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ridge line a publication of the Merck Forest and Farmland Center

Winter 2016/17

teaching and demonstrating the benefits of innovative, sustainable management of forest and farmland.

2 From the Executive Director By Tom Ward

A New Path . . . One of the elements of the Trustees’ Strategic Vision for Merck is the installation of a new path between the Visitor Center (VC) and the Farm. Their intention is to enhance the visitor experience while creating a safer corridor for their passage between the VC and the bulk of the property, where most visitor-centered workshops and events occur. Right now pedestrians share the road with tractors, horse-drawn vehicles, delivery trucks, RTVs, and other motorized vehicles. The proposed solution is to construct a relatively flat pedestrian path parallel to the existing farm road, separated from it by a split-rail fence. The surface will be packed granite dust so pedestrians, hikers, people in wheel chairs, folks pushing strollers, etc., may move easily and safely to the Farm. The material excavated from the hillside on the north side of the existing road will be added to the south shoulder so it will be wider, with more turn-outs so vehicles can readily pass by one another. This is the first in a series of steps the Trustees will undertake to implement their strategic plan: the guiding principle behind each is to create more effective and inviting spaces to enhance every visitor’s experience. Metaphorically, this new path aligns very nicely with George Merck’s vision of public engagement.

This wonderful image of birches holding up the sky is from visitor T. Schatz. Thank you for allowing us to use this photo, T.

Forester's Notes

3 by Ethan Crumley, Forester

High and Dry at Merck Forest: The Natural Communities of Dry Oak Woodland, Dry Oak Forest, and Dry Oak/Hickory/Hophornbeam Forest If you have ever hiked on Merck’s higher elevation trails there is a good chance you have walked through a Dry Oak Woodland, Dry Oak Forest, or Dry Oak/Hickory/ Hophornbeam Forest natural community. These communities are found high on south-facing slopes; their soils are typically thinner than the soils found downslope, and their vegetation is reflective of the warm, dry sites. Let’s take a quick look at each of these unique communities.

Forester Ethan Crumley describes the unique natural communities found at Merck. We believe that an understanding of our special natural communities will add new dimensions to your explorations, and infuse new excitement in your hikes here.

Dry Oak Woodland In her 2014 “Ecological Assessment of Merck Forest & Farmland Center,” Trustee Kat Deely found two locales of the Dry Oak Woodland. One, easily accessible by trail, is found at the southern end of the Lookout Overlook trail. The second, requiring bushwhacking, is found on the southern aspect of Haystack Mountain. When venturing into this habitat, it feels more like a park than a forest: the widely spaced oak and hophornbeams with thick hairgrass and woodland sedge growing beneath, give the forest an elfin character. The trees here are gnarled and short in comparison to other examples of the same species growing merely hundreds of feet away. This is reflective of the relatively poor growing conditions, and thin, acidic, excessively drained soils. Wildlife likely to be found here include ring-neck snakes, and uncommon birds such as the tufted titmouse and the yellow-billed cuckoo. This community is considered to be rare throughout the state. At Merck, the two occurrences of this community are protected in “No Touch” ecological protection zones. Dry Oak Forest The only occurrence of the Dry Oak Forest on the property is on top of Little Haystack Mountain, just to the west of Haystack Mountain. This community occupies just over an acre. The Dry Oak Forest is almost identical to the Dry Oak Woodland in species composition, however the tree canopy is closed and the trees are taller. The abundant red and white oaks provide a good food source with their acorn crops (mast) for turkeys and grey squirrels. Examples of the Dry Oak Forest are uncommon in the state, but not rare.

As you make decisions about your annual gift giving, we hope that you will consider making a donation to Merck Forest and Farmland Center. The financial support of our members and donors is essential to sustaining our educational and recreational programs. Thank you for your consideration.

Dry Oak/Hickory/Hophornbeam Forest There are several occurrences of the Dry Oak/Hickory/Hophornbeam Forest at Merck, totaling about 81 acres. Good examples of this community are on the ascent of Mount Antone from both Antone Road and the Master’s Mountain Trail. It also exists on the ridge just south of Nenorod Cabin and on the upper slopes of Haystack Mountain. As its name implies, there is more diversity in the canopy than either the Dry Oak Woodland or Dry Oak Forest. Red and white oaks, hophornbeam, shagbark hickory and bitternut hickory are found here. Where the soils are more nutrient-rich, sugar maple grows. The shrub layer is sparse, and woodland sedge carpets the forest floor, lending an open aspect to the forest. This community can be home to many different species of wildlife, including white-tailed deer and gray squirrels, white-breasted nuthatches, scarlet tanagers, and turkeys. Rare reptiles may include black rat snakes, five-lined skinks, and timber rattlesnakes. Like the Dry Oak Forest, this natural community is uncommon but not rare in the state. At Merck, these communities are managed as “Lite Touch” ecological protection zone. _________________________________________ Deely, Kat. “An Ecological Assessment of Merck Forest & Farmland Center Rupert, Vermont.” 2014. Thompson, E. and Sorenson, E. Wetland, Woodland, Wildland: A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont. Pub. Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, and The Nature Conservancy. 2000.

4 Merck as Classroom by Christine Hubbard, Sarah McIlvennie & Alessia McCobb

Students Dig In and Explore Science Our whirlwind Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) program has wound down for the year. During September and October, roughly eighty fifth and sixth grade students came to Merck to learn science, math and critical thinking skills through place-based education. The autumn began with the Mettawee Community School’s sixth graders engaging in two days of field explorations in the recycling of matter, decomposition and resource availability, followed by a wonderful overnight camping trip at The Glen. Then fifth grade classes from The Dorset School (TDS) and Manchester Elementary & Middle School (MEMS) spent three full days in the field (and a fourth day spent in their home classrooms), investigating decomposition, biodiversity, and non-native and invasive species. This program began with a discussion of decomposition, formulating questions like: -What does it look like in the forest and on the farm? -Who or what causes it to occur? Students spent the first morning with hand lenses, examining and documenting leaf litter and other elements of the forest floor; then they broke up into smaller working groups to set up decomposition tanks, to take back to their classrooms, for long-term study of the effects of microbial action on leaf litter. On Days 2 and 3, students toured the property with their biologist glasses on, learning about biodiversity as they mapped the different ecosystems at Merck Forest. They applied their new understanding of biodiversity to an examination of two ecosystems separated only be a stone wall: a richly diverse, naturally-grown-up field, and a less-diverse spruce plantation. The students’ final assignment was to tackle invasive & non-native species -- both academically and physically: after a morning of scenarios and competition games mimicking species interaction, the students and Merck staff hiked to Clark’s Clearing to do some serious honeysuckle removal. This was definitely the high point for both students and adults. The students in the fifth grade program wrapped up their explorations with two very different -- but equally wonderful -- Expos, where students presented their work to teachers, parents, siblings and fellow students. The MEMS students braved a stormy evening on October 20, up at the Frank Hatch Sap House, to show their results; the TDS students presented their findings and projects at their school on October 27. Students in both the sixth- and fifth-grade programs were engaged in a variety of science practices: observing phenomena, collecting data, measuring and calculating, formulating questions, making predictions and backing up claims with evidence. Reading, listening and observing all that the students had absorbed in a few short weeks was a wonderful way to reaffirm the success of the programs.

We Have A Winnah!

(Actually, Three Winnahs)

We are delighted to report that Gilts #1651 and #1652 now officially have names. When you visit the Small Animal Barn to see the sows, say hello to Lulu and Suzie Nell. These Gloucester Old Spot gals will be delivering the next few generations of piggies for the farm. The Stazny, Mannarino and Jones families have won a bottle of syrup for their winning suggestions. Thank you to all who submitted entries.

Education Director's Notes


Here’s the Dirt on Dirt

by Christine Hubbard

While working with students this autumn, I watched a small group of girls enthusiastically tearing into leaf litter and decomposed logs with their bare hands, peeling back bark to reveal the rotting heartwood of the tree, and handling the insects and grubs they discovered. Another student poked tentatively at the log with a stick, unwilling to get his hands dirty. The interaction of children with their environment is the subject of considerable attention these days, and a new understanding of the importance of outdoor play and exposure to environmental organisms -- i.e. bugs, organic material, and ordinary dirt -- is growing. Children who get out into the great outdoors and dig in the dirt benefit in a number of ways. Getting dirty exposes children to microbes and germs -- exposure which has been found to be good for children, since certain microbes and bacteria are essential for healthy immune systems. Children who lack exposure to healthy germs are at greater risk for allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases. By playing in the dirt and making mud pies, children are boosting their immune systems. Children who play in the dirt are also boosting their cardiovascular health, since certain microbes have been shown to reduce cardiovascular inflammation (a precursor to heart attacks and strokes). Children who dig in the dirt may pick up a common bacteria which live on the skin and prevent inflammation, promoting the skin’s ability to heal. In addition to physical benefits, exposure to dirt and the outdoors results in active kids who have less stress and are more relaxed. Some soil bacteria have been found to activate a group of neurons that produce serotonin, which enhances the feeling of well-being. Unfortunately, children today spend much less time outdoors than did their parents. The average child today spends from four to seven minutes a day playing outdoors, and up to seven hours a day staring at a screen. In contrast, today’s grown-ups report having spent four to five hours a day outside. What can you do to help your child grow up as healthily as possible? Commit to getting your children outside. Go outside and play with them for 30 minutes a day. Allow them to pick up sticks, rocks and rotting leaves. Allow them to play in the mud, lay on the grass, or throw a handful of leaves in the air. Allow them to explore the natural world and get dirty! For more information on this topic, please see: National Wildlife Federation, “Get the Dirt on Dirt” at Wendy Becktold’s interview entitled “Scott Sampson Wants Parents to Rewild Their Kids,” published in Sierra (Club) Magazine, Sept/Oct. 2016 issue, or see

File Photo

in Cab ss! g n e ari usin e l B ’s C for rk a l pen C O ow is n


Letters from the Lodge by Sarah McIlvennie and Alessia McCobb

Dear Outside World, As our apprenticeship comes to a close, we have a final update from the hill. We have so many adventures to choose from, but have space here for only a few snapshots. In this one year, we have witnessed life coming full circle, with the experience of delivering, nurturing, raising and subsequently, sending off Peggy Sue’s last litter of piglets. This litter was very special for us, since their delivery was our first experience -- ever -- of witnessing birth. We wished that we could have kept all the pigs, but this is a working farm, where livestock is raised for meat, and it is a necessary part of being a good steward and farmer to acknowledge and embrace your role in the life and death of animals on the farm. It is our commitment, however, to give our wonderful animals the best possible life, and the farm staff works incredibly hard to do just that. It is something that we are proud to do here at Merck Forest and Farmland Center. In another area of our training, we have been honing our chainsaw skills, working on two special projects: a Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)-funded “apple tree release”, and the harvest of spruce logs for construction of the Thoreau cabin at Racey Pond. The NRCS mission is to preserve and restore wildlife habitat, and our implementation of these goals can be seen across the property, from periodically-mown meadows in the forest to areas managed for ruffed grouse. The latest project called for the “release” of about 30 heirloom apple trees, planted when the land in this area was still mostly cleared farmland. Now the forest has grown up around the trees; removing the stems immediately surrounding each apple tree “releases” the crowns with the hope of increasing apple production, an important soft mast food for wildlife.

Photo by S Elliott

Photo M Leu

Working with Ethan Crumley to harvest wood for the Thoreau cabin, we limbed, bucked, felled and skidded spruce trees to a log landing. Merck’s need for wood products provided us an opportunity to practice sustainable stand management, and we gave a much-needed thinning to a spruce plantation planted roughly half a century ago. As the multi-day project progressed we gained more experience felling larger diameter trees, and operating the bulldozer. In autumn, eighty 5th and 6th graders came to Merck for place-based education aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, to study the wonders of decomposition, biodiversity, and the impacts of non-native species. Please check out the article on page 4. We do occasionally leave the property to visit other venues: we have, in these past few months, visited logging sites, a meat-processing facility, and a fiber mill, all of which has provided us a greater understanding and appreciation for the production of lumber, meat, and yarn. In early November, we also attended the two-day Farm-Based Education Conference in Concord, Massachusetts, a wonderful opportunity to network and learn about other similar initiatives across New England.

Letters from the Lodge (continued)


Last, but definitely not least, we’ve begun to plan for next year’s garden, by cultivating, creating beds, and planting our garlic. This was one of our last big pushes before the hard frosts and cold winter temperatures set in, so we can all finally breathe a sigh of satisfaction as our year at Merck Forest and Farmland Center winds to a close. Signing off for the last time, McIlvennie & McCobb

INGREDIENTS 2 TBL Olive Oil 1 LB Ground Lamb Kosher Salt & Black Pepper 1 Medium Onion 2 Poblano Peppers (or 2 small Green Peppers) seeded & diced 1 Small Bunch Cilantro, rinsed 4 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped 2 Small Jalapenos, finely chopped & seeded 2 TBL Chile Powder (more to taste) 1 TSP Ground Coriander 1TSP Ground Cumin 1.5 TBL Tomato Paste 3.5 Cups Cooked White Beans Plain Yogurt (preferably sheep’s milk) for serving Lime Wedges for serving

Lamb and White Bean Chili

STEP ONE Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat; add the lamb, breaking it up with a fork until it is well-browned (5 minutes). Season with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. STEP TWO Lower the heat a little. Add the onion and poblano peppers, cooking until soft (5-7 minutes). Finely chop 2 tablespoons of the cilantro stems and add to the pot. Stir in garlic and jalapeno and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chile powder, coriander and cumin; cook 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until it begins to turn brown. STEP THREE Return the lamb to the pot. Stir in 4 cups of water, the beans, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Simmer over medium-low heat for 45 minutes. Add more water if the chili becomes too thick. Taste & adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, a squeeze of lime, and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves. This chili, derived from Melissa Clark’s recipe published in the New York Times, was a huge hit at our Fall Festival in September.

8 Recent News Images of Winter Prep

United Nations Retreat on Sustainable and Resilient Communities Visits Merck Forest & Farmland Center On a chilly, breezy Saturday in October, Merck Forest hosted delegates from the United Nations Group of 77 -- members from developing nations with an interest in sustainable management of farm and forest resources. Forester Ethan Crumley and Farm Manager Jonathan Kilpatrick addressed the group, describing the mission, context and methods of our operations. Following their remarks, Ethan and Jon led interested members of the Group of 77 on a tour of the farm. The trustees, advisors and staff appreciated the opportunity to engage with this diverse group on our important, mutual mission.

A full haymow and fully stacked woodsheds are essential for getting through the winter in comfort. Thanks, BBA and ESF stacking crews (and farm staff, or course)!


Alessia retrieves the Welcome Wagon from the entrance on Route 315 to make snowplowing easier.

Before the weather turns threatening, snow fences appear.

On November 5th & 6th, Chris Hubbard, Sarah McIlvennie and Alessia McCobb attended the Sixth Farm-Based Educational National Gathering, in Concord, Massachusetts. While at the conference, they conducted a workshop entitled “Exploring Biodiversity in a Sugarbush and Beyond,” where they presented activities drawn from the MFFC/NGSS School Partnership Program for fifth graders. Chris, Sarah and Alessia also explored a variety of topics presented at the conference, including Farm-to-School programs, event planning, local food systems, and connecting youth to farms; and they made connections with colleagues in like-minded organizations. Sarah and Alessia also attended a discussion forum on on farming, education and food systems. The trio skipped over to Walden Pond State Reservation to visit the site of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin, where they were able to get a feeling for the land and environment about which Thoreau wrote with such clarity and simplicity.

Special Projects & Upcoming Events Vicki McInerney Memorial Garden Visitors to Merck Forest this summer have been aware of a slow transformation of the area between the parking lot and the Visitor Center. They noticed that trees were going missing -- lots of trees, in fact: the view up to the Visitor Center has been opened up considerably, with a lovely high canopy of oaks, beeches, some Amelanchier and one or two maples. There are boulders congregating near pathways, piles of compost spaced at intervals. Donated perennials have been heeled-in to protect them from winter cold. It’s all in preparation for the installation of a new garden honoring former Trustee, Victoria McInerney. Vicki was a gardener and birder, with a special interest in nurturing the pollinators -- butterflies and bees -- that populate Vermont hillsides. Our garden will feature plants favored by these small but vital creatures. The shady glade in front of the Visitor Center and the sun-baked tree island overlooking the parking lot will provide two very different ecosystems, which we will plant with site-appropriate shrubs and perennials. In addition, we will install plant- and hardscape elements welcoming to our human guests, including visitors who for health or other reasons find the current trek up Old Town Road daunting. Progress on the garden project will resume in the springtime. We hope to make this a community-wide tribute to Vicki and invite your participation via donations so we may purchase the material needed to populate the understory with flowering plants.


Upcoming Events at Merck Here is a tentative lineup of workshops and events in the works. Please call the Visitor Center at 802394-7836 or check the website at to confirm dates/times/fees and other details about the activities which interest you. Thoreau Cabin Workshops: Joinery Workshop, Dec 10-11 Board Feathering/Shingle & Peg Making, Jan 14 Overflow/Catchup Workshop, February TBD Cabin Raising, May TBD Sheathing Roof and Walls, May TBD Roof Shingling, June TBD Cabin Dedication, July 12 Plaster/Lath and Chimney Workshops, August TBD Other Workshops Wreath Making, 12/3/2016 Ornament Making, 12/17 Felted Soap Making, 12/17 Pruning, March TBD Sheep Shearing, April TBD Event Dates Full Moon Outing, 1/14/2017 (tentative) America’s First Forest Screening, Jan/Feb TBD Owl Walk, Feb 24 (tentative) Pancake Breakfast, 3/25-26 Meet the Lambs, 5/20 Solstice Hike, 6/21 Perseid Meteor Shower Viewing, 8/21 Fall Festival, 9/16 BeBrave Hike-a-thon, late Sept TBD

The Thoreau Cabin Project

The Thoreau Project is well underway, with two workshops completed, and a third scheduled December 10th/11th. In October, a crew of six prepped the site, placed an enormous hearthstone, and built a low stone foundation to support the cabin. In November, ten hardy souls braved chilly winds up at The Glen and hewed spruce logs into framing timbers. In the December workshop, students will learn the principles of timber frame construction and will prepare the timbers for joinery. Participation is limited to ten people; tuition is $50 per person. The January workshop will the cover Board Feathering/Shingle & Peg manufacture; the February workshop will be used to catch up on any area as needed. Check our website for dates and times at

Instructor Pete Newton demonstrates the proper use of the broadaxe in hewing a spruce log into a framing timber. Photo by M Leu

10 From the Farm by Jonathan Kilpatrick, Farm Manager

We have had a spectacular autumn here at Merck, and those of you who visited can testify that the colors were some of the best ever. This is the time of year that we evaluate what worked for us, what didn’t, and what changes and improvements we want to introduce for next year. • The Board of Trustees is putting the finishing touches on the Farm Vision plan. This plan will address the future of the farm and provide vision for the staff as we manage the day-to-day operations. I hope that 2017 will bring new additions and programming to the farm. • Because of a long stretch of dry weather, our grass growth was behind last year’s production -- but thankfully, we have a barn full of hay to rely on. • The last group of pigs has been processed, resulting in a full inventory of high-quality, pastured/non-GMO-fed pork, ready for holiday feasts. • We have selected names for our two new sows: Suzie Nell and Lulu will carry on the Gloucestershire Old Spot tradition here at Merck, and we expect the Photo by J Kilpatrick first litter of piglets to arrive in early Spring. Stay tuned to Facebook or our website for more updates. • Apart from the weather, there is an important transition currently in process. Our apprentices, Sarah Mcllvennie and Alessia McCobb, have finished their apprenticeship, and we are evaluating candidates for the 2017 program. Running an apprenticeship program is both a challenge and an opportunity. It can be a challenge because it demands that we perform at the top of our game as we are teach the next generation of farmers, foresters, and educators. Yet it is an incredible opportunity because we get to watch our apprentices grow in the skills, understanding, and confidence of the areas we teach. What an awesome year it has been to witness the progress made by Sarah and Alessia. Fortunately, Alessia has agreed to stay on as our interim Assistant Farm Manager, and Sarah will be here for a little while longer helping us get some projects completed. When they eventually move we on will miss them greatly, but I am confident that wherever Sarah and Alessia go from here, they will make a remarkable difference in our world. Thanks to you both for helping us make this program such a success. This “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” is quickly turning to winter here in Vermont -- and we are optimistic that it will be wonderful, since winter at Merck Forest & Farmland Center is spectacular in its own way. Please stay in touch -- whether you simply send an email or stop by to say “hi,” we truly value your excitement, your contributions, and your feedback as we head into the next year. Have a wonderful, blessed Holiday season and New Year! Jonathan, for the Merck Farm Staff

Holiday Sale at the Visitor Center! thru December 15

15% off!

onions garlic potatoes amber Rich syrup leaf lard backfat ground lamb lamb stew meat

Eliot wonders, “Does this hat make me look fat?”

About Us


Merck Forest and Farmland Center is a non-profit educational organization with a mission to teach and demonstrate the benefits of innovative, sustainable management of forest and farmland. We offer a variety of seasonal school programs, apprenticeships and recreational opportunities to individuals and families. Through education, we hope to encourage our visitors to become good stewards of the land. Members support our educational programs and maintenance of over 3,100 acres of land and 30 miles of trails. We are grateful for their help.

STAFF NOTES: Sarah McIlvennie and Alessia McCobb have completed their Merck apprenticeships are are considering their next career moves. Happily for us, they will stay with us for a little while longer -- Alessia will fill in as Assistant Farm Manager on an interim basis, and Sarah will assist in completing some projects up on the farm for the next month. Please check out their articles in this issue’s Ridgeline for an idea of the breadth of their contributions to our operations. We wish them every success in the future. Board of Trustees

Keld Alstrup, Treasurer Donald Campbell, Secretary Jean Ceglowski Austin Chinn, President Kat Deely Jeromy Gardner George Hatch, Vice President Jim Hand Ann Jackson Mark Lourie Margaret Mertz


Advisory Council

Darla Belevich, Customer Service Specialist Katie Connor, Customer Service Specialist Ethan Crumley, Forester Sarah Elliott, Customer Service Specialist Christine Ferris-Hubbard, Education Director Jonathan Kilpatrick, Farm Manager Kathryn Lawrence, Assistant to the Director Marybeth Leu, Communications Coordinator Alessia McCobb, Assistant Farm Manager Sarah McIlvennie, Farm Staff Tom Ward, Executive Director

Kathleen Achor Judy Buechner Sue Ceglowski Phil Chapman Ed Cotter Bob Gasperetti Bambi Hatch Dick Hittle

PO Box 86, 3270 VT-Route 315 Rupert, Vermont 05768 802-394-7836

Printed on 100% recycled paper Read our


Anne Houser Joe Lovering Jon Mathewson Bruce Putnam Liz Putnam Sam Schneski Phil Warren Patty Winpenny

PO Box 86, 3270 VT-Route 315 Rupert, Vermont 05768 INSIDE: P2 - From the Executive Director P3 - Forester’s Notes P4 - Merck as Classroom P5 - Education Director’s Notes P6 - Letters from the Lodge P7 - ... Lodge, and Lamb Chili Recipe P8 - Recent News P9 - Special Projects & Upcoming Events 10 - From the Farm

11 - About Us

Membership at Merck: Join or Renew Today! Complete this form and mail it to: Merck Forest & Famland Center PO Box 86, Ruper t, VT 05768 Or join online at

A $50 Fa Member mily ship is a great gift idea!

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Memberships support our educational programs and maintenance of over 3,100 acres of land and 30 miles of trails. Thank you for your help!

Profile for Merck Forest

2016 17 winter ridgeline electronic  

Winter Ridgeline 2016/17

2016 17 winter ridgeline electronic  

Winter Ridgeline 2016/17


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