Before founding Vermont Family Forests in 1995, David Brynn served as Addison County Forester for many years. 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 Brynn with students on the Bristol Green
David Brynn
David aimed to address those big gaps of information and support by creating an organization committed, first and foremost, to conserving forest health and then, when appropriate, to promoting careful cultivation of those forests for community benefits, such as firewood, saw logs, and maple syrup. Drawing from Wendell Berry’s assertion that the two great ruiners of private land are ignorance and economic constraint and Aldo Leopold'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.

Ever since then, Vermont Family Forests has worked to encourage these three conserving forces. In 1996, VFF identified 32 forest landowners–who owned and cared for about 5,000 total acres–to form a pool of well-conserved family-owned forests. VFF incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1999 and became the first forestry group in the world to be independently certified as well-managed through the Forest Stewardship Council. One of VFF’s first major commercial projects was supplying local hardwood lumber for Middlebury College’s McCardell Bicentennial Hall in 2000.

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 improving 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 due to its high costs, and instead focused on our own, more stringent forest conservation standards in our work with area forestland owners.

Woman holding a clipboard taking notes.
man wearing orange helmet holds chainsaw and looks up the trunk of a standing tree.

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 and equitable 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 and Winter Solstice.

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 broadened 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, you'll see the ways we're putting our new mission into action through hands-on, hearts-on learning.

Spotted newt