The unexpected harvest

On the family farm in central Missouri which I help to manage, we have 433 acres of woods.  For twenty years, we’ve ignored them, beyond cutting a few cords of firewood and some Christmas trees.  As an old forester told me when he came on the property recently, “Trees don’t bawl like cows do when they’re hungry, and fields need to be planted and harvested.”  In the past year, however, we’ve begun spending time in the woods to see what’s there, as part of developing a management plan for the forest.

We took our first walk in the dead of winter.  We knew timber had been harvested in the 1980s before my folks bought the place, and at first, it appeared the remaining trees had little market value.  When we went back in the woods with the forester a few weeks ago, his knowledge (and the leaves) helped open our eyes.  Along the banks of the creeks, there were dozens of maturing black walnut trees.  Not all conform to the market’s perception of value, but it turns out our woods are a near perfect place for growing one of the most valuable hardwoods.

Walnut ROI looks different from most modern investments.  Walnut trees take 60-80 years to become fully mature.  They need to be pruned as they grow, and the area surrounding the best trees must be thinned to allow light to reach three or four sides of the tree.   But with opened eyes and a long-term perspective, there’s a new revenue opportunity for us; if properly stewarded, it could pay the college tuitions of future Schewes.

The Shaker had his eye not on the market but on the reality of things and on the integrity of life and thought.  A Shaker elder, planting his orchard, remarked:  “A tree has its wants and wishes and a man should study them as a teacher watches a child to see what it can do.  If you love a plant, take heed to what it likes.  You will be repaid by it.”

Thomas Merton, introducing Religion in Wood by Edward Deming Andrews

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