By Maura Adams

Riding my bike along exposed rock ledges just outside a bustling downtown that’s gained a national reputation as a mountain biking destination, I found myself wondering: can we make this happen in the Northern Forest? The answer, I believe, is yes – but it’ll take time, money, and sustained momentum by organizations committed to mountain biking and community development.

bella springs AR rideI was in Bentonville, Arkansas, last week for Trail Labs, a workshop held by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) intended to teach attendees “what it takes to create a model trail community and return home with the knowledge and guidance for how to make it happen.” Several other New Englanders, including two of our MTB Collaborative partners, attended as well.

Trail Labs affirmed what we already suspected about mountain biking: evidence from around the country shows that it helps attract and retain young people in communities, brings significant economic benefits, and gets local people outside and active. We’re on the right track!

Froling TruckFrom January 2012 through the end of June 2018, the Northern Forest Center had provided incentives or other assistance to 163 wood pellet boiler projects, and we estimate that they’ve contributed a total of $3.5 million to the regional economy. Together the boiler owners have spent approximately $1.7 million on locally-made wood pellets and have cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 4,000 tons.

We calculate the impact of our wood heat program so we can explain the need for supportive public policies, continued funding for conversions from oil to sustainable wood pellet heat, and more. But what’s behind the numbers? It’s time to dust off your algebra skills and find out!

Estimates are necessarily based on assumptions and choices, and we’ve put a lot of thought into deciding how best to calculate the benefits of switching to wood pellet heat. We use a combination of pellet consumption data, fuel prices and a conservative economic multiplier to account for the increased amount of money circulating in the local economy rather than being sent outside the region to pay for fuel from elsewhere. We balance precision with practicability and believe our methodology produces a well-reasoned estimate of the impact that switching to wood pellets for heat has on the region’s economy and environment.

nfc staff joe shortCenter Vice President Joe Short co-authored a blog with Clifford Deaton of the Aspen Institute to showcase the many ways the Farm Bill is crucial to supporting rural communities, families and entrepreneurship.

You might be surprised at the breadth of the programs in the Farm Bill, and worried about whether critical programs will be adequately funded when the US House and Senate reconcile their differing versions of the bill. Read what they have to say.

 

By Rob Riley

I grew up working on a farm and eating truly local food out of my grandmother’s sprawling garden. I love eating local food and knowing that when I do, I'm supporting a system – from my neighboring farmer to the town store. What I’m conflicted about—is it irritation or more envy? —is the "Eat More Kale" bumper sticker that seems to have convinced a huge number of people to eat more kale (or just put on a bumper sticker). But the sticker also implies that by eating more kale (and other local foods) we are keeping our regional economy going and maintaining traditional working lands. 

Farm and forest in Barnet, VT (Monkman photo)Yes, farming is an essential and iconic part of the working landscape in the Northern Forest region, but most of our land is in forests, not in farms. What are we doing to celebrate and keep the forested part of our working landscape forested and working? The general population embraces the idea that eating more kale sustains local farms, but it doesn’t seem to be as popular to use forest products to support our local forests.

Over the past 100 years, New England has swung from 80% cleared land for agricultural use back to roughly 80% forested. Yet the obsession with local food means we’re focusing considerable financial, political and social energy on less than 20% of the land. Farms are highly visible and give us great views of forests, mountains, towns and rivers; they’re important, but the reality is that farms and forests together comprise our fabled working landscape, and our regional agricultural and forest economies are interconnected. And for quality of life we need both forests and fields to provide habitat, open space, clean air and water, recreational space and more.

We’ve somehow arrived at a time when significant investments support agriculture and the increase in value-added agricultural production and farmland conservation, with less regard for forests and the value of the forest products economy. Fields have become separated from forests.