Page 1

ridge line

a publication of the Merck Forest and Farmland Center

Spring 2017

Photo, R. Malley

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

2 From the Executive Director By Tom Ward

I have had the honor of being the Executive Director of Merck Forest & Farmland Center for the last six years and have enjoyed almost every day of it! It is now time for another to take over the reins. As Jean and I head south to begin a new adventure, it may be worth articulating what the journey has been like.

Photo, DJB

A strong hand at the helm ....

Conservation of the bulk of Merck’s property through easements granted to the Vermont Land Trust should make it quite likely that a quiet hike through the high country of the Taconics will remain unchanged in perpetuity. If that proves true, my time here was well worth the effort. If the cries of ravens soaring overhead dominate the airwaves atop The Gallop; if the solitude on Mount Antone feels like an embrace; and patterns gnawed by porcupines on beech stems give you pause in the coming years, I like to think George Merck would be pleased.

I have been influenced by any number of authors, but I recommend David Budbill’s poems, Berndt Heinrich’s essays and books, and Tom Wessel’s writings on reading natural landscapes to you and yours. If I can convey a sense of wonder at the awesome beauty of nature to one young person, I consider it a major accomplishment. A friend told me his six-year old daughter inquired of him on a hike: “Can we find a sit spot?” At his questioning, she explained that is a place where you stop and quietly observe all nature has to offer. In the construction of our natural science curricula, this is the essence of the research our young students become immersed in. Observing and recording what you experience are keys to learning about science.

Day over. Wind gone. No sound but an owl far away. Let my care-worn heart take refuge in the heart of evening. David Bulbill

There are many, many people to thank, and most will have to go without mention here. The trustees, staff, and supporters of all matters Merck have made my time here, joyous. There are several, however, without whose help, the amount of work accomplished would have been dramatically reduced and I feel obligated to mention them. Gerrit Kouwenhoven and Austin Chinn each chaired the board for three years during my tenure, and made the leading easier. They listened, supported, and encouraged in equal measure, thereby affording me the opportunity to follow a course set out by the trustees. The generosity of our donors is most humbling. I met Kathryn Lawrence when I became the Executive Director, and could not have asked for a better colleague, aide de camp, and confidante. Her fierce support and encouragement made it possible for me to think outside the box without going off the rails. My dear friend Betsy Sherman told me I was supposed to be the Executive Director of Merck long before I was able to see it for myself. Last, but never least, the support and encouragement I receive from the love of my life, Jean, has made me a better person, and, hopefully, a better leader. For those who struggled with my style or choices, I commend you to the future, which looks very promising to me, and I hope to you. It has been said a time of change is a time of hope … this is a time to hope. Peace.

* Sawyer * * Carpenter * * Owl Whisperer * * Parking Lot Attendant * * Mailman * * Master of Ceremonies * * Farm Hand * * Cheerleader * * Keeper of the Hanger Queen * * “Leisures” Server * * Christmas Float Chauffeur * Was this in the marriage vows??

‘Zat saw big enough for this job, Tom?

A Note to Tom


by Austin Chinn, President of the Board of Trustees

yo u r yo u rs e lf in g in s r e m w ish yo u s af te r im f, t h o ugh I p ing c lo t h e f o ip r lf d e s t, r e u w o r gy u r e ne ru ng u p yo u y a b o u t yo u a re dr y in a o s y I w n o a N c Yo u h ave h . t s a r n o w lye a rs . Wh k il ls a n d k la s t s ix ye a s ix l e s h ia r t c e e r h p o t s f o r b n jo f or a nme n t a l te d jo b, yo u ge b ac k in t h e e n v iro mu lt i-f ac e , in lt s r u wo u ld p lu n c e fi h t if o d h on t k ing t h is ne c t ing w it e s t, t h e c u r re n t Ve r m n o c d n g y in at t ac a on t t u r re ach ing o ne r o f Ve r m H a r v a rd Fo io e s h is t m e k m li o , C e dge , yo u r a lf nt on o ur be h d t h e p re s e c ommu n it y o f Fish & Wild li f e , a n ne r io n? C omm is s io hem n d Re c re at a s k r a P ch o ne o f t a s, e , ls a u Fo re s t id iv erb t af f o f in d r me d a s u p s o f y r r e la h p t e m g e n ex y h ave t o a n d g u ide d s s e m ble d a d t r u ly t h e ic a l p o in t, n it a r , c e Yo u h ave a u a r t t a e m w h ich e lm good to b h a r b o r f ro to ok t he h e u f o a s Y . a n a lmo s t t o o o io t t , c e e s of a r yo u r dire smo o t h r id h e ch a lle ng t a t t e o e n m s a o t te am u n de w es dire c t io n it s ome t im s in a ne w p a h us, t h o ugh r e p , in ag e ag a we w il l v o y ld . me b e t te r a ng ing wo r e e s to be co t s u r t r ne w a n d ch e h t fin d a e and t he o lp ing us t o m e h d e in lp s e s h le u e o o us in t h e jo b y a n d yo u h ave b e e n t ir x t rao rdin a r il y ge ne r w e r g u o y n e t, As embe r of a iv ing us a n e rc k Fo re s m g , M g u f o in o y t s r e d a c r p a la e s te w o r t o re p ing f o r a d t ive dire c t h e us u a l t h t t o n t, r ne w e xe c u o ff t ime a n d e amo u n t o f fille d Possessing an elfin charm . t o do t ing s we re n e e io t m a f f iz a n t a s o rg ll ge ne rns whe n a ll o c c a s io me e t ing s, a c d e r r a I o ! b n u h f it ach uyo u m ade it h te r, a n d t h e s ame w c o rd , M a s s n o C o t r e g h Be s t o f a ll , lau ugh te r. ade t o ge t h umo r a n d ro ll ic k ing la t r ip s we m f l o a r s w it h g o o d r e u v o e s h e t . An d t h mo r y b u g in m y me ate d by yo u in h t o n e r e hw s e t t s w h ic

De a r Tom ,

H a s t a la v is

Pointing the way forward

t a, Ba by !

Who you calling Baby?!

Always working to improve the Visitor Experience

4 From the Farm by Jonathan Kilpatrick, Farm Manager

For most sheep farmers, dealing with internal parasites is a pesky -- but critical -- part of the job. Internal parasites (microorganisms that live inside a sheep) rob an animal of essential nutrients needed for good health, with the most severe infestations leading to sickness or death. But conventional ways of addressing parasitic infestations in flocks can have serious consequences beyond the health of the animals, with the potential of doing harm to the sheep, the farmer, and the environment. Current treatment practices involve drenching, injecting, dipping, or jetting sheep with pesticidal chemicals, and the routine is as normal as swatting a fly. But as successive generations of parasites develop resistance to existing formulas, ever more-potent drugs must be developed to fight them. More chemicals -- stronger chemicals -- constantly applied -- result in more chemicals passing through animal waste onto fields, and subsequently into the water table or waterways. What is an environmentally conscious, sustainably-minded, farmer to do? What if we don’t want to leach all those chemicals into our water? What if we value the good microorganisms that these chemicals can kill, because we rely on them to build soil on our farm? There are the three strategies that we use at Merck Forest to effectively manage parasitic infestations: grazing management, diet management, and herd management. The first strategy is to cycle grazing in such a way that each meadow rests between grazing periods: we plan it so that the sheep don’t re-graze any particular area more frequently than once in 55-60 days. This interrupts the life cycle of the parasite: if the host (flock) is not present for a sufficiently long period of time, the parasite cannot survive. We plan our haying to help in this regard as well: when we cut a field for hay, we remove many parasites (in different life stages) and also allow the sun to kill any that are remaining.

POSITION AVAILABLE: ASSISTANT FARM MANAGER The assistant farm manager (AFM) is involved in virtually all aspects of farm operations at Merck Forest and Farmland Center (MFFC): helping manage livestock, equipment, buildings, farm staff & apprentices, landscape & grounds, marketing, and farm events. The AFM participates in educating apprentices and visitors. This position could be viewed as an advanced learning opportunity or advanced apprenticeship for a developing farmer. Contact Jonathan Kilpatrick with inquiries at 802-394-7836 or jonathan@ merckforest.org

The second strategy is to insure that our animals’ mineral diet is balanced: when an animal is eating grass grown on soils that are correctly balanced and mineralized, parasites can’t thrive. Copper, zinc, and sulfur are particularly important trace elements. Hay with a high brix (sugar) content also helps in warding off pests. The third strategy is to manage the herd for optimal health. Twenty percent of the flock will carry eighty percent of the parasite burden. It is necessary to cull these more-susceptible animals to reduce the overall pressure on the entire flock, bringing the levels down significantly. In addition, some animals are genetically pre-disposed to be more resistant to parasites, and we can use those animals to breed immunity back into the flock. So there you have it, a brief summary of how we sustainably manage for what can be a sheep’s most deadly enemy. By looking at the big picture, we can turn a dreaded task into a fun dance with nature.

The View from my Window My desk is placed facing out a window. Many of us arrange our workspaces in such a way, allowing us to gaze at the sky, the trees, or people walking by as we sit and toil away at our computers. But my view is less than spectacular. In contrast to the beautiful landscape and vistas at Merck Forest, my view is a cut in the ground, resulting from the construction of the Visitor Center back in 1992. My view is of dirt and rocks, with the forest floor at my eye level. Roots weave their way through the bony soil, and a patchy cover of snow conceals some of the browns and grays. But this gash in the ground has a story to tell, of events going back hundreds of millions of years. Sediments were laid down in the ancient Iapetus Sea, the mud now showing itself as the shale outcropping in my view. The angle of the exposed rock tells of the collision of continents, as the great tectonic plates converged into each other, with the resulting up-thrust creating the Taconic range that Merck sits upon. And the soil tells the story of the grinding of rock as glaciers from the last ice age retreated. So much for a “less than spectacular” view: my view tells an ancient story in the rocks, with more stories to tell with the plants, trees, and sky that I can see. I’ll be exploring those stories in future issues of the Ridgeline, as the view from my window changes through the seasons.

5 by Christine Hubbard, Education Director

The View from my Window

Rock Stratum Exposed During the Construction of the Visitor Center

Upcoming Events at Merck Here is the lineup of workshops and events in the works. Please call the Visitor Center at 802-394-7836 or check the website at merckforest.org to confirm dates/times/fees and other details about the activities which interest you. Pre-registration is necessary for the workshops, as most have limited enrollment. Apple & Blueberry Pruning Workshop Sheep Shearing School* (April 8, 8:30a-3pm) (March 4, 10a-3pm, $20 pp) $ 50 Audit (no hands-on), $150 Hands-on Single Day Session Pancake Breakfast $275 Hands-on Two Day Session* *Second Day Session on April 9 at Shelburne Farms, March 25-26, 9a-2pm Shelburne, VT $10/Adults, $5/4-12 year-olds, Free/children under 3 Meet the Lambs (May 20, 9a-3pm)


Maple Celebration: Meet the SugarMaker

by Ethan Crumley

Sugaring at Merck Forest

is not for the faint of heart. The sugarbush rises up to a lofty 2400 feet on the northern flank of Gallop Peak, and contains slopes well over thirty percent. Some years, sugarmakers battle deep snows in pursuit of their crop: evaluating the health of the trees, clearing & repairing saplines, and installing taps. Working in and around the sugarhouse has its challenges too, with strong winds, unreliable water & electricity sources, and the unrelenting need to keep the boiling fires burning as the sap runs. Sugaring is not merely about diligence, endurance and constant physical labor, however: it is also about being attuned to the weather and climate, and knowledgeable of the unique natural processes by which maple trees produce their special product. When Executive Director Tom Ward began looking for a sugarmaker for the 2013 season, he knew he had big shoes to fill. Tom called Chad Virkler, who accepted the challenge and has led our sugaring operations ever since. Chad has introduced significant innovations to our sugarmaking operations in order to increase efficiency and reduce maintenance. It was Chad who designed and installed a system to elevate the main sap lines above ground/traffic level, so that they can remain in place year-round. He also rigged a pulley system to raise and lower the evaporator hood, providing easy access to the deeper recesses of the machinery for maintenance. Sugarmakers work many late nights over the course of the season, and it is a pleasure to have a friend to talk to over boiling sap -- in fact, some of my favorite memories of sugaring are of my late night conversations with Chad.

Maple Celebration (cont'd.) Images of Construction of the Frank Hatch Saphouse in 2002

Virkler Family Members at Merck Forest

Photo by A. Kilpatrick

Of Chad’s time here at Merck Tom writes, “He has presided over a substantial improvement across the board in the sugaring arena and his family has been a major source of volunteer labor at Merck. His calm demeanor and positive attitude have benefitted all who have had the pleasure of working with him.” I have had the privilege of working with Chad for a season and a half and echo Tom’s sentiment. I have learned a great deal from Chad, and I always greatly enjoy working with him and his children. I think if more families had a similar work ethic, sense of place, concern for the environment, and curiosity for the world around them, our world would be a better place. On behalf of all of us here at Merck Forest, I would like to extend a huge “thank you” to the Virkler Family. We look forward to working with them again this season! For an excellent & comprehensive description of the sugaring process, see “How Maple Syrup is Made” at massmaple.org .


8 Pancake Breakfast

Sweet! The Annual Maple Celebration and Pancake Breakfast will take place Saturday - Sunday, March 25-26, from 9am to 2pm.

Photo, D. Malley

Come join the fun! Ride in a horse-drawn wagon up to the Sap House for a breakfast of sausages from MFFCraised pork, locally-produced eggs, pancakes drizzled with Merck’s Vermont-certified organic syrup, Tall-Cat Coffee, Battenkill Valley Creamery products, and juice. After breakfast, enjoy the family-oriented activities around the farm: check out the maple-tap demonstrations, explore the property on the self-guided scavenger hunt, and of course, visit the new babies in the Small Animal Barn.

Photo, D. Malley

Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center for some of our delicious certified-organic maple syrup, lamb & pork, wool blankets, sheepskins, natural yarn, pottery & books.

Photo, D. Malley

What's Happening at Merck?


Here a Chick, There a Chick ....

by Alessia McCobb

As spring approaches, the farm is preparing for a new batch of chicks to become our future laying flock. If all goes as planned, fifty chicks -- 20 Delaware, 20 Dominique, and 10 Ameraucana -- will be arriving the week before Pancake Breakfast.


—an old For the chicks’ arrival, we have been working on a veritable chick storage container painted and repurposed as a cozy brooder. A brooder is important to keep chicks warm enough when they are young and growing their feathers. While most brooders use an infrared heat lamp or incandescent bulb, we will be purchasing a heating plate for our brooder. This plate, shaped like a very squat table, provides radiant heat to the chicks as they huddle beneath it, more closely mimicking the way a chick would be kept warm by a hen. This style of heat source also greatly reduces energy use and the risk of overheating the chicks. We can’t wait for our chicks to arrive and for you to come meet them in the Small Animal Barn at the end of March! About the Breeds: Ameraucana- this breed was developed in the 1970s from a Chilean breed called the Araucana. These birds vary in color and lay eggs that are blue-green, adding a nice touch to our cartons! Delaware- a primarily white bird with some black barring and a black tail, this breed was developed in 1940 and is an excellent dual-purpose breed that produces large brown eggs. Dominique- this breed is considered America’s first chicken breed. We chose to add Dominiques to our flock because the farms originally located on what is now Merck farmland are likely to have had these black-and-white barred chickens.

The Thoreau Cabin Project

Impressive progress on the Thoreau Cabin, and the next few steps are also big ones: in

May, students will erect the frame on site at Rasey Pond, and then will clad the building with clapboards and roofing. The schedule of Thoreau Cabin Workshops is: Raising the Cabin Frame, May 6, $50pp Sheathing Roof & Walls, May 20, $50pp Roof Shingling, June 3, $50pp Cabin Dedication, July 12, Free Call 802-394-7836 to register for these workshops.

Students dry-fit the cabin framework. That’s some purty good carpentry, right theah!

Complex joinery, primitive tools, expert instruction Photos of the Cabin project are courtesy of Ron Pipe and Brian Taylor. Thank you gentlemen!

Bundled up, ready for shipment to Rasey Pond


Memories of A Year at Merck Forest

Memories of a Year at Merck Forest

by Michele & Phil Lapp

We became acquainted with Merck Forest and Farmland Center many years ago, when Michele loaded baby Kate into the backpack and went to Merck’s Fall Festival, discovering a lovely way to spend a beautiful autumn day in Vermont. Some years later, Michele had it in her mind that she wanted to experience winter camping, so Easter weekend of 2014 we camped with another family at Ned’s. There was a bit of snow left; we hiked and ate and slept and played games -- it was a blast. For our 25th wedding anniversary (December 2015), Michele gave the gift of backpacks. Two big, beautiful backpacks, the kind you’d hate to see languish in a closet. So the following February we hiked into Nenorod for our first real winter backpacking trip at Merck. It was fantastic. We enjoyed the brisk air and the challenges of finding water and keeping warm. We ate, played cards, and listened to music and to the gnawing of porcupines on the cabin at night. We realized that we loved being completely unplugged, off the clock, and best of all, being together. It was on this maiden voyage that Phil posed a question: what if we camped out monthly for a year through the seasons? A bit of thought and conversation, and it was decided: we would do it! In March we went to Ned’s with friends. We had a festive St. Paddy’s Day, complete with Guinness stew from the Inn at Long Trail. We hiked in during a thunderstorm with hail and lightning so close you could smell the ozone. It was terrifying but short-lived and when we arrived at the cabin, sun was shining through the windows; we awakened the next morning to a fresh blanket of snow. And so it went. We found a rhythm. Mostly it was just the two of us. Some months arranging the trip took some doing and we occasionally hiked in at night, after work, in the dark. One night this fall, we hiked in during a wind- and snow-storm that left people without power for days in Southern Vermont. Hiking near-blinded by the wind-driven snow, we had to check our bearings frequently. On one visit to Viewpoint, we had to wake up at five a.m. so that we could hike out, get home, get cleaned up and get to work. Over the course of our year we stayed in four different cabins and enjoyed each in its own way. The hiking and camping were fun and the opportunity to see and appreciate the beauty of this special place through four seasons was really wonderful. The biggest benefit of our year at Merck, however, was neither seen nor heard: it was felt. We came to really love and to long for this special time. To heal. To get grounded. To relax. To recharge and return to everyday life refreshed. As often happens, the universe provided just what we needed. 2016/2017 was a year of unexpected challenges for us. There was a serious diagnosis for one of us. A parent came to live with us. Our children needed support through the trials of college and young adult life. Some might wonder, how then did we find the time for our monthly camping trips to Merck? Turns out that it was those days and nights spent in the woods – together -- that sustained us and helped us through. We completed our year in January 2017 where we started -- at Nenorod. Even though we have finished our yearlong experiment, we have already booked trips for the next couple of months in 2017. Key to our plan for this year is flexibility: maybe we’ll make it to Merck each month, or maybe we won’t. One thing is for sure: the wild is calling.

About Us 11 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 your help.

STAFF NOTES: In late winter we welcome three new apprentices to Merck Forest & Farmland Center: A native Chicagoan, Kat Graden was introduced to a variety of outdoor experiences at a young age. She hiked, camped, caved, rock-climbed, shot white-water rapids and learned to care for farm animals, developing a love of the outdoors, a love for working with animals, and respect for the land. Working at a local health food store as a high school student, Kat was introduced to issues in farming and sustainable resource management, and subsequently sought out opportunities for farm/work/exchanges, environmental programs and outdoor exploration everywhere, travelling as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, and southern Italy. She completed her undergraduate degree in 2016. Kat enjoys kayaking, cooking, meeting new friends and sleeping out under the stars. She hopes someday to have a small family farm of her own and to educate people who wish to return to the land and to be self-sufficient. Heather Richardson was born and raised in Southern New Hampshire, an active, outdoorsy child. As a student at Syracuse University majoring in geography and food studies, Heather became interested in ecosystem restoration, sustainable agriculture, and in technologies designed to offset the effects of global warming. Her interests developed into passions during an internship on a polyculture farm in Panama: participating in projects ranging from building chicken tractors to propagating a food forest, Heather learned a lot and returned to the US with an ambition to apply those skills to farms here. In the summer and fall of 2016, Heather realized a lifelong dream, through-hiking the Appalachian Trail; upon completion of that project, she decided to pursue her passions through the Merck Forest and Farmland apprenticeship, where she will continue her involvement in the sustainable agriculture movement in preparation for a career as as educator, policy-maker and/or farmer. Since coming to the United States from the Philippines in 2005, Karl Uy has prepared himself for a life in music, writing and environmental sciences. He has had a deep love of nature since childhood and has dedicated himself to promoting ecological responsibility and opposing social and environmental injustice. A 2016 graduate of Colgate University (major: environmental biology), Karl has worked in research on forestry and climate change, and is eager to start a new chapter as a Merck apprentice. Among other things, he is a lover of dogs, mangoes, Game of Thrones, Broadway musicals, hiking, and the Icelandic post-rock band, Sigur Ros. Karl feels that he is incredibly blessed and excited to be living, working and learning at Merck, and to be a part of the community in this lovely corner of Vermont.

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, Visitor Center Assistant Manager Ethan Crumley, Forester Sarah Elliott, Customer Service Specialist Christine Ferris-Hubbard, Education Director Jonathan Kilpatrick, Farm Manager Kathryn Lawrence, Assistant Director Marybeth Leu, Communications Coordinator Alessia McCobb, Assistant Farm Manager Tom Ward, Executive Director

PO Box 86, 3270 VT-Route 315 Rupert, Vermont 05768 802-394-7836 www.merckforest.org

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

Joe Lovering Jon Mathewson Sarah McIlvennie Bruce Putnam Liz Putnam Sam Schneski Phil Warren Patty Winpenny

Printed on 100% recycled paper Read our


PO Box 86, 3270 VT-Route 315 Rupert, Vermont 05768 INSIDE: P2 - From the Executive Director P3 - A Note to Tom P4 - From the Farm P5 -The View from my Window P6 - Maple Celebration: Meet the Sugarmaker P7 - Maple Celebration (continued) P8 - Pancake Breakfast P9 - What’s Happening at Merck 10 - Memories of a Year at Merck

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 www.merckforest.org

Membership Information Name:


Address: Phone: E-mail: May we send you communications by email? Quarterly Newletter Ridgeline: Yes ___ No ___ Event Announcements: Yes___ No ___

Annual Membership Add’l Contribution Total Amount

Payment: Cash / Check / Visa / MC / AMEX / Discover Card #:

Exp Dt:


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

2017 spring ridgeline  

Quarterly Newsletter of Merck Forest & Farmland Center

2017 spring ridgeline  

Quarterly Newsletter of Merck Forest & Farmland Center


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