What's the first thing someone does when they want to start building a creamery? Why, gather supplies, of course! Most people would just go down to the building supply store or hire someone to do all the construction, but not East Hill. We have our very own forest that we are using wood from to build our creamery. Gary has always enjoyed the time he spent on horseback in the woods as a child, and the 600 acres of forest belonging to East Hill Farms (some of which once was pasture and crop land) is very special to him. He really enjoys walking around the woods and just being around nature, and forestry has become a hobby and passion of his. We are excited to tell you about our forest today, and how we are using it in a sustainable way to build our creamery.
So, let's go back in time a bit. A lot of the forest land here was pasture at one time. 85% of New York was cleared in the 1860's for pasture and farmland, and now about 60% remains cleared. Wheat farming started in the Eastern United States and went to the West, and by the 1870's the land was depleted because the nutrients were taken out from poor farming methods. Then, dairy came in the 1870's when a new wave of European immigrants arrived who came from dairy backgrounds and whose culture included eating dairy products. The dairy industry really took off. People began milking cows and making cheese from the milk because there was no refrigeration, no steady supply of milk and they wanted to enjoy dairy products all year long.
Fast forward to today - about 60% of New York is now cleared, so the forest has made a comeback. But what you may not know is that forest quality is very important as well, and this is where the Burleys come in. Most forests end up having all the good trees taken out, and the not-so-good trees left. So, after time, your forest can become "junk". The Burleys have taken advantage of a program that New York State has called 480-A, where one has to have a forester do a plan for your forest to encourage forest land improvement. The forester that the Burleys use is really passionate about education, so he and Gary spend a lot of time just walking through their forest and finding ways they can utilize it and improve it at the same time. Gary also spends a lot of time in the summer doing TSI (Timber Stand Improvement), where he cuts down the trees that won't make good timber or are too small in diameter to do anything with and encourages the more useful trees to grow. The larger undesirable trees become firewood or are used for farm construction. Managing a forest is a long term planning process and the effects of what we do today will not be seen for another 60-80 years - truly a sustainable project.
The Burleys are trying to reverse the high grade of the past. What does this mean?? Well, they go through and take out the "unmarketable" trees that are dominant and over abundant. This is a benefit to the forest and to the Burleys, because they can use those trees to make shelves to age their cheese on. The particular trees that the Burleys are using for their shelves are basswood trees. Basswood has been used for years in the kitchen because the wood doesn't leave an aftertaste. It is easy to carve, light, bends without breaking, and doesn't have much grain to it. The Indians used to take the bark and make rope out of it. As plastics and things came into the market, there really wasn't a market for the basswood anymore. All wood has a rating, and this particular kind does not make the grade for construction. Therefore, there is not a good commercial outlet for it.
East Hill Creamery is about as local as you can get - even using our very own wood to age our cheese on! We want you to be involved in the whole process as we build our creamery, and something that most people probably don't think of is the resources used before the cheese is even made. We are very proud of our efforts to protect and improve our forest, and we hope that you have enjoyed this part of our story. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any more questions or want to learn more.