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 Editor@MinnesotaForestry.org.
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 Editor@MinnesotaForestry.org.
Life has a funny way of taking you down paths you don’t plan nor expect. “I grew up in south Minneapolis and, at the time, didn’t like talking to people much,” recalled Carl Wegner of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. “We owned a lake place in Wisconsin where my dad taught me to hunt and fish and just spend time in the woods. In high school, I started thinking that a career in forestry was pretty appealing because I would be surrounded by trees, not people.” Well…at least he got the career part right.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1964 with a degree in Forestry, Carl was hired by the North Central Experimental Station in Grand Rapids to teach their 6-month Forestry Tech program. “Here I was, a guy who didn’t want to talk to people, standing in front of a classroom full of students teaching them to be Forestry Technicians. Needless to say, after 12 years of that, I became a lot more comfortable talking to people.” By 1967, Carl was in a joint position, continuing to teach classes as well as becoming the Itasca County Extension Forester where he worked on Tree Farm management plans, held logging and maple syrup workshops, and supervised the Christmas Tree Growers educational programs.
“At some point, one of the Christmas tree growers asked me, ‘How can you teach us about growing Christmas trees if you don’t grow them yourself?’ And that’s how I got in to growing Christmas trees.”
In 1970, Carl entered a partnership with Hugh Beaumont (yes, of Leave it to Beaver fame) who owned an active Christmas Tree farm in the area. They sold their first trees in 1972. By 1979, Carl and wife Jillaine purchased the 140 acre farm and never looked back. “When we started, we followed the most current specifications. In the 1970s, that meant 6 by 6 foot spacing. Now we know that’s way too narrow, but once you start an area with a certain spacing, you’re pretty much stuck with it,” said Carl.
While many practices have come and gone over the years, the love of tree farming is a constant along with an ever-present interest in improving his product by pursuing a better Christmas tree. “Bill Sayward at Itasca Green House used to live on the east coast and was instrumental in creating a system of critiquing trees for the best Christmas tree characteristics. When he moved to Minnesota, he brought that expertise with him. In 1988, I attended the National Christmas Tree Growers convention in New Hampshire where I first saw the New Hampshire blue balsam. I purchased 1000 seedlings and brought them back here to plant. Working with Bill, we’ve saved the best trees from that planting for taking scions for grafting to other root stock and for collecting seed,” said Carl.
Every August 15th finds Carl at his New Hampshire Blues, testing their cones for harvest. “By squeezing the cones and listening, you can tell how close they are to being ready.” When the sound it right, which Carl describes as a dry, squeaky sound, he picks the cones and places them on burlap in the shop where they continue the dry down process. Once they’re ready, he places a screen over a 5-gallon pail and rolls the cones, collecting the seeds in the pail.
“In mid-October, I broadcast seed the bed, and in spring we put a shade tunnel over them. They grow there for three years before I transplant them to another bed with more space to grow for another two years,” said Carl. After 5 years or more, the seedlings are ready for the field. “During planting season, I dig enough seedlings for planting the next day, trim the roots, and eliminate multiple tops. The next morning they’re ready to be put in the ground,” said Carl. Besides the blue balsam grown on site, Wegner orders other varieties of conifers from the DNR. Son Eric also works in the operation along with one other employee, taking care of most of the planting, shearing, harvesting and marketing. Currently, they have 50 acres in Christmas trees, selling around 2,500 trees per year in northwestern Minnesota, Duluth, the Twin Cities, and eastern North Dakota.
Wegner continues to use his forestry and educational background in various ways, including field days at their farm featuring sawmill clinics and Christmas tree workshops, and in 2005, hosting the National Exotic Conifer Conference.
Though retired from Extension work in 1997, Carl has yet to slow down. In May of this year, he was recognized as the northern region Tree Farmer of the Year. He laments the fact that few young people are going in to the Christmas tree growing business. “The market is good and there are a lot of opportunites for Christmas tree growers, but there isn’t a lot of new blood getting in to it. For one thing, you have to have the land, and it’s just too expensive if you don’t already have it in the family. For another, it’s pretty labor intensive. You have to be willing to work hard and want to be around trees, just like I did as a kid.”
Since retirement, Carl has come full circle and now spends much more time surrounded by trees than by people. He certainly seems to be comfortable in both environments, but you won’t hear him complain that he’s finally living out the job description he planned on over 50 years ago.
One can’t help but feel a warm welcome when walking into Jim and Linda Mielke’s home just outside of Center City, Minnesota. Part of it comes from the home-harvested wood that lines the walls and forms its cabinets and furniture. Part of it is the earth-sheltered home they built, nestled against a south-facing slope. But underneath it all is Jim and Linda themselves and the vision and stewardship they’ve poured into the woods surrounding their home. Like so many MFA members, the passion for trees and working with wood started long before they bought their own land. For Jim, it started in his dad’s workshop.“My Dad taught high school biology and horticulture and had a large green house, so he certainly played a part in planting an interest in me for things that grow. But it was his wood working skills that really caught my attention. He built our entire staircase at home, turning every spindle himself.” As a youngster, Jim spent a lot of time in his dad’s shop, cultivating a love for woodworking.
Years later, when Jim and Linda found themselves employed by the North Branch school district, they looked for a wooded acreage to set up a home and raise their family. They found an ideal spot with 13 acres of red and white oak, maple, basswood and ash, eventually purchasing adjacent land that brought their total land to just under 20 acres.
“We built the house in 1978 and then spent a number of years finishing the inside,” said Linda. By the early 80’s, they had their first forest management plan written up and began harvesting the mature red and white oak trees and sawed them on their first sawmill. Jim remembers cutting a 16’ and 14’ log from one huge, red oak whose boards now enclose the beams in their open living room. “It took two tractors just to load them up on the hay wagon,” said Jim. During this time, the Mielkes and their sons Aaron and Curt set up a road side stand, selling firewood to the people visiting Wild River State Park.
Jim spent many hours finishing their home in the lumber from their woods, using figured hard maple to build the drawers in their dining room hutch, and green ash and red oak in the two bedrooms’ closets and furnishings. The centerpiece of their home is a beautiful maple table and 6 chairs, all built by Jim. “Each chair has 28 mortise and tenon joints. It took years to finish them.”
In the late 80’s the Mielkes purchased an hydraulic Woodmizer and also built a kiln from a pattern found in American Woodworker. They continued to harvest and sell lumber to other carpenters and wood workers. But of course, the work of forest management continues. “The understory species of maple and basswood took off a little too much after we harvested the mature oaks and opened up the canopy. Unfortunately, so did the buckthorn. I harvest a few basswood every year for carving, and we’re working to re-establish the oaks. The buckthorn is an on-going battle.”
Just because you inherit land, doesn’t mean you’ll inherit a love for it. Fortunately, Peggy Meseroll’s father, Ray Maki, was adept at passing on both, and his legacy lives on through his children.
“I remember playing in the woods when I was a kid, and that’s where my love for trees started,” Peggy reminisced. “All of us kids spent time in the woods helping Dad make firewood for an indoor wood stove and a sauna we had in the basement.”
Ray and Katharine Maki bought a 120-acre farm outside of Esko in northeastern Minnesota in 1946, adding to it over the years. After several years as a small dairy farmer and beef producer, Ray went to work full time off the farm in the late 60’s. “Dad had raised oats and hay for feed, and he didn’t want the fields to go to brush. That’s when he started getting trees from General Andrews Nursery. He planted thousands of trees every year, mostly red pine, with some spruce and fir, too, depending on the terrain.”
As a welder/pipefitter for Conoco with a flair for inventing, Maki put his skills to use in his reforestation plan. “Dad put a tree planter on the back of our tractor that us kids sat in, planting thousands of seedlings. To combat weed pressure, he invented and welded his own stainless steel attachment for the front of the tractor that applied herbicide on either side of the seedlings.” The newly planted trees got a head start on the competition, and Maki’s invention went on to be used by other tree planters.
When her folks passed away, Peggy and siblings Scott and Mary put the land in an LLC. “Each of us live on a piece of the original farm. I joined MFA in 2008 and contacted the DNR to set up a new forest management plan. In 2013 we started implementing part of the plan with some thinning in one 40 acre plot, and a clear cut in part of another 40. This year we worked with Jan Bernu, a private forester I met through the Woman’s Woodland Association. Jan helped us contract with Bell Timber to selectively harvest red pines for utility poles in two other 40-acre sites.”
Asked what advice she might like to pass on to others, Peggy was quick to respond. “I get a lot of good information from the meetings I go to and the publications I read, but I don’t have much time to share it with my siblings. There are things we could do to manage our land better. Our first priority should be to talk with all of our own children about their interests in the land so we can start making plans for the future. Hopefully, we can pass on my dad’s dream and hard work to the next generation.”
The southeastern Minnesota farm Tim and Susan Gossman bought 30 years ago has brought endless joy, and work, to the family. They have named their place Thorn Apple Farm which is reminiscent of what local farmers used to call the Hawthorne growing in the area.
The farm, located near Rochester and six miles from Chatfield, is 200 acres. Originally it was has half wooded and half crop and pasture land. Now, 30 acres of the pasture land have been converted to forest.
Managing and caring for the land has been a family affair. When Tim and Susan bought the farm, their daughters, Sophia and Sarah, were in elementary school. All pitched in to plant and prune Christmas trees and perform other woodland tasks. Today, after graduating from college, the daughters still come back to help.
One of Tim and Susan's achievements is a great example of neighbors working with neighbors, the Lost Creek Hiking Trail. Four neighbors got together and discussed the possibility of a trail going across their land. There are lots of bike trails in the area but few hiking trails. The neighbors settled on a hiking trail.
Today, the Lost Creek Hiking Trail extends six and a half miles from Chatfield to Tim and Susan's farm. The route crosses the land of six private owners who have all signed easements for the trail. Construction of the trail was done by volunteers using donated materials, including materials for a bridge crossing the creek.
The neighbors did obtain one grant to erect signs along the trail. Now 31 signs point out good forestry practices along the trail. Tim says, “The signs make it possible for people to take an educational field trip anytime they want.”
The Bluff Country Hiking Club, which manages the trail and maintains liability insurance covering the landowners, has a nice web site at www.BluffCountryHikingClub.org
Another of Tim and Susan's major projects on the farm is reforesting the creek valley which had been overtaken by reed canary grass. Two major strategies were adopted, one for areas of the valley that could be worked with a tractor and the other for areas inaccessible to tractors.
Work in the tractor accessible areas the strategy, carried out over several years, was to control the reed canary grass through a combination of prescribed burning, herbicide application, mowing and tillage. Once the reed canary grass was mostly eliminated, a mixture of bottom land hardwoods and shrubs were planted by direct seeding. The misture included Kentucky coffee tree (featured in Meet a Tree in this issue), black walnut, burr oak swamp white oak, plus plum, black cherry, alternate leaf dogwood, high bush cranberry and grey twig dogwood. After the trees and shrubs sprouted, the challenge was to protect them from deer, which was done with annual bud capping and installing tree shelters.
A different strategy was followed for those creek valley areas which are not accessible to a tractor. This strategy was based on the fact that reed canary grass requires full sun to thrive and will die off in shade. Here fence post sized poles of willow and dogwood were planted. Once these trees shad out the reed canary grass, other bottomland tree and shrub species can be planted for additional diversity.
Tim Gossman created a power point presentation on both the Lost Creek Hiking Trail and the restoration of the creek bottom land. This presentation, which over 80 photos, can be reviewed on our web site at Tim and Susan's Member Profile at www.MinnesotaForestry.org.
Oh, by the way, in recognition of the work they have with the hiking club, reforestation of pasture and of the creek bottomland, Tim and Susan were named 2014 Tree Farmers of the Year for the Southeast Region.
Late summer in the early 1930s, Margaret Earley, Steve Earley’s aunt, had a dilemma. For her 4-H calf to show at the Minnesota State Fair, rules required a farm name. Inspiration was an upland cedar stand just north of the farm house, and Cedar Grove Farm was her choice. Margaret is gone but the cedar stand, now over 130 years old, still stands. When Steve’s family started selling garden produce and custom Christmas wreaths the business name was a “no-brainer“. After 80 years, Margaret’s Cedar Grove Farm name was revived and the fourth generation of the Earley family to earn a wage at Cedar Grove Farm began.
Steve and Christy are both retired, Steve from the Boise paper mill in International Falls, and Christy from Minnesota Extension Service. They have two teenagers, Eric and Anna who get an equal share of revenue from Cedar Grove Farm as long as they do equal work.
Christy and the kids make and sell 60 to 70 Christmas wreaths each year. Harvesting of balsam fir, spruce, pine, cedar and red-osier dogwood begins after the second hard frost and, if lucky, ends before deer season. A double frost assures the greens remain green for a long time. All the greens are locally harvested from the Farm or a friendly neighbor’s woodlot. Wreath making is Christy’s specialty, handed down from her mother, a national award winning wreath maker.
Beginning in early July, the family sells produce from the
garden such as spinach, sugar snap peas, rhubarb, celery and pumpkins. The gardening is tough work and not as
popular with the equal partners during the hot summer. Work begins in April with the starting of
seeds inside, even though snow piles remain outside. Garden planting is done by Memorial Day.
Cedar Grove Farm covers 100 acres south of the Canadian border. The farm is mostly clay soils with 30 acres of aspen, balsam fir and white spruce and 70 acres of fields. While the first and second generation of Earleys toiled clearing the land of trees so crops could be planted and dairy cows pastured, the subsequent generations have been planting trees in those same fields and pastures.
The woodland has been enrolled in the Tree Farm Program since the 1980s. Steve is active in Tree Farm’s Grass Tops program which advocates for better policies and laws that benefit private woodland owners, in Minnesota and across the country.
Steve was recruited for MFA membership in the early 1980s by Mike Latimer. To include Christy and the children, they now have a Family Membership. Recently, Steve served on MFA’s Board of Directors in 2012-2013.
Will there be a fifth generation to live and work on Cedar Grove Farm? Only time will tell but one teen already is looking at a career in forestry.
It is with sadness that we announce the passing of Priscilla Harvala. Her husband, Harvey, wrote this:
Priscilla passed away in peace at 5:15 p.m. last evening, October 6, 2014. Joining me at her side were three of our five children and her sister, Connie. Priscilla finally has no more pain from the pancreatic cancer and will rest comfortably in her heavenly home with the gift of everlasting life. She is at home in the refuge of the Lord. Priscilla was an incredible woman and will be missed by her family, her many friends and me.
Priscilla worked with Harvey last May to write their profile below:
As part of their retirement plan, Priscilla and Harvey Harvala moved in July 2009 from 50 wooded acres in Esko, where they had lived for 34 years raising their five children, to 300 acres near Snellman, Minnesota and the Smokey Hills State Forest. This is the homestead property where Harvey was born and raised along with his seven siblings. (Snellman is in Becker County, east of Detroit Lakes and west of Park Rapids.)
The tongue and groove wood for the floors, vaulted ceilings boards, and trim were all cut from the oaks on the property that had been damaged by porcupines.
Priscilla retired from a career as a buyer at Potlatch Corporation in Cloquet and Harvey continues his consulting engineering career from his home office. All of their property is managed under the 2c Forest Management Plan, which has proven to be very helpful in reducing property taxes. They are interested in considering property management under a LLC.
The property is located in a transitional zone between the coniferous and deciduous forests and, as a result, has a wide variety of tree species. Priscilla said, “Living in a rural area requires hard work at times and lots of equipment to maintain the property, but is also keeps us physically active. We have always enjoyed the freedom of country living and sharing space with all the wild animals of the forest.”
They recruit family and friends of all ages to share in the work of tapping approximately 400 trees. Even grandchildren get involved in collecting sap and stacking wood. Three outside wood stoves are used to boil the sap in stainless steel pans. After the finishing is done outside, Priscilla does the bottling in the kitchen in bottles bearing their own label, “Old Saps’ Maple Syrup!” The final product is distributed among the helpers.
When people ask Priscilla and Harvey how they know when the maple syrup season starts and ends, they always answer with this old saying: “The sap starts running when the crows begin cawing in the spring, and the sap run ends when the frogs start singing!” It is amazing how accurate this tale has proven to be!
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 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.
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.
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!
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