Member Profiles

Get to know your fellow members in the profiles below.

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Bill & Mary Bailey; Steve Bailey, Chatfield MN

posted Feb 23, 2016, 2:03 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Mar 3, 2016, 8:27 AM ]

By Linda K. Dinkel, Editor

“Allemande left, do sa do! Swing your partner, ‘round she goes!”   

The art of square dancing is in how smoothly a person moves with their partner, moves away from that partner, and then moves back once again to the home position. For Mary and Bill Bailey, that description is about more than the dance. It’s about life.

Steve Bailey, left, with Mary and Bill Bailey
Initially, visits to the Mayo Clinic brought Mary and husband Leonard to this area. “We just fell in love with the land and planned to retire here, having found the ideal 58 acre piece of property in 1992,” said Mary. “We established hiking trails and installed bluebird boxes, and finally moved to Chatfield from Indiana in 2002. Sadly, Leonard died suddenly just 2 years after we moved here. It was just devastating. I considered selling and moving back near family. Instead, I got lots of help and good advice from neighbors and friends and realized I couldn’t leave here.”

For Bill, who lost his first wife to cancer in 2006, leaving the area was never a consideration. “My great-grandfather homesteaded near here in 1884. The land I farm now with my brother Steve was bought by my grandfather in 1917, passed to my dad, and then on to us. On our 2000 acres we raise corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and a 200-head cow-calf herd. We also have 300 acres of woods that we manage, along with some woods that the cows rotationally graze, though I never met a cow that was much of a forester,” quipped Bill.

Mary watched a demo square dance during a local town festival and contacted one of the dancers about lessons. “It seemed like a good, safe way to meet people and socialize.” It also happened to be a good way to meet a new partner for life. Bill and Mary were married in September, 2008, and continue to square dance three to four times per week. So, how does this match made on the square dance floor end up as the 2015 Minnesota Tree Farmers of the Year? It really began in Bill and Steve’s childhood. 

Growing up, I was always drawn to our woods. Of course, I spent a lot of time doing fieldwork, but being in the woods was my favorite thing to do,” said Bill. “When it came time to go to college, I decided I already knew enough about farming, so I got a degree in forestry from the U of M in 1971.” While Bill was still in college, he and Steve began to manage their woods by more intensely logging some areas, creating more trails and hand planting black walnuts. “In 1985, I wrote up our first real management plan. The idea evolved to log 30 acres every year, which means we’re back in an area every 10 years. We’re pretty aggressive in thinning and selecting crop trees. Every year, our goal is to harvest 100,000 board feet,” said Bill. According to Steve, “thinning is one of the best things you can do for the environment. A young tree takes in more carbon dioxide than the fully mature trees, just like a young man utilizes more nutrients compared to an old man.” 

The Baileys have hosted field days on their property and have a unique way to show the advantages of thinning. “One of my favorite things I’ve shown people is a wedge I cut from a basswood we harvested in 2014,” said Bill. The area around the tree was thinned in 1984 and again in 2000. Bill used colored pins to show the impact of thinning on growth rate. The first 35 years of growth resulted in 9% of the total volume of the tree. In the 16 years after thinning in 1984, the tree added 26% of its total volume. Fourteen years of growth from 2000 to 2014 resulted in 65% of the total volume. “Many woodland owners are missing out on a great opportunity if they don’t thin their stands,” said Bill. “You need to thin out that low-value tree in a timely manner to give your more valuable ones room to grow!” Even though Bill has a forestry background, he recommends building a relationship with a local forester. “DNR forester Jim Edgar has really helped us a lot with advice and expertise, and that would be even more important for someone new to forest management. It’s a good investment to find a reputable forester to oversee your timber sale.” 

Skidding timber.

With chainsaws, tractors, a Finnish-built PTO winch and occasionally a rented skidder, Steve and Bill spend their winters in the woods, thinning and harvesting a wide variety of species: black walnut, hard maple, red, white and burr oak, red and gray elm, cherry, basswood, poplar, ash, hackberry and cottonwood. “Keeping the forest healthy is kind of like healthy eating,” said Steve Bailey. “No matter how good one food is, if you only eat that one, it’s not going to be healthy. That’s why we have lots of different tree species, because that’s more healthy.” Root River Hardwoods of Preston and Albert Lea, MN, grades and marks the logs for length, with most of them going to local Amish sawmills for pallet production. Premium logs are used for veneer, flooring, barrel staves, and finish wood sold in commercial stores. 

Mary Bailey is passionate about caring for bluebirds.
By the way, any article about the Baileys would be remiss if it didn’t mention two other things. First, a large portion of the six-mile Lost Creek Hiking Trail meanders through their land. Opened in October of 2011, the trail is maintained by the Bluff Country Hiking Club, and the Bailey’s cooperation and enthusiasm was crucial to the success of the project. Complete with educational signs, the trail is a wonderful marriage of recreation and forest education. Second, there’s this thing about Mary and bluebirds. For more information on that, see the article on the Bluebird Recovery Program in this issue. 

For their efforts in conservation, public education, forest improvement, and making their woodlands available to the public for recreational activities, Steve Bailey, and Bill and Mary Bailey are certainly worthy recipients of the Tree Farmer of the Year award and an inspiration to all woodland owners.

Peter & Debra Jensen, Princeton MN

posted Feb 23, 2016, 1:53 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Mar 3, 2016, 8:07 AM ]

By Linda K. Dinkel, Editor

Peter and Debra Jensen
If you stand in the middle of Peter and Debra Jensen’s land just west of Princeton, on and rotate in a slow circle, you don’t have to turn very far before your eyes fall upon another work in progress. Right beside the huge firewood pile is a mortise and tenon shed under construction, rising up next to the portable sawmill, which sits next to a solar kiln, which overlooks an octagon-shaped yurt in the pasture with the donkeys. A walk in the woods would take you past carefully logged forests replanted, direct seeded or regenerating on their own, ongoing battles against buckthorn and oak wilt, and a prairie restoration project. With Peter just retiring this past June from his medical practice, one can only imagine what projects will be next!
The Jensens' portable sawmill with their mortise and tenon shed under construction in the background.  The photo was taken during a Family Forest Field Day the Jensens hosted last October.  

“The first time I saw this land, I was canoeing the creek with the owner, Jack Grill (sp?). I just thought it was an incredibly beautiful piece of property, and I let Jack know I would be interested in it if they were ever ready to sell. Jack and Dorothy really didn’t want to see the land developed even though they were approached numerous times. In 1990, we bought the first 80-acre parcel and built our home,” said Peter. Over the next 10 years, Peter and Debra bought the remaining 110 acres, developing a close relationship with Dorothy Grill, especially after Jack passed away. “Dorothy is still a part of this property,” said Debra. “It’s been fun to share with her what new projects we’ve undertaken on the land that she and Jack loved.”

New projects, indeed. After building their home and settling in, the Jensens spent some years enjoying the land and learning about what they had. Much of the focus for the beginning phases of work was laid out in their first land stewardship completed 12 years ago. “The Grills had planted 20 acres in mixed pines in the late ‘50s, and it needed work. We pruned and thinned, and seven years ago, hired loggers to clear-cut the stand of scotch pine. “We’re amazed how the birch have regenerated in the clear-cut,” said Peter. “It’s really becoming a beautiful woods without much input from us.” In fact, while they did plant over 10,000 Norway and white pine seedlings in 2001, Peter has become a huge fan of regeneration and direct seeding as opposed to planting bare rootstock. “If I fill out a tree order now, I try to cut it in half when I get to the end. My plans are always bigger than my time and energy, and for the investment, it just doesn’t seem worth it. There are other ways to regrow trees.”

The Jensens' solar kiln.
In 2014, Jensens worked with Sherburne County Resource Conservationist Gina Hugo to write up a new Forest Stewardship Plan. “There is significant oak wilt in the area and that’s a huge management challenge as the Jensens have large stands of red, white and burr oak,” said Gina. This fall, loggers have been selectively harvesting oak to increase spacing in hopes of slowing the progress of the disease. Everything from the harvest is sold as firewood or mulch.

While three of Debra’s four children have moved west in recent years, Luke has found a broad canvas on the land for his varied interests. “Luke is behind the yurt, the solar kiln and the mortis and tenon shed,” said Debra. “He loves to read and research new projects, teach himself any skills he might need, and then build something new. Most of the building projects you see here are Luke’s brainchild.” While Peter enjoys these new endeavors, his focus tends toward the more typical pursuits. “Cutting firewood is my main form of mental health maintenance. It’s straightforward, mindless work that I enjoy.”

According to Gina Hugo, the Jensens have been a joy to work with. “Peter and Debra are genuinely kind people and are so rewarding for me to work with,” said Hugo. “They are motivated by the simple pleasures that sustainably working their land brings, and have taken steps to preserve their legacy by enrolling a significant portion of their property in the Minnesota Land Trust.”

Talking to Peter, he easily sums up their views of land stewardship. “I know that I won’t see these white pine become lumber, but someone has to plant them and tend them. Someone has to take care of today’s forests for tomorrow.”

David & Carole Cartwright, Rush City MN

posted Feb 23, 2016, 1:37 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Feb 23, 2016, 2:53 PM ]

By Linda K. Dinkel, Editor

Take equal parts physicist and science teacher. Place in a beaker marked “retirement”, shake vigorously and release on 160 acres of Minnesota farmland.  Stand back…at a safe distance, in fact…because this is not your grandparents’ idea of retirement.

David and Carole Cartwrights both grew up in the Twin Cities area, but work took them far afield. After living for a time in California, David spent many years working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico as a physicist, (he is quick to point out that he never worked on weaponry).  Carole taught junior and senior high science and operated a pre-school in Los Alamos while raising their 3 children. When retirement time came in 2003, they had already laid the groundwork for moving to 174 acres they had purchased in Oregon. Before they could make the move, however, Carole found herself the inheritor of her grandparents’ farm on the north-shore of East Rush Lake. It’s beautiful country, with rolling hills gently sloping to the lake and abundant wildlife. After weighing their options, they sold the Washington acres and started making plans.

“We considered several different uses for the land,” said David. “From raising beef, sheep or goats, to growing grapes for wine; we weighed our options very carefully. But the idea we kept coming back to was growing trees.” In 2004, the couple planted 14,500 trees in about one month and also put down their own roots, building a new home in the “foot print” of the old farm house that Carole visited as a child. While the exterior was completed in 2005, the interior developed as Carole came up with the design and David worked on implementation. The house was completed in 2010, with staining, varnishing and installation of woodwork and hardwood floors done by the couple. They also installed the marble floor in the great room. The curving stair rail that leads downstairs is a particularly beautiful example of their work, having created it themselves from oak boards, steaming and bending it into shape. They also did their fair share of clean up around the farm, removing 35 tons of steel and restoring the barn - with the pleasant surprise of finding a cement floor under layers of dirt and straw!

Of course, with two science-minded retirees, one shouldn’t be surprised that “growing trees” means more than just putting some seedlings in the ground. In fact, on visiting the Cartwrights, one immediately senses the exceptional team they make, with the intensity of Dave’s passion for experimenting, the down-to earth (literally) satisfaction that Carole gets from working the land, and enjoyment they both get from working closely together. It’s obvious that they’re equal partners in the work of bringing their plans and dreams to fruition.

Some of the Cartwrights' experimental seedlings grown from seeds.
One of the Cartwright’s ongoing experiments focuses on tree zone hardiness. “Zone hardiness is a ‘bell-shaped’ curve,” said David. “Trees at the upper end of the curve will survive in colder climates while those in the lower end won’t. I’m experimenting with a variety of trees to see which ones will survive here and which ones won’t. I want to know by empirical evidence that a given species of tree can or can’t grow on our farm.” To that end, they’ve collected seeds in Oregon and North Carolina that are then germinated in their sun room and planted in the spring. “We started growing Allegheny Black Cherry here on our farm in 2007. Our conclusion is it grows very well in Minnesota!” You can also find Persian Walnut, Shagbark Hickory, Shellbark Hickory, Grimo Hazelnuts, butternut and hybrid butternut, all pushing the zone hardiness on the gentle slopes and fields of the farm. In addition to these experimental trees, Dave and Carol also plant trees more common to Minnesota. In all, they’ve planet over 22,000 trees since 2004.  And yes, a few Ponderosa pine can be found on the Cartwright’s spread.
David and Carole with one of their experimental trees that is doing well.
Like so many woodland owners, they’ve had their fair share of battles with the likes of buckthorn, Asiatic bittersweet vine and ironwood. However, their war on prickly ash came to an abrupt halt after a meeting with Olaf Runquist, professor of Organic Chemistry at Hamline University. “Runquist told us to stop killing prickly ash because it has medicinal properties,” said David. “It intrigued me so much that I knew I had to start my own experiments.” To make a tincture of prickly ash, David cuts the stem and branches into 12 inch sections and then into 1 inch pieces, peels the bark, and packs it into quart jars. He covers the bark with vodka and lets it sit in a cool, dark place for 10 to 14 days, shaking it every one to two days. The mixture is pressed and filtered, then stored in a dark jar for up to two years. The tincture is used topically. “What prickly ash does, very effectively, is dilate capillaries and increase circulation to remove ‘poisons’ from sore muscles and joints.” He’s anxious to see the results of prickly ash experiments being conducted this fall at Hamline.

The Cartwrights will continue to experiment with all things “trees”. They enjoy applying their first careers as scientists in a beautiful setting with a long family history. And for what purpose? “We look at this farm as a long-term investment that goes far beyond David and me living here” said Carole. “We’re concerned that the land remains undeveloped.” To that end, the Cartwrights are looking into the Conservation Easement program.

With their vision, enthusiasm, and work ethic, their retirement keeps them busier than ever, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Carl Wegner, Grand Rapids

posted Jul 31, 2015, 7:15 AM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Jul 31, 2015, 8:17 AM ]

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. 

 New Hampshire blue balsam ready for transplant. A Christmas tree ready for harvest Carl planted this tree as a seedling.

“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.

Jim & Linda Mielke, Center City MN

posted Jul 11, 2015, 2:44 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Jul 31, 2015, 7:05 AM ]

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.”


 The Mielkes seates at the maple table and chairs Jim built A few of the figures Jim carves from basswood harvested on the land. Beams encased with white oak harvested from one tree.
Today, much of Jim and Linda’s retirement revolves around family, their woodlands and the products they harvest from it. Jim spends the winter in his workshop turning out whimsical characters, puzzles, and Diamond Willow walking sticks. Every summer he volunteers for two months at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais where Linda enjoys time with her grandchildren who live in the area. They also attend several craft shows and sell Jim’s work in local gift shops. And for both of them, there’s nothing better than spending a day in their woods.


Peggy Meseroll & Family, Esko MN

posted Dec 4, 2014, 2:37 AM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Dec 4, 2014, 2:43 AM ]

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.


Scott Maki, Jack & Mary (Maki) Maslowski and Peggy (Maki) Meseroll
“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.”


Peggy Meseroll and grandson, Preston

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.”

Tim & Susan Gossman, Chatfield MN

posted Aug 17, 2014, 9:10 AM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Sep 16, 2014, 3:06 PM ]

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. 


Tim & Susan Gossman

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.


Daughter Sarah Gossman
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


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.


Tim Gossman with a washed-out one-year old cottonwood.

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 


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.

Steve & Christy Earley - Cedar Grove Farm - Internatonal Falls

posted Jun 8, 2014, 5:28 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Jun 10, 2014, 6:11 AM ]

Margaret Earley with her calf and younger siblings including Steve's father, second from right.

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.   


Anna Earley with one of 70 wreaths made last year.

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.  Several days each week are devoted to weeding, fertilizing and, in dry years, watering the garden. 


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.


Steve Earley, left, with brother, Paul, and son, Eric.
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.



Priscilla & Harvey Harvala

posted Jun 8, 2014, 4:59 PM by John O 'Reilly   [ updated Oct 25, 2014, 2:10 PM ]

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.)


After buying the property from family members, they constructed their retirement home with features like handicap accessibility and a ground source (vertical wells) geo-thermal heating and cooling system.  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.”


Making maple syrup is a family tradition that was stated by Harvey’s parents which he and Priscilla continue.  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! 


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.

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