Gary & Janet Bradford - Aitkin, MN

During his 37-year career in the military, Gary and Janet Bradford would get back to the Bradford family farm for occasional getaways. The farm is located on the Ripple River near Aitkin. In 1976, their accommodations became more luxurious when they built a cabin on their 60-acre portion of the farm.

When Gary retired in 1996, he and Janet built a new home on the land they have enjoyed every day since. They call their place Bradford’s Ripple River Acres.

For the Bradfords, retirement hasn’t been a time for sitting around. They are very active in their church and in the Gideons, the people who distribute free bibles to hotels and similar places. Gary also visits prisoners in the county jail every Monday.

Gary’s interest in trees and his woodland evolved over the years. He said, “When I was growing up, trees were shade for the cattle.” Now he is very involved in managing his forest and using wood it produces for all sorts of projects.

Northwoods Forestry Coop is Born

In 2001, Gary and a small group of woodland owners came up with the idea of forming a coop. Gary said the initial group included several key people. “Glenn Elvecrog is a money guy and became treasurer. Herb Wall understood trees and the woodland. Ed Slattum had spend years developing coops. Jim Chamberlin and Dave Jablonic were also involved. For me, the main thing I learned in the military was about managing people so they made me president. I served in that capacity until this year when we elected Pat Lanin to replace me.”

“We Need a Sawmill”

By 2003 the coop members decided they needed a sawmill they could share between the members. A special organization was formed, Northwoods Forestry Enterprises, and a Peterson Sawmill was purchased. “We raised the money by selling informal shares to interested people at $1,000 each. Three of us bought two shares while others purchased one. In all, we raised $12,000, enough to buy the mill.”

In the years since, over 400 hours have been put on the mill by the owners. Lumber cut with the mill has been used to build all manner of things, including a horse barn and a machine shed. With further processing at Nemadji Wood Processing in Sandstone, members have made flooring and paneling. Besides saving money on lumber, the members enjoy the special satisfaction that comes from using trees off their own land.

In the sawmill enterprise, Gary plays the key role of custodian of the saw. He trains new people on how to safely use the equipment, makes sure it is kept in good working order and goes out on trouble calls whenever a user runs into difficulty. “Besides a custodian,” Gary said, “the other key role is a board like ours that is supportive of the operation.”

Field Days

The coop holds a field day each year, usually in September. Besides the 35 coop members, these events are attended by as many as 100 local woodland enthusiasts.

In addition, coop members get together twice a year for fun days. For these events, one member plans a project on his land. He then informs other members so they know what kind of equipment to bring. Gary said, “Our host usually has coffee and donuts waiting for us when we arrive. We then go out to work on the project, which usually takes us two to three hours. After that, we come back for lunch and conversation.“

For More Information on Northwoods Forestry Coop, contact new coop president Pat Lanin at or 218-764-3315. For more information on Forestry Enterprises sawmill, contact Gary Bradford at