Scott Brady and Stephanie Brunetta

Brady and Brunetta Tree Farm


My parents (Arthur and Virginia) purchased our house and 20 acres of land in Schenevus in 1946 from my Grandmother who lived here for a few years with her second husband, a WW1 veteran. He was gassed in the war and was being treated at the Homer Folks Tuberculosis facility in Oneonta. This was part of the post WW2 movement into our valley that is a delightful blend of current and former agriculture, and wooded hills. My parents added 30 acres in 1970 and I added another 33 in 1988, in total about 50% old pasture and 50% woodland. These are the fields and forests I enjoy with my wife, Stephanie Brunetta.

Our once heavily forested rolling hills in the town of Westford, Otsego County, had been altered by native Americans for a thousand years for deer habitat and nuts/berries for human and animal consumption.In Alan Taylor’s book “William Cooper’s Town” he describes our area as covered with vast maple, beech, and pine forest in 1783. Areas along creeks and rivers were often cultivated by Indians. Evidence of this was a large boulder, next to the creek, with a grinding pestle in the center. This large boulder was across from our house and the pestle was removed by the NYS Historical Association in the 1950’s. Cooper describes how intentional fire created substantial well-placed trees with high canopy and a forest floor with bushes and low plants for both human and wildlife food. As a land agent operating out of what would become Cooperstown, 10 miles from us, he was one of the first to promote “reclaiming fruitful tracts from the waste of creation.” (letter from Wm. Cooper to Henry Drinker). This resulted in early maple syrup/sugar production to pay the mortgages owed by his lot buyers, and ultimately the harvest of those trees for timber and potash to open fields for cultivation.

My earliest research shows Elkanah Milks living here in 1858 with his family and producing a vast array of products that mirrored all 120 farms in our township.The variety of goods listed in the 1865 census included oats, buckwheat, apples, Indian corn, potatoes, beans, hops, maple sugar, and maple syrup. The production and diversity of crops shows the original forested landscape of the 1700’s completely transformed to the landscape of settlement and agricultural production in Elkanah’s time.

The Milks family farmed this property until the 1920’s, added on to the house, but eventually let fields return to forest by our arrival in 1946. By the 1950’s, my brothers and I needed little encouragement from my mother’s command to “go outside” and run up the sapling covered hillside with neighbor Tim Green to build forts and play in the woods. The saplings of the 1950’s, and my forester brother Butch’s (Arthur E, Brady, Wanakena 1962) legacy led me to my first Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) in 1978. DEC forester Paul Trotta marked five acres of 4-6” poles in ’78 and again in ’92 and began a TSI process on 83 acres that would yield 300 face cords over 25 years to fuel the woodstoves in my parents’ home. This stand was marked again in April 2020.

Planting cedars with Butch in 1965 and 1,000 red pine in 1971, was followed by half a mile of maples along our Elk Creek Road in 1972. Our roads were once lined by 100+ year old maples circled with sap buckets in the spring in the 1960’s. They are long since cut down and their shade for horse drawn wagons no longer needed. It was said that farmers received $1 off their taxes for each one planted for this reason as well as for beautification. The ½ inch diameter x 6’ maples I planted in ’72 are now 16-22” diameter and 50’ tall with massive crowns. I still plant the trees in our nearby cemetery and am often reminded of the Greek Proverb: “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

My early efforts with hundreds of wildlife shrubs in the 1980’s led to unintended consequences in planting honey suckle and autumn olive. Eradicating honeysuckle now is ongoing and other new plantings are expected to be more beneficial. Elderberry and highbush cranberry, along with allowing naturally seeded crabapple, have created a dense structure in several areas teeming with birds and small mammals. These areas join sections of old field simply left alone to restore a more diverse habitat on their own. In 1983 our farm was designated as a member of the Tree Farm system. This, and my 32 years employed as a professional with the Boy Scouts of America (Otsego, Schoharie and Delaware Counties) led to long associations with foresters: DEC’s Paul Trotta, Bruce Edwards formerly of Mallory Lumber, renowned forester Henry Kernan, and good friend Don Nickerson (Wanakena ’66). All of these men modeled the importance of good stewardship, and a professional approach to forest management.

In 1989 we began the now 30 year operation of the choose and cut Brady Christmas Tree Farm. I spend hundreds of hours per year with thousands of trees and a very exciting December with over 400 members of scores of families selecting their perfect tree. The shrill calling out and squeals of delight from children on cold weekends makes every hour on the hillside worth the work. The last ten years I have practiced stump culture; growing a new Christmas tree in half the time from a branch that is retained on the stump after the tree is cut.People are very interested and appreciate this practice as they scour the Christmas tree lots where hundreds of them grow. I credit Don Hilliker of Tree Haven Nursery for that inspiration. People ask how I am able to do this by myself, and I have always said I simply do not watch television.With many things to do, an afternoon of watching TV has never been on the schedule.

My 12 acres of Christmas trees will scale down as we evolve into three or four acres to serve our many loyal Christmas tree families. When hearing of my plan to downsize, they insist that I keep enough for their continued harvest, and that I was not to go anywhere. I’m inclined to agree, and my plan is to live to 90 years of age because of so much to do. My cardiologist agrees with me, which is encouraging.

In 2014 I retained Mike Gray of Perfect Circle Forestry to manage logging on half of the property to pay for renovations on the original 1850s house and 1920’s addition. Three of the stands that were harvested I had marked by the DEC and thinned in 1978 and 1992. My main direction to Mike was I wanted the next person here to have to same benefit of a harvest that I will have. The result from his professional management was quite satisfying and in decades to come the next person will see just that. In a nod to aesthetics I left several straight majestic oaks because I simply want to look at them when I walk in the woods.

The harvest revealed the main obstacle to the process of understory regeneration of those stands to be overbrowsing by deer. Even though there was good seedling density, they are all browsed to 18” while being a decade old. My hunting and the same on neighboring properties seems to fall short of slowing the abundance of deer. Viewing many webinars confirms that hunting is usually not enough. By accident I started using tree tubes for browse protection of undamaged new seedlings and have recently found through ForestConnect that I am on track. This intervention currently has tubes in the hundreds, with the first emerging oaks now at six feet. I then found one- or two-year oak seedlings under sheltered conditions when a Christmas tree was harvested. I have tubed them and started to include hard maples in this natural regeneration process. This has led to recommendations from Cornell to interplant “nurse” trees for seedlings greater than 20’ apart. I chose black locust to interplant starting in 2020 and close the canopy over time and encourage limb-free stems. The locust can develop as an intermediate cash crop which is in great demand for fence posts in our area. The plan now is to foster natural regeneration of the hardwood forest with occasional intervention based on what I am learning from the New York Forest Owners Association and Cornell. Also in April, a DEC forester visited to assist in managing a natural low grade stand of several acres with TSI to increase understory plants which may include more desirable species over time.

Just as my decade of chainsaw carving yielded to time spent on Christmas trees, that once larger operation will yield to more time in maple syrup production with my childhood friend and neighbor Tim Green. He has also renovated his 1800’s childhood home. My parents, from Canton and Brooklyn, always said this was the most beautiful valley in the area, so it is easy to “go outside” as we were always told. With tree planting this spring will come mushrooms that I have begun, fostering milkweed lots, organic vegetable gardens, and more perennial beds than I likely need.To round out the “madness” of being consumed by these activities I became a Great Highland bagpipe student and often fill the hills for my neighbors’ enjoyment with haunting melodies.

This somewhat accidental plan over four decades seems to come from family history, wonderful childhood, the need to fill an empty field, or thin a pole stand with guidance from professionals I have met along the way. In all of this I need to acknowledge Stephanie for listening to every plan, and the joy in the process of carrying it out. Her background is in biology and she looks forward to being part of it all after her work. She is the bright light that enhances everything I see, think, and do with great joy and anticipation throughout.

The word that comes to mind when I see the snowy hills and think of the coming excitement of spring is one Stephanie and I often use, “grateful.”

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