Back in the late 1970’s, when I was still a student at Indiana University in Bloomington, I was notified that my Great Aunt Lillian Graves had passed away. This was a sad time for me as I was very fond of her. She had lived in New York City during the summer and in Greenwood SC during the winter. She had a very young soul for an elderly person, and was great fun to be around and talk to. I remember when my father told me about her death, and I was very surprised when he also informed me that she had left me something in her will. That something was a loblolly pine tree farm in Georgia that had been in our family for generations. Aunt Lil had leased the land to Georgia Kraft, a timber company, and the land had a healthy tract of trees growing at the time the land became mine. What I didn’t know was that Georgia Kraft was going to clear cut the property and leave 118.75 acres of stumps and brush piles, but that was exactly what happened.
About a year after graduating from IU with a geology degree I married my college sweetheart. It was 1980, the country was in a deep economic recession, and interest rates were in double digits. We began our marriage with one old car, some used furniture donated by my family, and little else. We had no money in the bank, few job offers that paid more than minimum wage, but we did have our 118.75 acres of stumps and brush piles (wind rows).
It wasn’t long before a forester called and inquired on whether we were going to sell the property or plant trees. Selling it did cross our minds. Most 23 year olds would have sold the property and bought a nice car. We considered everything and decided to carry on the family tradition of being tree farmers and investing for the future. We called the forester back and he told us of several programs through the US Department of Agriculture that would provide some monetary assistance for planting. The rest of the cost of planting would be up to us. Somehow over the next 5 years, with loans and the assistance of the USDA, we managed to become tree farmers by planting parcels of the land in stages.
Thirty plus years later we still have the farm and the trees have grown tall. They are now saw timber size. We managed to dodge forest fires, droughts, and pine beetles attacks, but not poor economies and lousy governments. In the last several decades Canada has allowed timber companies to cut timber on their federal lands basically for free and dump the timber on the US market. This has resulted in many timber companies and mills closing their doors in the south. It is still not a good time to sell timber. While we wait, we do take some comfort in knowing that we are doing our share to help clean the air in Georgia. No one knew anything about carbon footprints back in the early 1980’s when we planted our tree farm, but it is a real concern now.
If the housing industry recovers, and US saw timber prices rise, we may finally realize a return on our investment. In the meantime, we love being tree farmers, helping the environment, and carrying on our family tradition. I know Aunt Lil would be proud.