Vermont Family Forests – History

Before founding Vermont Family Forests in 1995, David Brynn had served for several years as Addison County Forester. In that role, he visited with hundreds of forest landowners in the 23 towns that comprise the county. He walked their lands, observed their forest management practices, heard their intentions for their forests, and saw the constraints that got in the way of those intentions. He saw that many forest landowners lacked information and support to engage in mutually beneficial relationship with the forest community. He saw competition and the bottom line driving forest management, yielding timber harvests that both diminished forest health and brought marginal financial return to landowners.

David created Vermont Family Forests to fill in those big gaps of information and support—an organization with an aim, first and foremost, to conserve forest health and then, if appropriate, to promote careful cultivation of those forests for community benefits, such as firewood, saw logs, and maple syrup. Drawing from Wendell Berry͛s assertion that the two great ruiners of private land are ignorance and economic constraint and Aldo Leopold͛’s notion that the absence of a land ethic perpetuates land abuse, David proposed that the three great conservers of family forests are informed landowners, sound economic returns for ecological forestry, and a community-shared land ethic.

In one of our early demonstration projects, VFF provided lumber from carefully tended family forests for an English Barn at the Shelburne Museum.

Ever since then, we’ve worked to encourage these three conserving forces. In 1996, VFF identified 32 forest landowners—with about 5,000 acres and an excellent history of stewardship—to form a pool of well-managed family-owned forests. VFF became certified through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1998.

In the years that followed, we undertook many projects with our pool of FSC-certified forests to test and apply the principles of maintaining and enhancing forest health while providing wood for local building projects that is grown and harvested in ways that are restorative, sustainable, efficient, local, and fair (R-SELF). In 2008, we moved away from third-party certification, focusing on our own, more stringent forest conservation standards in our work with area forestland owners.

VFF has hosted many workshops and courses over the years, including From Forest to Frame, a 16-hour introduction to timber framing–part of our Hogback Community College course offerings.

Over the years, we have supported individual family forest owners through workshops, publications, and forestry consulting. We have explored ways to cultivate collaborative, community-centered forestry practices through many projects, such as helping neighbors work together to harvest and sell firewood, facilitating collaborative ownership of a conserved piece of land through the Little Hogback Community Forest project, and exploring options for cooperative access to small-scale, light-on-the-land forestry equipment.

Celebrations are essential to vibrant relationship with the forest community, and for many years we have helped bring about such annual local community celebrations as Beltane (May Day), Winter Solstice, and Best Night (New Year͛s Eve).

Since its beginning, VFF has conducted and overseen research that furthers our mission to promote the ecological health of local family forests, including long-term ecological monitoring through the Colby Hill Ecological Project and many shorter-term studies, such as our report to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources on Flood Resiliency on Vermont State Lands.

In 2016, we expanded our mission to encompass our expanding vision of mutually beneficial relationship with forests, rooted in gratitude, ingenuity, prudence, compassion, and wholeness. As you explore the rest of our website, you͛ll see the ways we͛re putting our new mission into action through hands-on, hearts-on learning.