Sustainably managing forests is nothing new in Vermont. According to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, 75% of the landmass in our state is forest land. Over 2,000 businesses in the state rely on those forests to generate ~$1.5B in annual revenue.
“Vermont’s forest products industry generates an annual economic output of $1.5 billion and supports 10,000 jobs in forestry, logging, processing, specialty woodworking, construction, and wood heating. In addition, Vermont’s forest recreation economy (skiing, etc) generates another $1.9 billion in economic output, and supports 10,000 additional jobs.” – VSJF
Despite all the economic activity dependent on our forests, they’re still growing in size and density.
Over the past few years, we’ve been learning more about how connected trees are to one another. I’m a big fan of ‘The Daily’ podcast from the New York Times and was super excited to see this topic covered during one of their Sunday Reads. ‘The Social Life of Forests’ inspired me to write about Dr. Suzanne Simard for Women’s History Month.
We believe that practices are genuinely sustainable when they meet the needs of people, protect the planet, and create economic impact. As leaders in our industry, our goal is to highlight the innovative (and traditional) best practices that make it possible for wood furniture making to sustain itself for generations to come. Read part one of our triple bottom line sustainability series on people here.
Illegal logging and widespread deforestation has already begun to affect our climate and ecosystem. Rainforests that once covered 14% of the earth’s land surface now cover a mere 6%. The last remaining rainforests could be gone in less than 40 years. Rainforest deforestation is destroying or severely threatening nearly half of the world’s species of plants and animals over the next 25 years.
We have conversations with customers every day about the color of real cherry wood furniture. It’s no wonder! When I just googled “real cherry wood” well over 50 shades of red, brown and even yellow came up. Quite a variation, isn’t it? Truth be told, half of these images are NOT of cherry wood.
When the big American furniture companies started off-shoring their furniture in the 1980s they found it cheaper to use rainforest woods than cherry. But consumers love cherry. So they stained rainforest woods and gave them various trade names containing “cherry”. For example Makore, an increasingly rare African wood being illegally logged in Sierra Leone and Gabon has been sold under the trade name Cherry Mahogany (though Makore is not closely related to either cherry or mahogany). Worse yet, it’s listed as an endangered species due to illegal logging and exploitation by organized crime which has taken root in the global timber industry.
Many times customers come to Vermont Woods Studios looking to buy real cherry wood furniture that matches existing cherry pieces in their homes. After discussions and emailing pictures back and forth they are shocked to find that their “cherry” furniture from Bassett, Ethan Allen or other big “American” companies is not cherry at all but rubberwood, poplar or engineered hardwood.
At Vermont Woods Studios, our cherry furniture is indeed made out of real, solid North American Black Cherry wood. The color starts out as a light pink and slowly ripens to a rich reddish brown over time, as it’s exposed to light. Nina’s photo of the rocker above shows the range of natural cherry colors after the wood’s been exposed to light for a few months.
Are you interested to learn more? Find tons of information and photos of American made, real cherry wood furniture on our website & send us your questions on Facebook or in the comments section below.
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Vermont Woods Studios Prepares Monarchs for Take-off
On a beautiful day straddling the line between August and September, we huddled on the deck of Vermont Woods Studios at our Stonehurst property. Five adults and two children all gazing in mirrored excitement at the progress of our monarch caterpillars as they forge their ways into butterfly-hood.
“I’m going to name him Jeff!” One of the young boys informed the group as Peggy Farabaugh, the CEO of Vermont Woods Studios and head caterpillar-rearer, gently scooped up two prized caterpillars and secured them safely in a jar for the boys to bring to their grandmother’s.
It has been two weeks since the arrival of the caterpillar babies (or larva) and already they are well on their way to adulthood. However, their transformation is far more magical than that of any other aging process. They came to us as tiny creatures no bigger than a grain of rice and have rapidly transformed into vibrant, two inched beauties that scuttle about their mesh hamper confinement eating milkweed and maturing with natural grace.
It is marvelous to watch the caterpillars inch their way to the top of the hamper and methodically suspend themselves upside down in a J shape. This is a signal to the world that the caterpillars are ready to enter the pupa or chrysalis stage of life. The caterpillars work tirelessly in this J-shape to molt their skin and transform their outer appearance into the grass green, gold speckled chrysalis.
“I wonder what they’re doing in there all the time.” Peggy mused, affectionately grooming the caterpillar habitat. The allure of mystery gripped us all as we watched the beautiful chrysalises hang, cautiously enveloping the transforming caterpillar.
In about two weeks the chrysalises will have turned black and the monarch butterfly will be ready to emerge with damp, fledgling wings. In the short span of two hours, the monarch’s wings will dry and it will be lusting for flight. Thus our babies will leave us and safety of the Stonehurst deck.
However, it won’t be a sad day, for on this day we will have reached our goal. With the help of Orley R. “Chip” Taylor, founder of the Monarch Watch program at the University of Kansas, we will have completed cycle one of the Monarch Restoration project. The Vermont Woods Studios company developed an objective: to help restore the monarch population. Success is heavily contingent on three pillars: milkweed restoration, healthy, migration-ready monarchs and continued research.
Last October and November, Peggy and the Vermont Woods Studios staff went out in search of milkweed. Pods gathered along route 142 were brought back to the studio where seeds were harvested and packaged for distribution.
Seeds were distributed to local gardeners and nature enthusiasts, clients and planted on the Stonehurst property. 1 in 100 milkweed seeds strewn across the earth will produce a plant. Because of these small odds, we chose to carefully plant 80 seeds on the Stonehurst property yielding 80 viable milkweed plants.
Along with learning the importance of carefully planting the milkweed seeds, the Vermont Woods Studios staff have also developed important information for rearing monarch caterpillars:
Whenever it is possible, raise the caterpillars in a terrarium
Do not allow direct sunlight to hit the terrarium
Monarch caterpillars grow quickly and this process can be messy, so cleaning the terrarium frequently is a must
Once our monarchs are ready for flight, we have one last piece of the puzzle to put in place before we can call the project a success. Chip founded Monarch Watch in 1992 and has been studying monarch migration since 2005. The eastern monarchs born at the end of the summer months have the innate task of migrating to Mexico. This migration will take four generations of monarchs.
Our Stonehurst monarchs will fly just a portion of the way and then stop to lay eggs and die as the new babies begin the growing process and mature to fly their portion of the trip. This process will repeat until the final generation sails over sunny Mexico and makes themselves comfortable for eight to nine months when the United States is again habitable for the return of the monarchs.
How did people come to have such intimate detail about the migration pattern of these tireless creatures? The answer to this is evolving through research, which brings us to the final stage of the project: tagging the monarchs.
Before our monarchs take flight, we will place a small, adhesive tag, provided by Chip and his team on the wings of our monarchs. These tags will signal researchers to know where the monarchs came from and provide other valuable research that will continue to help rehabilitate the monarch population.
As we stand on the deck, without a chill in the air and watch the chrysalises form, we know the journey our caterpillars have before them. We discuss tagging the butterflies with nervous laughter, none of us having ever done it before; but were willing to try because we know that it is one key step in encouraging the comeback of these magical creatures.
(This is part two of a four part blog series on our Monarch Butterfly Restoration Project)
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On May 9, 2015, the team at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is calling on bird lovers around the world to spend some time birding and then recording their findings in eBird–making it truly a “Global Big Day.” eBird is as global tool for birders, providing critical data for science. With eBird you can record the birds you see, keep track of your bird lists, explore dynamic maps and graphs, share your sightings, join the eBird community and make a positive contribution to science and conservation.
What is a “Global Big Day”?
According to the American Birding Association, A Big Day Count is a single-team effort in which the primary objectives are (1) to identify as many bird species as possible during a single calendar day and (2) to strive to have all team members identify all species recorded.
What your support means:
Your support will help ensure that the Cornell Lab can continue to advance bird conservation, including:
• The eBird project and the scientific data it produces to make smart land management decisions that benefit birds in your region and across the world;
• On-the-ground research and conservation across the full life-cycle of birds as they cross hemispheres between nesting grounds and wintering habitats;
• Powerful opportunities that inspire people of all ages to learn about and protect birds, including the BirdSleuth K-12 curriculum in the U.S. and Latin America; live Bird Cams; webinars with experts; free Merlin Bird ID app, and a wealth of information on the All About Birds website.
Why you should help:
Pledge For Passion: By helping to protect birds, you’ll protect the natural places needed for the health of our planet, people, and wildlife.
Conservation: Your gift makes possible on-the-ground conservation programs to protect birds such as Cerulean Warblers, Golden-winged Warblers, and other long-distance migrants.
Research: You’ll enable the best research scientists to inform conservation management and policy to help birds and protect nature.
Motivation: Every cent you pledge motivates the top birders in the world to find every possible bird species in 24 hours to raise funds for conservation.
Education: Your support also funds conservation through education–such as conservation workshops for Latin American biologists and training for undergraduates, giving them the skills they need to make a difference.
Citizen Science: You’ll help engage the most active corps of conservation-minded citizen scientists in collecting millions of records needed to monitor and protect birds.
Web tools: The Lab reaches out to hundreds of thousands of people, promoting conservation though our All About Birds website, eBird citizen-science project, online NestCams, and much more.
Efficiency: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology receives only 1% of its funding from Cornell University. Friends and members make their work possible.
How to get started:
The first thing you should do is register for eBird, so on May 9th you will be all set to post your bird observations! Then you should clear out a time in your day on May 9th to get outside and get spotting! If you can’t get outside this Saturday, you can still help contribute to Global Big Day by making a donation to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology!
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As a sustainable wood furniture company, we don’t usually have much to say about hardwood flooring. But recent news & events in this area are so compelling I thought our readers would be interested to hear a few details.
Hardwood Flooring and the Future of the Forest
Every year about 7.5 billion square feet of flooring is purchased in the USA (Freedonia). If it takes roughly 1 acre of forest to produce 500 sq ft of flooring (UN Report by TimberGreen) then by my calculations it would take about 15 million acres to produce 7.5 billion sq ft of flooring (the amount sold annually in the USA). By comparison, the state of Vermont is 5.9 million acres so each year an area of forest about 2.5 times the size of Vermont is logged to supply the American wood flooring industry. Granted, my calculation is mushy and imprecise but even so, it begs the question: where is all that hardwood flooring come from?
Where Does Your Hardwood Flooring Come From?
We always encourage people to buy American made wood furniture because we know that environmental, health, safety and quality standards are high here in The States. The same is true for American made wood flooring, but that integrity built into American made wood products makes them more expensive than imports. So, not surprisingly about half of the hardwood flooring in America is imported.
The Trouble with Imported Wood
The imported wood products industry is now controlled to a large extent by organized crime. A recent report Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers reveals that “demand for hardwood flooring and furniture in the United States, European Union, Japan, and China is fueling corruption and making the world’s last temperate hardwood forests into a major epicenter for illegal logging… Organized criminal groups send out logging brigades to steal valuable hardwoods from protected areas” thus decimating the last remaining habitats for iconic species like the Siberian tiger (in fact all species of big cats are now critically endangered as are all species of big apes, such as gorillas, chimps and orangutans).
Consumers Will Ultimately Decide the Fate of the Forest
As consumers we need to ask ourselves whether we want to buy the cheapest wood products we can without regard to the legality or sustainability of their origins. Think about it. How could it be that hardwood flooring from the rainforest of South America or the Russian Far East is half the price of local hardwood flooring?
What You Can Do To Help
Maybe you’re not in the market for hardwood furniture or flooring but you still want to help protect the forest and it’s inhabitants. Join the folks at Sierra Club in signing this petition to enforce the Lacey Act which seeks to eliminate trafficking in illegal wood products and penalize those who import illegally harvested wood products and wildlife. Sign it today!
IKEA: A Trusted Sustainable Furniture Source? Not so quick.
While furniture giant IKEA has been leading campaigns for their use of sustainably sourced cotton, and promoting LED lighting & solar panels in their stores– they apparently made the mistake of not paying attention to where their wood comes from. Already criticized for their staggering wood usage (IKEA uses a whopping 1% of the entire earths forests for their furniture), they are now facing harsh criticism for cutting down old growth trees in Karelia, Russia.
Swedwood, IKEA’s forestry subsidiary, was given lease to log 700,000 acres of Russian forest as long as they avoided old growth trees and trees in specified protected areas. A recent audit done by the Forest Stewardship Council revealed “major deviations” from regulations, including cutting down 600+ year old trees.
Environmental organizations had been voicing their concern about IKEA’s logging practices in Karelia for years– PFS (Protect the Forest, Sweden) apparently handed Swedwood over 180,000 signatures and a joint statement with criticisms of their forestry practices and demands to transform their habits to protect the valuable old growth forests over a year ago.
IKEA’s infraction resulted in the Forest Stewardship Council temporarily stripping them of their certification. Despite the withdrawal of IKEA’s FSC certification for their illegal logging, insufficient dialogue, lack of environmental consideration and work environment issues– many believe that FSC is not addressing key issues.
According to Linda Ellegaard Nordstrom, “The report raises several deficiencies, but does not describe the main problem, which is that pioneer exploitation, with fragmenting and breaking into the last intact forest landscapes and tracts, does not fit to FSC’s principles and criteria. Thus we believe that the FSC label is still far from being a guarantee for sustainable forestry, Together with Russian environmental organizations we have suggested to IKEA that they, as an influential multinational corporation, should set a good example by announcing that they will no longer log or buy timber from intact old-growth forests, whether the forests are certified or not.”
An Ikea spokeswoman told The Sunday Times: “We see the suspension of the certificate as highly temporary. The deviations mainly cover issues related to facilities and equipment for our co-workers, forestry management as well as training of our forestry co-workers,” claiming that they have already corrected most of the violations.
While IKEA announced plans to stop operations in Karelia in 2014, it’s important for consumers to be critical of all businesses claiming to practice sustainability. IKEA is a leader in the furniture industry, using resources unimaginable to a small business like Vermont Woods Studios. We would love to see them take true accountability for their actions.
Responsible forest management is at the heart of our mission as the devastating loss of these old trees is irreversible, and we can only hope that more furniture companies will take note of the criticism that IKEA is facing and take steps towards sustainable forestry. It’s up to consumers to make informed decisions about where they buy the products that ends up in their homes. If certification can’t stop this type of thing from happening, then people must be more careful than ever in picking a company that they care about and trust.
What are your thoughts? Leave us a note in the comments section, or send us a message on Facebook or Twitter!
Marlin was always venturing into exotic places like the African savannah or the Amazon rainforest, filming wild animals in their natural habitats. Orangutans, gorillas, kangaroos, pythons, lions, tigers, bears… the whole shebang. He would be holding a chimp and talking about conservation and… oh how I wanted to be him! Cuddling up with a tiger cub, rescuing a couple orphaned bear cubs — what could be better?
Although I didn’t end up majoring in zoology or doing research for Jane Goodall, my passion for wildlife conservation has stayed with me. Like most people I went for a “more practical career” and decided to pursue my passion as a hobby. I visited zoos and natural history museums whenever I could. I studied wildlife news in National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club and other green publications. I poured my support into wildlife conservation non-profits.
But the real fun didn’t start along until Kendall and Riley came along. How convenient? It seems little boys love wildlife! We camped out in local beaver ponds and vernal pools getting to know the resident turtles, frogs, salamanders, snakes and such. We made trips to the rainforest, adopted snakes and started a non-profit called Kids Saving the Planet. Our adventures in Vermont’s forests and in the Central American rainforests eventually led to the creation of Vermont Woods Studios Sustainable Furniture. More about that in my next post.
* and the Wonderful World of Disney and Ed Sullivan Show, of course
Ever wonder where your wooden furniture comes from? Seven years ago I founded Vermont Woods Studios because I didn’t like the answer to that question. And the answer is: if you didn’t purchase American made furniture, yours may well have originated in a beautiful tropical rainforest that was being plundered by illegal logging activities.
One Acre of Rainforest Disappears Every Second
I spent the first few years at Vermont Woods Studios trying to raise awareness about rainforest devastation and how it’s driven by the wood furniture and flooring industries. Did you know that the rainforest is disappearing at the rate of >1 acre every second? It sounds unbelievable and sensationalist, doesn’t it? I mean that’s over 4000 football fields every hour of every. But it’s true and that fact is why we continue to work so hard to offer sustainable, locally made furniture at this Vermont furniture store.
You and I Have the Power to Save the Rainforest
Consumers of wood furniture, flooring and other forest products are the key to saving the rainforest. If you’re taking the trouble to learn about sustainable wooden furniture and how you, as a consumer, can be part of the global solution, we want to help. I’ll be writing a series of blogs over the next few months to provide some background information regarding the past, present and future of the rainforest and how we consumers can do our part to save it. Have any rainforest references or stories you’d like to share? Join the conversation on our Facebook.
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