. “I looked at over 30 properties before I could find something that hadn’t been highgraded; Wellaway was managed by a consulting forester for 40 years and it shows.” Jonathan lives in what was originally a 500 square foot corn crib there, that he converted into a live-work space. “I had to do everything — sheathe it, build the interior out, renovate an old well, put in two water filters, septic, plumbing, heating… but I was able to get a full certificate of occupancy after a year.”

The 176 acre farm is divided evenly between forest and pastures.Two trout streams enter the property from the north, combine in the middle and exit to the south on their way to Catskill Creek and then the Hudson River. The streams are protected with treed windbreaks.The property includes the banks and bottom of what was once a glacial lake, and the soils are silty-gravelly loam. Forest composition is approximately one third white pine and hemlock, with the rest primarily oak-hickory stands.The canopy is closed and there is little regeneration of desirable tree species.Weed species such as multiflora rose and barberry are present but not dominant.

Working with a consulting forester to implement his forest management plan, as well as an invasive species control consultant, Jonathan does much of the manual labor himself, only bringing in contractors when necessary — to spread lime and drive fence posts for example.Last winter he coppiced about an acre of black locust trees by himself and harvested 400 fence posts and 5 cords of firewood. Over the past several years, before ever harvesting a tree, he took the complete Game of Logging course (twice!) as well as chainsaw and forestry courses with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).“This training prepared me very well for work in the woods,” Jonathan said. “My primary tools are two 60cc chainsaws, a manual logging arch and various slashers, axes, sledges and wedges.” He is out a full two days a week in the winter with the chainsaw. Working alone has its risks, but he is able to work fairly close to a road on much of his property, carries a first aid kit on his belt and has taken first aid classes, and always parks his truck pointing in the direction of the hospital. “You’re working with a machine that wants to kill you and a tree that wants to fall on you,” he laughed.

Jonathan walks his woods regularly, and friends and neighbors hunt deer and turkey there. Due to aggressive deer management by the large farms around him, as well as predator presence, deer pressure is less of an issue than it could be. He has coyotes, and regularly sees bear, beaver, hawks, eagles, fox and porcupine. During a visit from the state forester to certify an invasive weed species treatment, a baby fisher left its mother up in a tree while it came down and tried to play with them like a kitten.

He is currently working on installing new perimeter fences around the pastures with the 400 black locust posts he harvested last winter, after pulling miles of old barbed wire fence. Jonathan hopes to run cattle and sheep in them, with a handful of goats and pigs, starting next year. His management plan calls for a timber harvest and timber stand improvement across all seven forest stands. “The project went out to bid and — after being postponed the past two winters — is scheduled to be completed this winter,” Jonathan said.He also received a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to control invasive weed species and has been doing this work in conjunction with his invasive species control contractor, Trillium Invasive Species Management.

“I typically don’t work with herbicides, since I do a lot of ecological restorations or work in urban areas where they aren’t allowed, and philosophically I try to avoid them whenever possible,” Jonathan said. However, personal observations of the negative consequences of not using herbicides convinced him of their usefulness in the woods, and he is now comfortable taking advantage of his right as a landowner to apply them on his own land when needed. Trillium has been very helpful advising him on personal protective equipment and application techniques, and when there is a large project to do they send a crew out to assist. “We did about 30 acres in two days this past February and got 90% kill with the basal bark applications on barberry and multiflora rose,” Jonathan said. They plan to go back out for the remaining 10% prior to the timber harvest this winter, as Jonathan would like to prevent the release of interfering vegetation as much as possible when the canopy is opened up. He has noticed that not many foresters or loggers talk to landowners about managing interfering vegetation before or after timber harvests, and feels that an unexploited niche industry could develop there.

Jonathan’s interest in forest management started about seven years ago, while working on a project for a client in the Hudson Valley with 200 acres of woods. The client was wondering “what to do with their woods,” and Jonathan wasn’t sure. “The Landscape Architecture program is on the same quad as the Natural Resources program, but there is no overlap — we learned nothing about forests or forest management,” Jonathan remembers. He called the DEC forester for the Hudson region, who met with him and gave him a list of consulting foresters, and after interviewing three of them he settled on Anthony Del Vescovo, whom he has since worked with on at least half a dozen projects.

Now a Master Forest Owner volunteer, Jonathan continues to be fascinated by forest management and greatly enjoys helping neighbors and clients identify how best to manage their woods. “I work with large landowners all over the state, and they do like everything manicured, but most of them understand the benefits of timber stand improvement very quickly once you explain it to them,” he said.“It may look a lot less manicured for a short period of time, after a harvest, but in the long run you have a much healthier, more diverse and enjoyable forest. And it gives them something new and exciting to talk to their children and neighbors about.”

Jonathan does worry about the lack of connection to the natural world, and knowledge around how to sustainably interact with it, that he is noticing in a lot of his clients as well as local municipalities across the state.“The farm to table movement has made a big difference in awareness around farms and food — you have a lot of people who are wanting to farm and garden now,” he noted. “But that isn’t translating into an understanding of how to manage the woodlot that comes with the farm, or the connection between logging and forestry, resulting in policies being made on a local level that actually hinder responsible forest management.” He used as an example a 70-acre timber stand improvement harvest he recently assisted a client with, where they were required to put money into escrow, pay for the town planning board to hire an environmental consultant (who was anti-logging), and jump through several other hoops that did not exist prior to the logging code that the town had recently passed, resulting in a total of four additional permits. “For landowners without a lot of resources, they are essentially saying that you can’t manage your forest,” he said.

His biggest challenge when it comes to managing his property and the woods is financial. “Managing the woodlot and setting up the farm infrastructure is very expensive,” Jonathan said. His advice to other forest owners is to read up on forestry and silviculture and talk with a consulting forester. He loves the NYFOA magazine and the subscription to Northern Woodlands magazine. “Both are fun to read and very informative,” he said. “It is also good to know the NYFOA representatives are paying attention to woodland politics and lobbying for smart policies on behalf of landowners.”


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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