Curtis Buchanan: Chairmaker

Sustainable forestry doesn't have to be all about high tech science, carbon credits or certified forests. Sometimes, all it takes to use a forest sustainably is the ability to make a really awesome, valuable product out of a small amount of wood. Today, I visited a man who knows how to get the most value out of the little material he uses. His name is Curtis Buchanan, and in an unassuming, quiet little workshop behind his house he makes Windsor chairs.

When he's not making chairs, Curtis also happens to run the first certified organic Christmas tree farm in the US, Glen Ayre Tree Farm (here's another article with a picture).

He also happens to be one of the founding members of Greenwood. Started by a group of artisan woodworkers from the US, Greenwood helps people use their forests sustainably by teaching them the skills they need to turn wood into furniture, guitar necks, and other high value products. Sounds right up my alley, right? That's why Curtis gave me info for two of the other founding members, ans why I'm going to try really hard to see parts of their operation.

So why does Curtis do all of this? Lets ask him:


A late night

After leaving Kirsty's farm, I headed out on the main road towards the home of Steve and Maxine, long time activists and stewards of a 500-year-forest. Turns out I went the wrong way.

About an hour or so later, during which I tortured myself wondering if I was going the right way and thinking that I probably was, then doubting myself again, I finally decided to ask for directions. When I told the attendant, an incredibly sweet girl with a red buzzcut and a butch country look, where I was going, a woman on her way out remarked "Boye, you are a long way off!" Unfazed, the attendant described the steps to get where I was going ("No, I don't know the street names, but its real simple"), saw my worried look, and decided to write the directions down.

go 2 second Red light turn right,
about 25-30 min come 2 red light and take
another right you should Be in duffield
drive Bouth 25-30 more min when
you see a wendy's you R in GAte CitY
Adorable, right? I thought so too, but I was still nervous about whether I could follow them reliably. Fortunately, they were absolutely perfect directions, despite the lack of punctuation. They put me back on track, and I continued onward, passing an increasingly themed array of private drive street signs: Winter Wonderland, Snowflake, Arctic; Revolver, Rifle, Shotgun. When I finally got to my turn the road almost immediately turned to gravel/dirt. It also got narrower and narrower as it twisted its way up the mountain.

My directions said to go to the end of this road, but at times it got so narrow I kept thinking "surely I'm in someone's driveway now." Then another three houses would pop up and I would keep driving. I finally arrived at about 9 PM, two hours late, and although I didn't get to see the property, I did have a long and interesting conversation covering topics as diverse as activism since the 60's, travelers that have come through and stayed at the house, and "Possibly Possums" an idea for a Possum-themed gift shop.

Steve was one of the founders of Virginia Forest Watch, an organization that literally watches forests, keeping an eye out for illegal or inappropriate logging in our public lands and educating private landowners about how to manage their resources sustainably. He first arrived in the area as a "Vista," a government program set up to fight poverty that in the sixties became a breeding ground for countercultural ideas.

Since then, Steve and Maxine have been vocal advocates for peace and environmental stewardship in the region, building quite a reputation for stirring things up (or annoying officials, as Maxine called it). Maxine told me it was a sign of the times, though, that they had recently become involved in the Democratic Party.

The couple take in travelers from time to time, and have thus developed a network of contacts who they can (and do) visit abroad. One such person was Martin Vosseler, who has been walking across the US to promote solar energy after having sailed across the Atlantic in a Solar-Powered catamaran.

As the conversation went on, it got later and later and Steve started to fade out. I wanted to let him sleep, but kept getting hooked back into the conversation by the sheer interestingness of these people. Eventually I left, but I hope I can go back during the daytime sometime to see their beautiful forest.


Leaving FarmLIFE

Well, its the end of my week farm sitting in Big Stone Gap. It was a wonderful start to the new year (I know, I'm behind on the blog as always). I woke up to 2009 with a sunrise between the mountains and then played with the chickens and cows and sheep (Ok, maybe I was just feeding them, but whatevors). Well, I'm heading back to Abingdon now, but first lets say goodbye to the farm:

My family has a habit of saying goodbye to inanimate objects, such as houses, trees, backyards, oceans, or countries, depending on the situation.

-- Peace and Plants,

Shitake Mushrooms at FarmLIFE

In addition to her animals and plants, Kirsty is also culturing the third major domain of life, Fungi. Specifically, she grows Shitake Mushrooms by cutting logs in the winter, drilling holes in them, inoculating them with shitake spores, and keeping them wet year round. After a year or two, the Mushrooms start growing out of the holes and other cracks, and keep coming every warm season for 3 to 5 years. Although she hasn't tried it yet, Kirsty says you can reinoculate the spent shitake logs with oyster mushrooms and get a few more years of production out of them.

Because these mushrooms will grow under natural tree cover, they make a great crop that can be grown in the woods. Not only that, but since the logs are best cut from young trees, they may be of great use when thinning a forest. You could thin the forest earlier than normal and use the logs for Shitake culture in the same patch of woods where the small trees were cut!

But enough writing, its movie time:

Terrible Nature Videos: Part 2

The other day, I was hiking up Cave Springs trail in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. The area will soon become a nationally recognized and protected Wilderness area, and its easy to see why. The place is gorgeous!

As I was walkng I kept seeing interesting things on the forest floor. If you've ever walked in the woods (or anywhere really) with me, you'll notice that I tend to constantly stop and look at cool plants, sometimes at the expense of timeliness.

Imagine this post as a long walk in the woods with me.

(My first comment here refers to the previous post... sorry for the self reference!)

Terrible Nature Videos: Part 1

Right down the road from Kirsty's hose is a little campground called cave springs. Its got a swimming hole, plenty of camping space, and a couple of trails. Its also closed for the season, but no worries, I trespass all the time and don't get caught. I also put some money in the donation box as an apology...

Anyway, I was trespassing on this trail when I decided to try doing my own nature videos. As you will soon see (in part 2), I really, really like the often forgotten engines of soil formation, moss and lichen.

But first, lets examine a mountain view:

Same view, more trees: