Learn how you can help the environment and economy by purchasing American Made Furniture this Holiday Season.
It’s hard to believe that not just 40 years ago when you bought wood furniture, or any product for that matter, it was most likely made right here in America by a skilled craftsman. The crew at the workshop or factory was most likely paid a fair and livable wage and the price of the product reflected that. We took pride in American Made Furniture.
We’re sending thanks out to everyone who gathered with us at Stonehurst this week to begin making Vernon, Vermont a Monarch Butterfly Way Station. If you’re interested in the environment and nature, please consider joining us in this fun project! You can learn more about our efforts to save the endangered monarch butterfly here.
Vernon has many master gardeners and butterfly enthusiasts! We shared some milkweed seedlings (the Monarch caterpillar’s only food source) and will begin planting them in our gardens and back yards. We’re also reaching out to the Vernon Elementary School VES, the recreation department and the roads commissioner, asking them to support the project by planting milkweed where appropriate on public land.
In August and September we will meet again when the Monarchs are laying their eggs and beginning their metamorphoses. Please contact us through our Facebook if you’re interested in joining our butterfly rescue project or starting one in your own town. It’s fun, and there’s wine. What more could you ask for?
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After locating our fine furniture and home decor store on a 100 acre wood in the foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest (see my last post), I found myself in the familiar position of trying to do something I knew little about. How would we properly manage this woodland for wildlife and sustainability? My friends Kathleen Wanner (Executive Director of the Vermont Wood Manufacturer’s Association VWMA) and Lynn Levine (a professional forester) suggested that Ken and I attend the Vermont Coverts:Woodlands for Wildlife Cooperator Training. What a great idea!
The program was last weekend at the Woods of Wikahowi in Northfield, VT. Ken had to cancel at the last minute but I attended along with a dozen or so like-minded landowners from all across Vermont. Because 80% of Vermont’s forestland is owned privately, the Coverts organization concluded that the key to sustaining our state’s forests & wildlife is education of private landowners. They provide a free 3-day training course every Spring and every Fall, focusing on classroom and field studies in forest and wildlife management.
The course was taught by Vermont’s foremost experts in forestry & wildlife including:
Lisa Sausville, Executive Director, Vermont Coverts
Mary Sisock, UVM Extension Forester
Kim Royar, VT Department of Fish and Wildlife
Dan Singleton, Washington County Forester
Steve Hagenbuch, Audubon VT
Kathy Decker, VT Forest, Parks and Recreation
Rich Chalmers, VP VT Coverts
VT Coverts is so committed to their mission that they offer the course for free, including food and lodging! Dedicated Coverts members work hard to meet expenses through grants and fundraising programs. If you own woodlands in Vermont or know someone who does, please refer them to the Coverts program. It’s an unforgettable weekend with fascinating people and thought-provoking discussion. The graduates of the program hold the future of Vermont’s forests in their hands.
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Ken and I founded Vermont Woods Studios fine furniture store almost nine years ago. As a woodworker, Ken’s interest was in earning a living by promoting the tradition of high quality Vermont made wood furniture. For me, the project was about forest conservation and my desire to help protect forest habitat and wildlife for future generations*. Over the years it’s been a challenge managing this yin-yang pair of objectives but I think we’ve been able to maintain a pretty good balance.
Stonehurst Opens Up New Opportunities for Forest Conservation
This year we have a chance to bring a whole new dimension to our forest conservation mission through our newly acquired property at Stonehurst. The farmhouse we purchased and renovated into a Vermont made furniture gallery sits on 100 wooded acres in the foothills of the Green Mountain National Forest. In the past our environmental mission was largely fulfilled by donating to like-minded non-profits**, but now we can also also partner with them by providing forest habitat for various conservation projects.
Below are a few conservation activities we’re supporting for 2014:
Woodlands for Wildlife – Vermont Coverts educates landowners in sound forest management practices and the principles of stewardship for the enhancement of wildlife. Ken and I are attending their 3-day seminar on forest and wildlife management this spring to learn how to improve wildlife habitat and provide better conditions for native deer, turkeys, moose, bear, birds, bob cats, chipmunks, squirrels and other species that may be living at Stonehurst.
MonarchWatch – When Kendall and Riley were in elementary school we used to capture monarch caterpillars, watch their metamorphosis and tag the butterflies before waving them off on their epic migration to Mexico every fall. But for the past several years I haven’t seen even a single monarch. So this year we’ll support Chip Taylor at MonarchWatch by planting butterfly gardens (including milkweed) and encouraging others to do the same.
Vermont Center for Eco Studies– VCE is a group of Vermont’s foremost conservation scientists who inspire citizen volunteers across Vermont and around the world. We’ve been supporting them for years and are excited about being able to use Stonehurst as a place to gather data for their many programs including:
Vernal pool mapping
VT reptile and amphibian atlas
VT breeding bird survey
Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center – BEEC’s annual Salamander Soiree is this Saturday April 5th from 6-8:30pm in Brattleboro at the River Garden on Main Street. We’ll be there to help recruit crossing guards for this year’s annual amphibian migration.
If you’re in our neighborhood and share similar interests, please stop by Stonehurst, give us a call or connect with us on Facebook. Let us know what you’re working on and how we can help. As the southern most corner of Vermont, Vernon can play a significant role in our state’s conservation efforts. Let’s make it happen!
* We are losing the worlds forests at a rate of > 1 acre/second. A major factor in deforestation is widespread illegal logging for timber that’s used to make cheap furniture sold by IKEA, Home Depot and other big-box stores. Our goal at Vermont Woods Studios is to help raise awareness about where your furniture comes from and persuade people to buy sustainable furniture made from legally harvested wood.
** The non-profits we’ve supported include the World Wildlife Fund WWF, The Nature Conservancy TNC, Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center BEEC, Vermont Center for Ecostudies VCE and others working to conserve forests and wildlife.
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!
Furniture is more than just something we sit on, sleep on, and eat on; our furniture becomes a part of our life story. It’s an integral piece of what makes a house a home. But for the chemically sensitive, or for those who are just serious about not bringing harsh chemicals into their homes, finding the right furniture can seem like an impossible task.
By Presidential proclamation, this week– October 20-26, 2013 is National Forest Products Week. It’s a time for us to recognize the beauty of our forests, the many products that come from our forests and the people who work in and manage our forests.
At Vermont Woods Studios, our company was founded on a mission of forest conservation. Through Vermont’s beautiful, eco-friendly wood furniture, we’re trying to help raise awareness about the importance of sustainable forestry. What’s so interesting or important about sustainable forestry? Check out some of these fun forest facts:
Each year the average American uses an amount of forest products equivalent to one HUGE tree (10 stories tall and 18 inches in diameter). That’s over 43 cubic feet of wood and 681 pounds of paper
More than 5,000 things are made from trees such as houses, furniture, utensils, fences, books, medicines, chewing gum, cosmetics, clothing, toothpaste, soap, varnish, Almond Joy candy bars and of course, maple syrup
The single oldest living thing on earth is a tree, its is 4,700 years old and is located in the US. It was growing when the Egyptians built the pyramids!
Forests occupy one third of the Earth’s land area– they are our greatest defense against global warming
As the Earth’s great air conditioners, trees rid the air of excess carbon dioxide and other pollutants to improve air quality
Trees filter water, trap particles to make soil and help regulate climate patterns around the world
Most forests are threatened by unsustainable forestry practices, development and climate change
Organized crime controls much of the world’s timber trade– illegal timber is the new heroin
An area of rainforest the size of a football field is being destroyed every second of every minute of every day
In less than 100 years over half of the forest has been cut and burned, leaving whole areas of the earth bare and unprotected
54 of the world’s 193 countries have already lost >90% of their forests
With our mission of sustainable forestry we hope to persuade people to buy eco-friendly, Vermont made wood furniture and avoid the purchase of imported furniture that’s made from wood that’s illegally clear cut from the world’s rapidly disappearing rainforests.
One of the best things about running a sustainable furniture business is that our customers are people who care about how we treat the environment and the people we work with. They’ve come to us because they are willing to pay a premium for high quality, American made furniture that’s crafted from sustainably harvested wood– by furniture makers who are paid a fair, livable wage.
Yesterday we received this note from Wayne J:
I appreciated the description of your commitment to sustainability. I would also like to know how you care for the artisans and trades people who build and ship the furniture. What percentage of the price flows to these people? Are they paid a living wage? What is the ratio of their pay to that of the CEO? Are they making enough to create for themselves safe environments for doing their work. For me to do repeat business at this price point, it will be important to have answers to these questions as well.
These are great questions. I would ask the same thing if I was a customer and I thought you might be interested in the answers, so I decided to post them here. I’ll break it down into Compensation and Occupational Safety & Health.
Vermont Woods Studios is set up as a marketing and sales company. We actually don’t build much furniture anymore (we started out with Ken building furniture but as we grew, he couldn’t keep up, so we got him doing the bookkeeping instead). So we don’t directly employ furniture makers. We work with independent Vermont furniture makers, either buying furniture wholesale and selling retail or via commission or referral fees.
From the beginning, we set Vermont Woods Studios up as a mission-driven company, that is: To conserve forests and artistic woodworking while providing our customers with the best selection, value, quality and service available for Vermont made wood furniture.
Because Ken is a woodworker, we are well aware of the amount of time and effort that goes into a piece of handcrafted furniture. We have a middle ground to walk between helping Vermont furniture companies and craftspeople achieve high quality jobs and providing our customers with the best value for their furniture. All the while we must compensate our marketing, sales and web development staff as best we can.
As for the CEO’s salary… well that would be mine. I haven’t actually taken a salary yet, per se. We are in our 8th year at Vermont Woods Studios and as other small business owners will attest, much of the early years involves investing and rolling profits back into the business, rather than taking a salary. For now, I am sustained with the knowledge that if we meet our challenge of creating efficiencies in the Vermont furniture making and shipping system, we’ll end up with a win-win-win-win situation: for woodworkers, customers, Vermont Woods Studios employees (including me) and the environment.
Occupational Safety and Health
Vermont has the highest environmental standards of any state in the nation. As for the safety and health of the woodworkers that craft furniture for Vermont Woods Studios, I believe all the companies we work with (both large and small) go above and beyond federal and state OSHA and EPA regulations. Prior to starting this company I worked in environmental and occupational health and safety for 20+ years, with my most recent work in this occupation was at Tulane’s Center for Applied Environmental Public Health. That experience, plus the fact that Ken has an active woodworking shop gives me confidence in my assessment of the safety and health protections our woodworking partners employ. I do realize that we have to take a more active role in documenting safety, health and sustainability compliance amongst our partners in the future, though.
If you’re interested in additional details regarding sustainability, livable wages and worker safety at Vermont Woods Studios, please browse through our fine furniture website to learn about:
* Not all of our craftspeople have their own businesses. Many work for larger companies, like Copeland Furniture. Read more about sustainability and the treatment of craftspeople at Copeland Furniture here.
considered proprietary information
according tothe Vermont Department of Labor, the average annual salary for a Vermont woodworker is $ 32,440
What do you love best about Vermont? Our maple syrup? Organic cheese? Skiing or snowboarding? Mountain climbing? Our farm to plate restaurants? Chances are whatever your favorites are in Planet Vermont, they are here for you because of Vermont’s working landscape. That’s the term Vermonters are using to refer to the Green Mountain state’s pastoral forests and fields– and there’s a concerted effort afoot to ensure they will remain sustainable.
Last year our Legislature passed the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative which allocated $1Million to “stimulate a concerted economic development effort on behalf of Vermont’s agriculture and forest product sectors by systematically advancing entrepreneurism, business development, and job creation.” A request for proposals to carry out the WL initiative was issued last year and yesterday was the deadline for submittals.
Hundreds of entrepreneurs from all across the state have offered ideas and projects that will eventually add up to a wave of renewed commitment and progress in sustaining our working lands. We at Vermont Woods Studios are among the group.
Our proposal seeks to use WL grant monies to close the final funding phase of renovating our Stonehurst Furniture Gallery and Nature Center. From a Working Lands perspective, one of the advantages of Stonehurst is that it tells the story of where Vermont made furniture comes from and how it’s made– sustainably.
Putting our Working Lands proposal together has been quite a process and regardless of whether we win an award, I think it’s been time well spent. I know the grant is highly competitive. It’s my understanding that the WL Board received some 268 proposals for a total request of over $12 million. They are working with only $1Million in funding, so the odds aren’t good.
But I feel our proposal answers an important need in providing a market for Vermont’s wood furniture and a destination that will attract customers from beyond our borders. We’ve been able to forge many new partnerships and collaborations as a result of the grant application process and that alone makes the effort worthwhile.
Decisions on grant awards are expected in April and we’ll keep you posted. Best of luck to everyone who has invested their time into this important project!
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