We are thrilled to welcome Ralph Tursini to the Vermont Family Forests team. Ralph comes to us after 15 years with the University of Vermont (UVM), where he managed the school’s research forests, taught forestry and woodworking courses, and mentored students.
Ralph discovered forestry when he came to UVM as an undergraduate. Forestry courses tapped into what interested him most—namely, being outside and deeply connecting with the natural world. During those undergraduate years, he also took a woodworking class, where he used a wood-turning lathe for the first time. He apprenticed as a summer intern with Beeken-Parsons, furniture makers at Shelburne Farms Thus, the twin strands of his work life began.
After college, he was employed by Beeken Parsons and Upland Forestry. He developed the art and craft of woodturning while working at Woodbury’s, a bowl-making business in Burlington. He then started his own businesses, in forestry consulting and woodturning.
In 2005, VFF Executive Director David Brynn—who at that time also headed UVM’s Green Forestry Education Initiative at the Jericho Research Forest—contacted Ralph to explore the idea of offering a course that would help students integrate and apply an understanding of forest and community health to a real-life task. From those conversations, a one-credit course called “Woodturning and Forest Conservation,” better known as “Healthy Forests and Humble Bowls,” was born.
During the 16-hour course, students alternated between time in the forest with David and time in the bowl-turning studio with Ralph. They began in the forest, selecting and harvesting the tree that would provide wood for the bowls. They then worked through the bowl-turning process, from preparing the blank on the bandsaw to turning the green wood. Students finished the course with a beautiful bowl.
In just four class meetings, students learned about key elements of forest conservation, common tree and wood identification, the fundamentals of lathe operation and safety, tool control and sharpening, and cutting techniques for safe and efficient turning. They also learned how the structure and properties of the particular species they were turning affected their bowl’s design. David and Ralph offered eight sessions of the popular course each year for eight years.
Ralph later returned to Jericho Research Forest in the role of forest manager, in which he facilitated daily operations, supported faculty research and teaching, interfaced with the community, and helped coordinate student employees and interns. His most recent work was leading several teams of students in collecting data from more than 400 continuous forest inventory (CFI) plots across UVM’s four research forests.
In his new role as conservation forester for Vermont Family Forests, Ralph looks forward to working directly with landowners, getting to know their forests, and helping them engage with their land. He’s excited about the breadth of work underway at VFF, which dovetails well with his enjoyment of variety in his work day.
“David and I have talked about bringing wood turning into the mix,” Ralph said, “with some iteration of the classes we developed at UVM. I’m excited about that.”
So are we! Great to have you on board, Ralph. And for all of you who are eager to sign up for a bowl-turning course, stay tuned.