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Director’s Note My first grownup job was as an experiential educator with the Voyageur Outdoor Leadership program at National Cathedral and St. Albans schools in Washington, DC. Voyageur is a two-person operation with an origin story wrapped up in the early days of the National Outdoor Leadership School. Philosophically, the program can perhaps be best described by the phrase sandblasted into the river rock on my co-instructor’s desk: “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I may remember. What I do, I know.” I carried that idea with me beyond St Albans’ walls as I grew as an educator in rural public schools in the Northeast, large urban school districts throughout the US, and most recently at the Student Conservation Association. I saw, time and again, how powerful hands-on experiential learning could be. When I came to Merck Forest and Farmland Center in the spring, I was excited to be joining an organization focused on experiential education and grounded in the belief that the best way to learn something is to experience it firsthand. I was, and still am, enthusiastic about working with a board and staff committed to expanding and improving the teaching and learning that is happening on our farm and in our forest. I knew that this would involve coordinating with local schools and community partners, developing curriculum, teaching, creating new resources for our visitors, and 2

sharing our vision with anyone willing to listen. What I neglected to take into account was the depth of the learning adventure that my family and I would undertake. Just before school started in September, my family joined me in the Caretaker’s Cabin here at Merck. Since moving in, we’ve jumped into the weekend farm-chore rotation and we have had endless opportunities to explore MFFC’s forest, ponds, and trails. My wife and I have written no curriculum, assigned no readings, nor proctored any exams, yet in a mere month and a half, our four and seven-year-old children have grown immeasurably. Much of that learning has focused on what one would expect children to learn on a farm and in the forest: scientific curiosity, food ways, ecology, life cycles, etc. Two weeks ago, my daughter learned an invaluable lesson that helped her develop a critical, and difficult-to-teach characteristic: empathy. She learned, first-hand, the concept of ‘hospice’, after spending an afternoon caring for a sick and dying lamb. It was a powerful, albeit mournful, lesson that I don’t think she could have otherwise learned. I am confident that she, and the world she inhabits, will be better as a result. What they do, they know.

There’s never a dull moment on a farm —especially one with eighty sheep, eight pigs, forty chickens, two draft horses, acres of you-pick berries, a growing orchard, a booming children’s garden and about ten acres of hayfield prime for second cut. Throw in two tractors, one zero turn mower, one bulldozer, two RTVs, one pickup, one dump truck, one horse trailer, two horse drawn wagons, three horse drawn implements, and about a dozen machine implements. And don’t forget miles of fencing and irrigation, one antique double English barn, two equipment sheds, one small animal barn, one fuel shed, and one hay bale insulated garage and office. Whew… keeping everything healthy, happy, and in working order is, understandably, a job that we all share. Our apprentices lead morning and evening chores, all staff members spend two hours per week weeding, throwing hay bales, harvesting, etc. and groups of volunteers from our fantastic regional partners help out with projects (big thanks to our friends from Habitat for Humanity in Bennington County who recently came out and gave the Harwood Barn some much appreciated love). Stewarding the farm in a sustainable way, while ensuring it is open and safe as possible for visitors 365 days a year, takes a lot of energy and enthusiasm. For the last month, as we’ve been searching for just the right farm manager to lead this work, our apprentices, Heather, Karl and Kat, have taken the reins and ensured the health and well-being of our animals, kept all of our buildings, machinery, and equipment in working order, and led a variety of programs for would be farmers of all ages. They accomplished this Herculean task with grace, and we will be forever grateful for their incredibly hard work. After 57 days at the helm, it’s safe to say, that they’ve earned a break. With the arrival of our new Farm Manager, Dylan Durkee, they just might get one (a little one at least). Raised in Hartford N.Y., Dylan grew up on his family’s dairy farm, Durkacres, where he learned all aspects of farm management, animal husbandry and crop care from the generations that came before him. Dylan has helped Durkacres sustainably expand by using the farm’s resources to supply the needs of the growing herd, building new calf and heifer facilities as well as a new maintenance barn. By operating his own saw mill and kiln Dylan has been able to use timber from the land to help expand the farm’s facilities. These projects have ignited his interest in wood working, and deepened his perspective on how to take a full property perspective on sustainability. Dylan is looking forward to bringing his land management skills to the fields and mountains of Merck Forest and Farmland Center. He is passionate about supporting MFFC’s long standing tradition of sustainability by stewarding the land and raising healthy herds. He is also excited to share his skills and passion with his coworkers, MFFC’s apprentices and the community as he continues his journey of lifelong learning.



On Lignified Carbon by Karl Uy Listen, look at that maul. The one that has it all. Sharp blade, tough axe. Enough to make me ask, For a wood chunk to split, a stump on which to sit, and some kindling to get lit, Ah, wood. You beauty. Maple, pine, birch, lacking only mahogany. You stand tall in our memory, much credit to old Henry. He went into the woods, pond-smitten And then out with a book he got written, On those sheets, in that cabin, Made by that gift from God: lignin. It’s only through that I can live in, Oaktown and, Maple-city and, Beech-world and, Listen sweetcakes, it’s Sugarland up here!

So, chuck me that timber. Let’s make some tinder. Five months ‘til a long cold winter. Let this forest keep me warmer, When I hunger for warm butter, When I try to get some slumber, While the Earth is frozen, three feet under, Snow enough to stave off the hunter, But apparently and clearly not enough to keep out those sneaky porcupines! Nevertheless, Merck Forest you’re mine Leave me alone this winter and I’m cryin’, Give me carpentry and a green canopy for all time and I’m fine, In this great house of trees, Amidst the birds and the bees. A small place to be free, And that’s enough for me.

A View From My Window The woods are now dark, with dapples of sunlight. The bright sunlight on the ground, which enabled the early spring ephemerals to emerge, is now gone, as the maple and oak leaves have unfurled to act as solar panels, soaking up the sun’s light energy and converting that energy into sugars through the process of photosynthesis. When I last wrote about my view, an Eastern Phoebe was busy building a nest on the trim above my window. In mid July, she was flitting back and forth amongst the branches, and a ruckus could be heard, even with my window closed. Heading outside and standing on the bank above the gash, four hungry mouths could be seen demanding food from their obliging mother. The nest was filled to overflowing with chicks close to being ready for their fledgling flight. Now that nest sits empty. But because Eastern Phoebes often reuse nests from previous seasons, I’ll leave it where it is and hope she’ll be back next year to hatch another brood. Not everything outside of my window happens at the speed of flight. The ground at my eye-level is covered in leaf litter, providing decomposers and detritivores with nutrients that they, in turn, work to return back to the soil. On close inspection, several small orange mushrooms can be observed growing in the duff. These mushrooms are the fruiting evidence of the fungi flourishing in the woods. The fungi work to break down dead wood, and the effects can often be seen as downed tree trunks breaking down into dry, brown cube-shaped pieces or breaking down into wet, spongy, stringy white or yellowish wood fibers. Although the woods appear to be dark and quiet, natural forces are busy creating energy and converting matter, all outside my window. Whether you are sitting looking out at a rural or urban landscape, nature is at work. What can you find out there, beyond your window? —Chris Hubbard


A Brief Conversation on Leave No Trace Leave No Trace emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s as the introduction of the Wilderness Act led to a cultural shift in how Americans interacted with unpopulated wild spaces. Today, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics promotes seven key principles that extol a low impact way to interact with the environment while in the backcountry. These principles show how deliberate action while in the backcountry can help protect both visitor experience as well as ecology. The seven principles are: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Planning ahead and being prepared. Traveling and camping on durable surfaces Disposing of waste properly. Leaving what you find. Minimizing campfire impacts. Respecting wildlife. Being considerate of other visitors.

Long before these seven principles were drafted, Americans were active in the outdoors. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century people (mainly men) went to the wilderness, sometimes with no more than a hatchet, matches, the clothes on their backs, and a reliance on what nature provided for shelter and sustenance. Shelters were made from saplings, bedding from pine boughs or leaves. Food came from hunting, fishing, and foraging, and was cooked over a campfire. Knowledge of woodcraft and of the natural world was essential for this type of experience. As culture shifted in the mid-20th century fewer people went into the wilderness to rely only on the resources provided by the natural environment. Instead, the modern backpacker began to emerge as hikers and campers began to pack in and pack out everything they needed to temporarily live in the mountains and forests. With this transition, a new ethos emerged—one that focused less on self-reliance and more on reduction of human impact on the land, setting the stage for Leave No Trace (LNT). The LNT principles have tremendous value, as they push people to consider how they impact the environment they love. With 7.5 billion people on the planet, it’s easy to see that reducing our ecological footprint is important work. However, as I’ve read and thought a little more about LNT, there are a couple of things that I find a little troublesome. I find myself wondering about all the gear we bring to the back country and wilderness we wish to experience. In earlier times, a shelter was made of wood, which would decompose and return nutrients to the soils. Today, our tents are made of polyester and nylon, with aluminum poles to give them form. Where a campfire made of downed wood was used to cooked our food, we now carry in factory produced metal stoves that run on butane, propane, etc.. As one of the lessons we often teach students reveals, all of our “stuff ” ultimately comes from either farms or the natural world, and that includes the gear and gadgets we bring to the wilderness to help us meet those LNT principles. That tent we use may have been manufactured and shipped from overseas and made from petro5

leum-based fabrics. The tent poles and stove are made from metals that need to be mined. Our food is brought with us, neatly packaged in vacuum-sealed plastic bags, and our body waste can be carried out in EPA approved mylar bags filled with polymer/enzyme blends that can be sent to a landfill. While we work at protecting the backcountry, we are still using resources extracted from natural areas and transferring our waste to other locations… both of which, at one time, were wilderness. Let’s give some thought to just what our impact is when we venture into the backcountry or wilderness. Please don’t take this as a suggestion that we stop leaving behind what we find, travelling on durable surface, etc. However, I would encourage you to ask yourself whether we are we truly protecting the natural world, or just transferring our impact to another part of the environment, to a place that is out of sight and out of mind? To read more about LNT and the cultural shift in experiencing the backcountry and wilderness, I suggest the following resources: Leave No Trace website: www.lnt.org Leave No Trace – Wikipedia “From Woodcraft to ‘Leave No Trace’”, by James Morton Turner http://faculty.washington.edu/timbillo/Readings%20and%20 documents/Wilderness/Turner%20%20Woodcraft%20to%20LNT.pdf “Sustainability in Outdoor Education: Rethinking Root Metaphors”, by Cahelin, Rose, Dustin, and Shooter, Journal of Sustainability Education, March 2011 —Chris Hubbard

Vicki McInerney Memorial Garden The wait is over and the planting of the Vicki McInerney Memorial Garden has begun in the sun-baked tree island above the parking lot. John McInerney and friends of Vicki have generously donated pollinator-attracting perennials, which we have supplemented with some purchased shrubs and perennials as well as material transplanted from the Visitor Center gardens. The plant species were selected not only for their attractiveness to pollinators but also for their rugged durability: the site is dry, sunny and west-facing; the soil “bony”: rocky, sandy and low in organic matter. We’ve planted ninebark, beach rose, cinquefoil, spirea, bee balm, globe thistle, balloon flower, gooseneck loosestrife, several varieties of phlox and coneflower, lupines, swaths of bearded iris, evening primrose, veronica, and stonecrop – all these should handle the challenging conditions that this site presents.


As is true in most gardens, the development of the Memorial Garden will be an ongoing process, as we learn which plants acclimate to the site and which plants the pollinators favor.

to forest floor below a canopy of oaks and beeches.

—Marybeth Leu Communications Coordinator

Saplings were thinned rigorously. Now light f

a l l s

Boulders harvested from locations around the property gather in small groups, awaiting final placement. Mounds of beautiful compost (yes, I think so, truly: beautiful) swaddled perennial roots against Vermont winter cold, while tiny guests rested, waiting, transforming themselves. They grace us now with aerobatics as they nectar. Who knows how they found their way here?


Our Suffolk Punch draft horses,

Fern and Arch,

have moved into the small animal barn and adjoining pasture for the winter. Come say ‘hi’ and (carefully) feed them a handful of hay. They would love the company! 7


Deepening Involvement: The Hemlock Forest Let’s head off the beaten path and into some of Merck’s deeper, darker forest communities. At Merck, Hemlock Forests can be found southeast of Marquand Road, and between Old Town Road and East Hollow Road. Although (not surprisingly) dominated by Hemlock, these forests do contain some beech as well as black, yellow, and white birch trees. Hemlock trees are shade tolerant- meaning they can survive in the shade of other trees. This helps them reach exceptionally old ages, as trees can spend many years growing in the shelter of other trees. Estimates based on tree coring of Merck’s hemlocks have dated them as early established second growth. Tree cores of large hemlocks throughout their range have found the oldest to be 300-600 years old with some thought to be even older! Hemlocks are often found in soils with shallow rooting depths often resulting from a high water table or bedrock.

Many of Merck’s Hemlocks are growing on steep rock ledges. It is common to find a sparse herbaceous layer in these Hemlock Forests, as little light reaches the forest floor. In fact, shining clubmoss was all I found on a recent walk. Our Hemlock Forests are of great value to wildlife. It is common for whitetail deer to use them as wintering yards. Mature hemlocks intercept snow and reduce snow depth on the forest floor. This allows deer to move about more easily. On my walk, I readily found many deer trails, deer scat, and a turkey feather. I also noticed several large snags (standing dead trees). Eighty five species of birds in North America use snags for cover and feeding- making them an important part of the ecosystem. At Merck, our Hemlock Forests are in a Light Touch Ecological Protection Zone. If management occurs in these forests, it

must be informed by best ecological understanding and mimic natural disturbance. The greatest threat to these forests is the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA), a non-native insect from Asia. The Adelgid feeds on the Hemlock’s stored starches, seriously affecting tree growth and survival. Infestations have resulted in both Hemlock decline and mortality. HWA have been detected in Bennington and Windham counties in southern Vermont. Their movement is generally caused by humans, birds, and animals. Visit: http://fpr.vermont.gov/sites/fpr/ files/Forest_and_Forestry/Forest_Health/ Library/VTFPR_HWAinVT_RecommendationsforLandownerResponse.pdf to learn more about what you can do to help keep our Hemlock Forests, whether in your back yard or deep in the forest, healthy for centuries to come. —Ethan Crumley

Works Referenced: Bennett, Karen P. Good Forestry in the Granite State: Recommended Voluntary Forest Management Practices for New Hampshire. New Hampshire Dept. of Resources and Economic Development, Division of Forests and Lands, 2010. Cogbill, Charlie. “Hemlock Age.” Native Tree Society, 5 May 2001. Deely, Kat. “An Ecological Assessment of Merck Forest and Farmland Center Rupert, Vermont” 2014 Hemlock Wooly Adelgid in Vermont: Recommendations for Landowner Response, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, August 2012. Snags and Cavity Trees, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Thompson, E. and Sorenson, “Wetland, Woodland, Wildland: A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont,” Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Nature Conservancy, 2000. USDA Forest Service. 2005. Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (Pest Alert). NA-PR-09-05. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry. 8

Striving for Stewardship: Understanding and Reducing ‘Ort’ Living in Merck’s forested landscape, surrounded by nature, we have been inspired to think carefully about how our actions impact the environment. We think about the waste we produce and where that waste goes. We have carefully monitored our landfill and recycling waste and now we have turned to the food waste that we produce. Currently, we give our food scraps to our pigs who gobble down the food that goes moldy at the back of the fridge and the bits of dinner that we are too full to finish. Though we are lucky to have our pigs to take care of this waste, what if we used a little awareness, mindfulness and intention to reduce the amount of healthy and good food that ends up in their trough at the end of the week?


Recently, we learned about ‘ort’. Ort is different than compost, (the inedible byproducts of cooking that we cannot eat: egg shells, banana peels, etc.), ort is comprised of edible food scraps that are not consumed because of our own choices and circumstances (e.g. buying more perishables than we need, taking too big of a helping, etc.). Food waste comprises the biggest portion of the waste that our household produces and this is a common trend. According to an article published in the Guardian last summer, 50% of produce grown in the US is thrown away, that amounts to about 60 million tons annually. Reducing food waste is a clear opportunity for growth. As we strive to be good stewards of the earth, it is our ambition to waste less--to buy,

cook, and eat more intentionally and thus to leave a smaller footprint. And now for a challenge! We will be weighing our ort every week to keep us aware of the waste that we are generating and we encourage you to try it too. Follow us on instagram (@merckforestfarmlandcenter) where we will be posting our results weekly and challenging ourselves to waste less. Post your own results and tag us so we can support each other. We challenge you to try to eat that last crust of sandwich, reuse those leftovers in a creative way and to use thought and intention from farm to kitchen to empty plate! —Heather and Kat

Autumn Workshops and Events at Merck Forest & Farmland Center

Fairy House & Gnome Home Workshop: November 18th, 1– 4 pm, $25/home

There’s a lot going on at the hillside farm at Merck Forest: upcoming workshops and events include:

Tracking Workshop: January 27 10 am–noon, $5/person

The forest is a magical place. Stories of fairies, nymphs, sprites, gnomes, and a host of forest dwellers have been with us as long as the trees. Using birch rounds and natural material gathered from the forest floor such as pine cones, acorns, leaves and bark, participants will build marvelous dwellings for the mythical woodland creature of their choice. In addition, each architect will receive two peg people to decorate.

Wreath Workshops: Dec 2nd 10 am–noon & 12–3 pm, $25/wreath Nothing says ‘holiday cheer’ like a fresh, natural green wreath hanging on the door wafting balsam. We’d love to have you come on up and make yours with us. We’ll provide the boughs, wire, ribbons, wreath press, and some basic decorations (participants are encouraged to bring special decorations if they’d like). The snow will tell us a tale; we may follow the path taken by a fox as she cruised through the forest using every available sense to find her prey in the subnivean zone. If lucky, we’ll find the wing prints left by an owl on the hunt. You never know, we may even find definitive proof of the elusive catamount. Whatever we find, we will enjoy several hours in the woods learning how to locate and identify the tracks common to our region.

Owl Walk: February 24th 4–6 pm, $5/person Join us for an evening combining some learning time in our nature lab followed by a walk in the woods to find out Whoooos hanging out in the trees (sorry, couldn’t help it). We’ll spend time exploring owl habitat, learning about the habits of owls that inhabit our region, and hopefully listening to a chorus of the night. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and website for pop up programs including a Woodcraft Workshop, Campfire Evenings, and a Winter Tree Identification Hike with VT Woodlands.


Remembering Margaret It is with great sadness that we share news of the passing of Margaret Mertz, after a brief illness. As volunteer, employee, advisor and advocate, Margaret served Merck Forest & Farmland Center in every conceivable role over the last thirty years: she held positions variously as office assistant, office manager, interim Farm Manager, interim Director, Advisory Council member and Trustee. Margaret was particularly focused on the fulfillment of George Merck’s vision for the property, especially the farm. Living on the hill has it challenges, particularly in winter. Margaret knew this, and was always quick to welcome interns and apprentices into her home for a warm meal in front of a roaring woodstove. Her affection for generations of interns and apprentices made their training experiences richer, and she maintained many of those friendships for years. Members of the staff wish to express their heartfelt gratitude for her many contributions, and their condolences to her family. Her warmth and generosity of spirit will be deeply missed. A celebration of life at Merck is planned for the spring; an announcement will be made when details are finalized.



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2017 Autumn Ridgeline  

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