BY KAREN SCHWALBE
Under a rocky ridge just off the highway in Fall River, Simply Local Wood has repurposed industrial land for a business that supports Southeastern Massachusetts working forests. Simply Local Wood manufactures and sells products from locally harvested wood. Ranging from the practical to the whimsical, cordwood is produced and packaged ecologically and harvested from sustainably managed woodlots.
Why local wood? Food, fuel, fiber and fodder – those of us with an interest in ecological living often hear the repetition of these ‘Four F’s’ – define the goods and services we use from the natural world. One from this list, fuel, in the form of wood production, is a crucial and often overlooked resource for local farms and the Southeastern Massachusetts region. Forests have substantial benefits to farms; most importantly they protect our water resource both quality and quantity. In this year of extreme drought it is worth remembering this function. Forests modulate temperature, store carbon in trees and soil, and provide wildlife habitat and human recreation. Forests also produce timber, fuel, shavings for livestock bedding, as well as nuts, fungi and maple syrup. The New England Food Vision recognizes the importance of forests to local food production and is looking to set goals of fuel wood production as well as agricultural production. Massachusetts recognizes the importance of forested and agricultural lands equally through tax relief in Chapters 61 and 61A of the General Laws. Certainly, forests and farms are uniquely connected across much of our landscape.
How do we manage our local forests? Enter the sustainable forester. A forester will increase the value of the forest by understanding what to cut and what not to cut, increasing both the forests’ ecological and economic value – think urban planning for forests. Rupert Grantham, a state-certified forester, has overseen 5,000 – 8,000 acres of land in the course of his work through Walden Forest Conservation. Forest management can be for a Chapter 61 management plan, open space planning or to improve wildlife habitat. About 25% of those properties are suitable for active management: adequately sized, reasonably accessible and financially advantageous.
Simply Local Wood goes beyond sustainable management by taking the harvested trees and creating firewood products designed to help promote the viability of long-term forest management. The site is outfitted with the appropriate equipment to harvest and produce firewood on a large scale – an efficient dry kiln, and special non-invasive harvesting equipment designed to selectively cut and minimally disturb surrounding forest, and staffed with skilled wood cutters needed for this specialized work. The wood drying kiln is fired with reclaimed wood resources, and products are packaged with sturdy materials from renewable resources to complement the economic, social and ecological benefits of these products to local communities.
From the wooded farmland of Weatherlow Farms in Westport to the vast tracts of Freetown-Fall River State Forest, management activities on farms and forested public properties provide the sustainably harvested wood to make Simply Local Wood’s firewood products. Cordwood is the largest portion of the business and can be bought in traditional cord sizes as well as supermarket-sized bundles available in grocery and specialty stores. Party torches are the coolest way to make a campfire. Self-contained firewood with a wick and a handle. Carry it to where you want your fire, light the wick and away you go.
The concept of supporting local and sustainable production resonates with many area businesses. WaterFire, a community event and art installation in downtown Providence, chose to work with Simply Local Wood to provide the pine wood in the braziers for their fire sculpture installations. Tim Blankenship, interactive media manager at WaterFire says, “For us choosing Rupert and Simply Local Wood was the smart, natural choice. When we can we always choose to work with local suppliers, building a strong community starts at the local level. We also felt that Simply Local Wood’s sustainable forestry methods really meshed with our own focus on environmental stewardship. Having Simply Local Wood as local and sustainable partner really stacks up for WaterFire Providence.” The bone-dry cordwood is highly desirable for wood-fired pizza making. FlatBread in Providence, with its strong commitment to supporting locally grown and the community, uses it for their pizza ovens.
Local fuel wood production supports a sustainable land-based economy, and with the heating season coming up quickly, consumers can make more educated choices about their heating sources. More information on sustainable wood harvesting and where Simply Local Wood products can be bought are found on their website and Facebook.