Member Profiles

Get to know your fellow members in the profiles below.

Is there something about you or your land that other MFA members would find interesting?  Send an email to

Alan & Sharon Finifrock

posted Mar 8, 2014, 2:40 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Mar 8, 2014, 2:53 PM ]

Chris Borr, left, Bell Pole and Alan Finifrock

Alan and Sharon Finifrock, Carlton which is just south of Duluth, have a long history of being connected to their land. They currently own or manage seven 40's in two separate parcels in Carlton County.  Both parcels are former Finifrock farm land.  One is in the Nemadji River Watershed near Moose Lake and the other is in the Kettle River Watershed on Bear Lake, near Barnum.  The Nemadji property, which is on the south short of ancient Lake Nemadji, was acquired by Alan’s parents in 1934.


Alan has a deep respect for and interest in learning from natural resource professionals and other woodland owners.  In 1997 he completed the Woodland Advisor training program. Alan's interest in caring for the woodland started as a young child, when he recalls standing on the last 5 foot diameter white pine stump on his Nemadji property.  Alan began planting trees on an old hayfield with his parents in 1951.


Tree planting became an annual event marked by weekends of work and camping on the property.  Since 1951, Al and his family have planted more than 30,000 trees on the properties, most by hand.  The majority of the plantings were of red pine and white spruce with about 10% white pine in later years.  Some were to reforest and create windbreaks around old fields and pasture land.


Tree Farm certificate - April, 1967
The Nemadji property was first enrolled as a Tree Farm in 1967.  Alan became aware of the Tree Farm program and felt that by joining he would be able to continue his learning.  He has the original Tree Farm certificate framed.  The Nemadji property was the site of the Woodbury Sawmill, remnants of which can still be found.  These include a 5 foot depression in the ground, probably a cellar, and a water line used to bring water to the steam powered mill from the Nemadji Creek.  The logs sawn at the mill were mostly white pine.  These were cut into dimensional lumber and transported by horse and sleigh to the rail siding at Nemadji for use in building Superior Wisconsin. 


Some of the pines planted in 1951 and 1964 are ready for harvest.  Chris Boor from Bell Timber visited Alan’s property on December 10, 2013 to discuss a timber sale.  While no contract has been signed yet, Al dreams of doing the logging himself with a John Deere tractor and a Farmi Winch.  Doing the harvesting himself will require hard work which will bring back memories, help keep him connected to the land, and increase the profit of the sale.


Tree Farming for Alan has been a lifelong avocation that has brought many insights, rewards, and rekindled many good memories.

Richard & Joanne Hufnagle, Big Falls MN

posted Oct 12, 2013, 2:31 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Oct 12, 2013, 3:10 PM ]

Dick and Janet Hufnagle, Richard’s parents, started a tree farm for themselves in the Big Falls area of Kochiching County (go ahead, say the name of the country for fun!) in 1959.  The soil is ideal for growing trees and the location is perfect, just 40 miles from the Boise paper mill in International Falls and 70 miles from Blandin in Grand Rapids.  At the time, the Hufnagles also started a tree farm for Richard, who was just 10 years old, with 109 acres.
Today, the combined tree farm has grown to over 2,000 acres.  It is owned by the Hufnagle Family Limited Partnership.  Partners include several of Richard's six siblings who are scattered around the country.



When Dick Hufnagle was establishing the tree farm, he had a hard time making ends meet.  He had to keep costs down and look for revenue in every place he could to pay the taxes.  Today, the tree farm is a profitable, going business with a sawmill and a wood treatment plant. 


To establish and maintain the woods, hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted over the years.  In the early years, there were a few fields to be planted so a machine was used.  Today, all of the planting is by hand, mostly done by local people from town.  Initially, Norway pine was the main species.  More recently, white spruce has become a favorite.  This year for the first time, oak was included among the 8,500 trees that were planted.  “I tried on two occasions to establish cedar,” Richard said, “but the deer ate every one.”


Work has been done recently to establish jack pine.  The soil was prepared with a special scarifying process to remove aspen sprouts and other brush and then allowed to sit for five years.  The same results could be achieved with prescribed burning but Richard says, “I’ve been afraid of burning.  Of the other prescribed burn efforts I know of in the area, it seems like half of them got out of control.”


The land was enrolled in the Tree Farm program early.  Richard’s 109 acres was enrolled in 1960.  Dick Hufnagle, besides being an avid tree farmer, was gregarious and hosted many events on the land.  He holds a record because he was recognized as Minnesota’s Tree Farmer of the Year on three occasions, in 1982, 1990 and 2000.


Richard enjoys touring the more than 10 miles of roads and trails on the land, constantly stopping to prune a tree or clear a deadfall.  He also enjoys hunting and trapping.  There is a five-acre pond on the land that is fed by a small creek.  It was once stocked with walleyes.  “Once, I was trapping beaver in the small creek and caught two walleyes in my traps,” Richard said.
Joanne makes the three-mile trip from their home in town to the land often.  She enjoys cross country skiing in winter and hunting for mushrooms in the spring while helping with the maple syrup process.


By Richard and Joanne’s description, the property, which borders on the Big Fork River, is gorgeous.  Richard says, “We are privileged to be stewards of this land.”

Paul & Betsy Hoppe, Ogilvie MN

posted Oct 12, 2013, 2:24 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Oct 12, 2013, 2:26 PM ]

Paul and Betsy Hoppe bought some land 25 years ago.  10,000 seedlings later they have a tree farm!

Their land, 383 acres, straddles the border between Kanabec and Mille Lacs Counties.  Their mail address is Ogilvie and the nearest larger town is Mora.


Paul and Betsy bought the land after it had been on the market for a year.  The former owner had purchased it right after World War II.  The owners before him had failed at farming on the land because the soil is heavy clay and poorly drained.  This fellow tried to create pasture for beef cattle but gave that up in 1952.  “The land wanted to go back to trees,” Paul said.


Paul spent his career as a conservation officer, first in Glencoe and then in the Mora area.  He retired in 2002.  “It was a wonderful job but it is also good to be retired,” he said.


Now Paul spends part of every day in the woods.  He harvests some wood for his outdoor boiler that heats their home and sells some stumpage.  But that is just the start.  Maple syrup is an annual string time project.  This year, he and Betsy made 28 gallons of syrup.  That’s a lot by any measure but especially when you consider the fact that all 1, 120 gallons of sap was collected from trees scattered around the property and carried to a tank behind Paul’s four-wheeler in 5-gallon buckets.  “We have a few sugar maples,” Pau said, “but mostly we tap red maple which seems to work just fine.”


Right after finishing with maple syrup, Paul starts work inoculating his mushroom logs.  He does Shittake and Oyster mushrooms.  “Getting a crop of mushrooms required six months of weather in the 70s.  That means here in Minnesota it takes two years,” Paul said.


Paul’s newest projects are honey bees and a pollinator pasture in which he’s planted 60 species of wild flowers.


Off the land, Paul does lots of volunteer work.  He is chair of the Kanabec County Soil and Water Conservation District Board, chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Snake River Joint Powers Board and participates on the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Forestry Committee.  Needless to say, Paul spends hours each week in meetings!


Back to those 10,000 seedlings.  As anyone who has planted and tried to nurture that many seedlings knows, there are lots of ways to fail.  “Some seedlings I planted in the understory 15 years ago aren’t much bigger today than when I planted them,” Paul said.  But, those that do grow provide great satisfaction for Paul and Betsy and a legacy for their seven grandchildren.

Lowell Thornber, Roseville

posted Jun 8, 2013, 8:29 AM by Mike Reichenbach   [ updated Jun 8, 2013, 9:09 AM ]

Lowell Thornber

Because he has attended the last 20 consecutive Annual Meeting events, Lowell Thornber has earned the title of MFA’s Most Loyal Member!

Lowell, 78, lives in a Roseville condominium.  He does not own any woodland but has an interest in trees and nature that goes back to his childhood.  Thornber family members were pioneer farmers in rural Illinois and their original homestead is now maintained by the local historical society.  Lowell remembers fondly spending time in the black walnut plantation that was part of the farm.

After serving in the Marine Corps, Lowell came to the Twin Cities to study at Macalester College and then the University of Minnesota where he earned a masters degree in business marketing.  Lowell spent his career doing computer work for the Great Northern Railroad, Gould National Batteries and Remington Rand, which later became Unisys.

After retirement, Lowell worked at Byerly’s for 15 years until heart problems forced him to quit.  Those heart problems resulted in two by-passes, a new heart valve and a pacemaker yet, with all that, Lowell still made it to our Annual Meeting!


John & Marcie Krantz

posted Apr 14, 2013, 6:50 AM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Apr 14, 2013, 7:53 AM ]

The Krantz’ Goods From the Woods Help Finance Retirement


When John Krantz, Forest Lake, retired from DNR Forestry 11 years ago, he and his wife, Marcie, went to work selling goods from their woods.


One product with which John enjoys working is willow sticks that can be made into canes and walking sticks.  Each year, with permits from Itacsa County, DNR and the Chippewa National Forest, John harvests about 1,000 willow sticks and 400 sticks from eight to ten year old aspen.  “These sticks are easy to sell,” John says, “especially the further south you go.  We have been showing our products at a show in Kansas City for the last 10 years.  People come from as far away as Arkansas to buy them.”


A second product is butternut that can be made into plates, bowls, etc. by wood turners.  But the main product of their business, Krantz Wood Sales, is basswood for carvers.  “In the area north of the Twin Cities, we grow the best basswood in the world,” John says, “probably because it grows relatively slowly here.  But, even this best basswood is a low value timber that becomes high value after we prepare it for sale.”


First, basswood has to be harvested in winter.  If basswood is harvested in summer it deteriorates very quickly and will not hold its bark.  Some of the Krantz’ products have the bark attached.


After harvest comes the drying process.  Air-dried basswood has characteristics in demand by Krantz’s carver customers.  The sawmill John uses to cut the rough lumber does the first step in drying by stacking the rough lumber  outdoors.  During breezy, low humidity days in April, May and June, the lumber will lose half its moisture.  Then the wood is moved into the loft of a barn on the Krantz’ Deer River-area farm.  “The barn has a metal roof which allows the summer temperatures to get into the 90s “ John says.

John Krantz with his various products including butternut for bowls, walking sticks and basswood for signs and carving. Bark-on basswood
is a popular item for signs. 
By fall, the basswood is moved to the Krantz’ small wood shop in Forest Lake where their one part time employee cuts and planes the wood.  Most of it is ready for sale to carvers as-is but John takes one more step with a few of the boards.  Some customers like wide boards on which they can carve relief images.  The problem is, a single wide board will warp so John glues 4-6” boards together to make one that is 12-18” wide.


Listening to John & Marcie talk, it sounds as though their business is working almost too well.  “We have enough business coming in,” John says, “that we are never fully caught up.”  They are cutting back a little on their main marketing effort which is displaying at carving-oriented shows in the southern states.  This year they skipped a show in Phoenix.  For the last 10 years or so, John and Marci would load their pickup and a trailer full of basswood and sell it all at the show.  They will continue to sell to their past customers in the Phoenix area via the telephone and Internet.


As to MFA, John as been a member since 1976, the year that our association was brought out of dormancy after having been idle for several decades.  In fact, John recalls participating in the very first meeting in Brainerd. 


John & Marci’s country estate is a 150-acre farm located just north of Deer River that has been in the family for 109 years.   When John was young, the farm was mostly pasture on which his father raised beef cattle.  When John went off to forestry school at the University of Minnesota, his father began planting the pasture to red pine and white spruce.  Today, all but 20 acres are forested.


For more information you will find an article John wrote for Carving Magazine in which he describes his process in detail.

Neal Chapman - Roseville MN

posted Feb 27, 2013, 3:54 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Feb 27, 2013, 3:59 PM ]

Neal Chapman’s home is in Roseville, Minnesota and his woodland is in Polk County, Wisconsin, just a few miles north and east of Taylors Falls, Minnesota.  He is a member of MFA, Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association and American Tree Farm Program.  He is a Master Woodland Steward, Woodland Advocate,
Coverts Cooperator and graduate of the Wisconsin Woodland Leadership Institute.  As you will see in the piece he wrote below, Neal has a passion for sharing what he has learned with others. 


Wanted: volunteer educators-mentors

By Neal. W. Chapman


What do you value about your land?  Do you enjoy sharing your passion with others, talking about what goes on there, sharing pictures taken there as if it were a child or grandchild? 


If you answered in the affirmative, then I ask you to consider becoming a volunteer educator/mentor with other landowners. One opportunity would involve putting on a class at your local community education program. I have found this to be a relatively easy way to reach others.


Last winter, I piloted a woodland stewardship program to reach woodland owners through local public school Community Education Programs.  I contacted three school districts with my idea, and was enthusiastically received.  The class “Learn About Your Woodland” was first offered through the Roseville Community Education program during the winter of 2012, followed by 2 schools in Wisconsin.  These classes were offered in two-hour increments over two or three evenings, and focused on identifying landowner goals and objectives in preparation for professional visits from a forester.  I chose the Community Education venue because this simplifies the location, registration, equipment, and some of the promotional activities associated with class offerings.  It also provides a local, inexpensive opportunity for landowners to learn about and become engaged in woodland stewardship, and to network with others.


Working with Eli Sagor at UMN Extension, I chose to use the text “Woodland Stewardship”, 2nd ed., as the foundation for the class and provided participants with a number of handouts. I also focused on wildlife management on their properties.   There were 21 total participants and I found my audiences engaged, full of questions, and ready to take the next step in managing their woodland properties. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in class and was very personally rewarded.


I am prepared to share the process and resources with others who have an interest and passion for sharing their knowledge and experiences in a casual environment.  It really is easier than you may think!  You will come away with more information as well, not quite a walk in the woods, but close.


Recent cuts in funding at all levels has dramatically affected the ability of both DNR and University Extension to provide the level of services previously available to assist private landowners in caring for their land.  Volunteer educators/mentors can help deliver woodland stewardship information to help meet landowners’ needs. 


There are many other ways that volunteers can make a difference working with fellow landowners. Discussions are ongoing with DNR Forestry leadership, University Mn Extension, and other resource professionals to best utilize the time and talents of those who volunteer.


This effort is currently very much in the development process, but volunteers are needed NOW to help shape the effort.  Please contact me directly if you wish to explore the opportunity to help other woodland owners make informed decisions about managing their land. The commitment is small, the reward great.


Contact Neal W. Chapman at 612-998-7901 or via email at


Dave & Beverly Medvecky, Isanti MN

posted Dec 15, 2012, 3:27 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Feb 1, 2013, 2:11 PM ]

The Big Woods Farm


Dave Medvecky was working on a power line project near Cambridge in Isanti County in the mid-1970s when he saw a For Sale by Owner sign outside a small farm that looked appealing to him.  Dave wrote down the phone number meaning to give the owner a call.  A year later, Dave hadn’t gotten around to calling when he saw the owner’s obituary in the local newspaper.


Dave& Bev Medvecky.   In the foreground is a load of cherry wook being dried in the sun.  It will be sold to a fellow who uses it in his meat smoker.
Dave contacted a neighbor who had been appointed executor of the estate and learned that the farm would be sold by auction and that the bee hives on the property needed attention.  Dave volunteered to care for the bees and made plans to bid on the farm.  A few weeks later, Dave and Bev were proud owners of the 40-acre Big Woods Farm.  Since then they have acquired another 200 acres nearby, making for a nice 240 acre spread.  The place was an enrolled Tree Farm when the Medvecky’s bought it and they have maintained the relationship.


Most of Isanti County is in the Anoka Sand Plain, suitable for pine.  The area around the Medvecky’s farm has heavier, clay soil and was called the “Big Woods” by local farmers in the early days because of the huge maple, oak and basswood growing there.  The original owner named the place, The Big Woods Farm, a name the Medvecky’s have kept.


While Dave was working, he’d spend his spare time in the woods at the farm.  He learned that it takes a full winter season to thin five acres of woods.  At that rate, he spent eight years covering the entire 40 acres.  Then, in 1995, Dave was laid off from his job and went to work full time on the farm.  “Now I work out in the woods from sun up to sunset and love it,” Dave says.  “One question is what would happen if I were to get hurt out in the woods?  I don’t have a cell phone because I’d probably smash it somehow while working.  But, without the phone, Bev wouldn’t come looking for me until after dark.”  Good reason to be careful in the woods!


Through the years, Dave has found markets for most of what comes from his woods.  “Maple syrup is the easiest product to sell.  People ask to be put on a waiting list for it.  Last spring was a total bust but we’ve had good years, too.  Our best was the year we produced 90 gallons of finished syrup.”


“One problem with producing maple syrup,” Dave says, “is that you have to be in the woods during breakup when the roads and trails are most vulnerable to damage.  It seems that some years we’ve spent most of our maple syrup revenue on fixing up the trails after the season.”


Somehow, Dave got connected with a woman who calls herself The Nature Lady.  She collects rustic items and resells them to floral shops in Dallas and Austin, Texas.  She was at Big Woods Farm recently and loaded up on birch logs, branches and bark plus mushrooms that grow on birch trees and hornets nests Dave found in his woods.  Dave and Bev’s 14-year old grandchildren, a boy and a girl, helped load the woman’s truck and saw Dave collect the money.  “It is good for the kids to see that you can make money from the woods but I had to warn them that most sales aren’t as easy as this one.”


Dave has a local fellow bring in his Wood Mizer saw mill several times a year.  They saw lumber for a local outfit that makes flooring and paneling.  Also, logs with figured wood, ones with what normal mills would call defects, are sawed for local bowl turners. 


In all, the Medvecky’s have more than two dozen other customers who buy everything from cherry wood for smoking on grills to logs for export to Japan.


The only major piece of equipment Dave uses in his woods is this Iron Mule.  Dave says, "I like to keep my logs free of dirt and.  With this Iron Mule, I can wind my way up to a felled tree and pick up the logs without ever skidding them."
One of Dave’s favorite customers, is the Ebner family in Elk River.  Five members of the family, who are the 5th generation in the business, make wooden berry boxes.  The do it all by hand with no outside help.  They do have machinery that is approaching 100 years old.  Like the flour mills used to be operated, all of the machines are run off belts from a single shaft that is powered by one three-phase motor.  The berry boxes have seen an increase in popularity thanks to the organic fruit market.  Recently the Ebners received an order for one million boxes!  On average they buy three semi loads of basswood from the Big Woods Farm each year.


What to do with the wood scraps?

The Medveckys have always heated their home, and all their hot water, with wood.  Their only back-up system is a second wood burner.  Recently Dave bought a new outdoor wood furnace from Classic Sales located just down the road in Isanti.  At some point in the near future, the U.S. EPA will ban the current models, smoky models of outdoor furnaces and require that all new models be a more efficient type that produces less smoke.  A problem with the efficient type is they require seasoned wood for fuel.  Dave says, “As a tree famer, we always have wood scraps we can use for heat but they are not dry.  I bought this new furnace so we can put into operation when the old one, that is 25 years old, needs replacement.”


Bev in her asparagus patch that has been covered with leaves for the winter.

Bev also has a little business going.  She maintains a huge garden that produces flowers and vegetables to sell locally.  Her biggest seller is asparagus which, according to Dave, is as easy to sell as maple syrup.  Bev has 400 feet of asparagus rows in her garden.  Another of her major products is peonies.  From a few plants obtained from a relative 25 years ago, Bev now cultivates over 250 peony bushes.  Vegetables include tomatoes, strawberries and peas.  Bev plants one row of sweet corn every week for eight weeks so she has sweet corn available for two months.


Since they purchased the place 35 years ago, the Medveckys have never used any fertilizer or pesticides on Bev’s garden or anywhere on the farm.  Dave says, “I guess this makes us organic, although we have never applied for certification.”

John & Mary Peterson, Delano MN

posted Oct 1, 2012, 9:25 AM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Oct 2, 2012, 6:25 AM ]

Minnesota Woodlands editor:  “John, I know you and Mary have done a lot with buckthorn.  Since our next issue will feature this pest, I’d like to come out to your place in Delano to talk about what you are doing and take a few photographs of actual work on the buckthorn.”


John Peterson:  “You are welcome to come and we’re always happy to share what knowledge we’ve gained about dealing buckthorn.  But, if you want photos, we’ll have to go over to our neighbors since we no longer have any on our property.”


Minnesota Woodland editor:  “This I gotta see!  I’ll be out.”


Mary & John Peterson

The land was homesteaded by the Peterson family in 1899 and is currently in a family trust.  It is located on Highway 12, just east of Delano.  25 acres of the land is wooded while the rest is cropland and wetland.  John and Mary’s home is nestled in the woods, far enough from the highway that one gets the feeling of total privacy yet they are just a mile and a half from a McDonalds.


The Petersons’ buckthorn story began five years ago, in 2007, at a Woodland Advisor class where buckthorn was discussed.  John & Mary checked their 25 acres and concluded, “It’s everywhere!”  Next came motivation as DNR foresters Art Widerstrom and Alan Olson presented the Petersons with a sign designating their woodland as a Big Woods Heritage Forest.  With that John said, “We became motivated to get rid of the buckthorn to help live up to the recognition Art and Alan gave us.”


In 2008, John and Mary went to work.  Their first efforts were failures.  John tried a foliar spray with 2,4,D but it did nothing.  Then he tried cutting a few plants off at ground level but learned they would re-sprout.  He tried digging up some smaller buckthorn plants but leaned you have to get nearly 100% of the root or what is left will sprout.  Finally, he tried pulling up some larger plants with a Weed Wrench.  He found it is easiest to do when the ground is wet but it was still far too much work.


Finally, later in 2008, John and Mary settled on the approach they would follow to complete elimination of their buckthorn:  Cut off the stem and, to prevent re-sprouting, immediately treat the stump with a mixture of one part Garlon and two parts base oil.  For cutting, they use a chainsaw, lopping shears or hand clipper depending on the size of the stems.  A pint-sized oil can is used to apply the Garlon-oil mixture, to the entire stump of small plants and to just the cambium layer of larger plants.

 The Big Woods Heritage Forest designation provided motivation to clean up the woods. John's main tools: a lopping shears and a pint-sized oil can with the Garlon mixture
John likes clean-looking woods so
he and Mary loaded all the larger stems
on to a hay wagon and
hauled them off to
one of many burning piles. 

Helpers in the process have been their son, who has a full time career managing rock bands, and John’s mother, Lorraine shown at right, who is 87.

A few other things John & Mary have learned along that way may help others:

·         The Petersons have worked on their buckthorn in all seasons but the fall is best because buckthorn holds its leaves longer than other plants so it is easy to spot, plus there are no mosquitoes and temperatures are cool.

·         The female seed-bearing plants (the ones with the berries) are the priority.  If John were to start over on the buckthorn project, he’d look for and deal with these plants first to stop reproduction.  Young female plants do not produce seeds until the stems are about 3/4 inch, which is about seven years old, so there is plenty of time to go back and deal with the young female and all male plants.

·         Working in patches of young buckthorn plants, John has determined he can cut and treat 400 per hour.  (For us older folks, that means bending over 400 times an hour!)

·         The process of eliminating buckthorn takes time.  With good records of their work, John knows he and Mary invested 200 hours in 2008, 400 hours in 2009 and 500 hours in 2010!

·         While Garlon is expensive, (about $125 per gallon), the oil can approach to applying the Garlon-oil mixture is very economical.  John bought a 2-1/12 gallon jug of Garlon four years ago and still has half of it.

·         After leaves have dropped, it is hard to distinguish between buckthorn and chokecherry.  However, after it is cut, the chokecherry wood is white and the buckthorn wood is more orange.  When John does accidentally cut a chokecherry, he just doesn’t treat the stump with Garlon so it will re-sprout.

·         In working with buckthorn, you never get it all on the first trip through.  John and Mary have covered parts of the land five times.


Obtaining the Materials

Obtain Garlon and Bark Oil Blue (less smelly than diesel fuel) from:


Dale Sutherland, Territory Manager

Timberland Division of CPS

23173 Hardwood Road

Bovey MN 55709

Office: 218-245-1903

Cell: 218-259-3605


Obtain the oiler online for $12.99 plus tax and shipping at  Look for Industrial Oiler #720, part # 56256

Thanks to John and Mary Peterson for demonstrating that buckthorn can be beaten!


Joe & Jean Crocker, Isanti

posted May 30, 2012, 9:22 AM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Oct 2, 2012, 6:28 AM ]

For Joe Crocker, 73 of Isanti, harvesting 35 cords of pine last winter was a highlight in an adventure.  It began in the late 1970s when Joe and wife, Jean, mentioned in conversation that, “We should buy some land.”  A short time later, a friend told Joe about 70 acres for sale near Isanti and the adventure began.


Joe and Jean had the land but no plan until a few years later when they said, “Maybe we should plant some trees.”  Five years after that, 20,000 mostly red pines were in the ground.  Those that the pocket gophers didn’t get are now ready for a second thinning, which Joe started this past winter.


For Joe, thinning his pines is a meticulous, one-tree-at-a-time process.  He starts by selecting the individual trees to be taken, leaving the best ones to grow further.  Almost all the trees he cuts get hung up on nearby trees so out comes the chain and come-along. 


Once on the ground, limbs are removed and the trunk is skidded with his 35-horse John Deere tractor to a mini-landing, where it is cut into 100-inch lengths and sorted into three piles by size.  The pile with the largest diameter wood will go for saw logs.  The other two piles will go to a local log furniture maker whose business is so good he can’t get enough wood.  He particularly likes the small diameter wood, down to 1-1/2 inches, for his furniture.


Working four to five hours per day, Joe says, “I was amazed at how much I was able to get done thanks to our great weather this past winter.  Two more winters like this one and the second thinning will be completed.  I’ll then do a third thinning in eight to 10 years and the best trees remaining will be left for future generations to enjoy.”


Joe spent the bulk of his career selling overhead hoists and cranes.  Some were big units used in huge industrial plants.  Others were smaller, used in auto repair shops.  “I started out as an employee and then, in the late 1980s, had a chance to buy the company.  I was very fortunate that, for the next few years, the American economy was doing very well.  By 1998, two of my employees bought the company from me and Jean and I made plans to move from the Twin Cities to our Isanti County land.”


The first year and a half on their land was spent living in a garage as they build their new home.  The home is a 40-foot square, two-story, energy efficiency building.  The roof is timber frame made from second growth white pine.  The walls are 10 inches of concrete.  Facing south, the solar gain in winter is so strong that a small wood stove is all that is needed for heat. 


The entire second floor of the house is used for Jean’s studio.  There she does various kinds of artwork including painting with water colors and making decorative windows with stained glass.


The Crockers have four grown children and 10 grandchildren who live in Minnetonka, Brainerd, Seattle and Wakefield, Rhode Island.  “We had the whole family here on one occasion,” Jean said, “and it was pretty crowded.  More recently, we’ve had one or two of our children and their families at a time.”


Joe and Jean are serious about energy efficiency.  They tried heating with solar panels on the roof but that didn’t work.  Now they have one large panel that supplies their hot water and an array of solar panels installed out in the yard that supply up to 1/3rd of their electricity.  In addition, Joe built a root cellar using 120 old truck tires and concrete where they store potatoes, carrots and other vegetables over the winter.  They have a 500-gallon waste water treatment plant that does such a good job no mound system is needed.  Then, Joe recently installed a geo-thermal system that will heat the house.


That casual conversation of some 40 years ago, when the decided they should look for some land, has resulted in a very happy retirement for Joe and Jean. 


Roger & Linda Howard

posted Apr 9, 2012, 7:20 AM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Apr 9, 2012, 9:09 AM ]

Says a professional forester, “Roger Howard is the best private woodland manager I know.  He has an outstanding woodland because he is constantly working on his woods.”


Roger and his wife Linda live on their land in Aitkin County.  The main place has 560 acres, 160 acres of which is crop land and pasture, leaving 400 acres of woods and wetland.  In addition, the Howards have 120 wooded acres nearby and Roger and 15 partners own 640 acres of hunting land, also in Aitkin County.


Roger knows his woods.  He graduated from the U of M with a degree in Forestry and spent 33 years of his working career as the land commissioner in Aitkin County.  This is an appointed position responsible for managing the county’s Land Department.  “The county owns 225,000 acres of land which amounts to 19% of the land in the county.  Most of the land is wooded and was acquired through tax forfeiture in the 1930s and 40s.  Many of the counties in the northern part of the state acquired land in this manner.  Some of them sold it off while others, like Aitkin, has kept it and managed it.  The Land Department does everything for county land that the DNR does for state land except we don’t enforce hunting regulations.”


The Howard’s home land has lots of oak and ash, some aspen, a few balsam but very few other conifers. 


Now, in retirement, Roger’s work day starts about 7:30 a.m. as he heads outdoors.  “I usually work until about 9:30, com in for breakfast and then go back out until dark.  Linda seems happy that I’m out of her way for most of the day.”


Roger works steadily at timber stand improvement by removing lower quality trees.  “Some years I take out 100 cords and some years it’s only 50 cords.  I’m a fair weather logger because I don’t work outdoors when it is really cold or when the snow it too deep.  Days like those are spent working in the wood shop.”


All of his logging is done with a chainsaw, a 1967 Ford 4000 tractor and a Farmi 501 winch.  “When I bought the Farmi 20 years ago they had two sizes.  I bought the larger size and am glad I did because it can handle just about anything in my woods.”


Roger hauls the logs he cuts to one of several small landings where he sorts and stacks the wood.  Some is saved to be sawn by a contractor whom Roger brings in every couple of years.  When he gets enough pulp wood stacked up he calls a trucker who has a contract with Sappi in Cloquet.  The trucker gets a fee for hauling and a percentage of the payment with Roger getting the rest.  Whatever wood Roger can’t sell to the mill he cuts for firewood.  He uses 16 cords a year in his Heatmaster furnace, which is enough to heat the house and the garage-woodshop, and sells the rest.


The Howards have two daughters and six grandchildren.  All of the land is in a trust to avoid probate.  Roger is the trustee.  All of the forest land is enrolled in the SFIA.  “That payment last year was pretty nice,” Roger said.  (Last year SFIA enrollees received over $15 per acre.  This year, the payment is down to $7 but still nice.  We are very fortunate the SFIA program survived in light of all the cuts made by the legislature last year.)


Roger seems to like trying new ideas in his woodland.  Right now, he is experimenting with spalting, which is any form of wood coloration caused by fungi.  The unique coloration and patterns of spalted wood are sought after by woodworkers.  Roger has some 18” sugar maple logs set up in a shaded area out in the woods.  He also has individual logs stored inside plastic bags in his woodshop.  He’s trying various types of moisture inside the bags to promote fungus growth including plain water, Diet Coke and beer!


Roger grows and manages balsam fir for Christmas trees which he gives to friends and relatives.  And relatives they have plenty …. Roger and Linda each have about 70 cousins, with most living in the area!


In the spring, Roger taps one maple tree for each grandchild.  They have a contest to see which tree produces the most sap.  From the sap Roger make a couple quarts of syrup.

Red Oak used to grow Shiitake mushrooms
“Have you ever tried producing Shiitake mushrooms?”, Roger was asked.  “You bet!”, Roger said.  He has them in three locations in is woods, experimenting to see which location is best.  While many people like ironwood for mushrooms, Roger has found that red oak works better for him.  By soaking a log for just the right amount of time, he found he can force the mushrooms to flush.  Roger has an aluminum tag with a number attached to each log so he knows which were soaked and when. 


Whenever Roger cuts a tree with a burl, he cuts out and saves the burl.  He has some recently cut ones stored out in the woods.  Others have been sawn into slabs and are drying in a barn.  “I’m not sure what I’ll do with all these burls but I might come up with something someday,” Roger says.


Oh, and to fill any spare time, Roger has 30 head of beef cattle.  “I used to have 60 head but that was too much work.  Now,



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