Wilton’s Black Acres Hosts 64th Field Day 

Every Field Day is the same, and every Field Day is different. For more than six decades, Mainers have been gathering  at the woodland of Outstanding Tree Farmers to recognize the practice of excellent forestry, along with the sustainable and diversified use of land and its resources. 

The tradition was honored, for the 64th time, at Black Acres Farm in Wilton on Sept. 8, where Russell and Susan Black, and their children and grandchildren, have carried on a family agricultural legacy that has now expanded beyond their forebears’ dreams, and perhaps even beyond their own expectations.

As for the new, this may be the first time a maple sugaring  operation was front and center in the festivities, as Russell Black showed off the latest in processing  technology that has established Black Acres, on Black Road, as  a retail  store destination for the area. And while many of the demonstrations for visitors were familiar from past field days, one was unquestionably new: flights of a drone used for forest mapping and data collection, operated by a team from the University of Maine.

In his opening remarks, Russell Black spoke movingly  of  his early experiences at Black Acres, after he took over management of the property from his father and became a Tree Farmer. He recalled the early contributions of his first consulting forester, Bob Leso, and of Abbott Ladd, a motivating force behind the establishment of tree farming in Maine and the first executive director of SWOAM, now MaineWoodlands Owners. 

Black Acres achieved runner-up status in the annual competition back in the 1970s, but a devastating fire then destroyed most of the farm buildings. The Blacks “cut hard” over the next few years in order to keep the property. Russell said, “We had to over-harvest to pay our bills.” The next few decades were spent rebuilding, both the farm and the forest.

Acquiring adjacent properties even when it meant the family would do without some of life’s amenities, the Blacks gradually built their holdings, on both sides of Black Road, to more than 500 acres – and the purchases may not be done. Doug Denico, director of the Maine Forest Service, later praised Black in his remarks, saying, “He’s bucked the trend” that’s led to smaller and less cohesive woodlots in many parts of the state. “I’d like to thank you for being different.”

Today, about 150 acres are in fields and the rest are forested, and – said Denico, after a winter tour of the property – “with more timber than it’s had since the 1830s and ’40s.” The acreage now supports a diversified family business, with periodic timber harvests buttressed by annual firewood cutting, a large and growing maple syrup operation, beef cattle, beehives, and hay production for the numerous farms remaining in Franklin County.

Congressman Bruce Poliquin spoke, contrasting the worlds of Washington, D.C. and Maine’s 2nd District, where forests and family businesses are the norm. He said of the value of forest products, “It’s the backbone of the state economy,” and spoke of the Black family as “cornerstones of their community.” He said of Russell, after they met, “I just loved him immediately. He’s a great family business owner, and a great legislator.” Representatives of U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King also offered congratulations.

Sen. Tom Saviello, who represents Franklin County in the Legislature, presented a legislative sentiment and spoke of his long association with Russell Black. His remarks were a series of quotations from a wide variety of sources, including an Indian saying, “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

Maine Tree Farm Chair Kyle Burdick presented Black with a donated gift certificate for a Stihl MS 170 chainsaw, which he noted was his personal favorite. Maine Woodland Owners President Jessica Leahy also offered praise. She said Field Day is an excellent example of how the two organizations cooperate to mutual benefit, while focusing public attention and reaching a new generation of woodland owners, calling attention to the diversity of ages and background among those attending.

During the tours and demonstrations, well over 200 visitors saw an unusual variety of displays. The drone flights captured a lot of attention, as did the dog training exercises from the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association. A portable sawmill operation from M&Ns Lumber Sales and a bucking demonstration from Kennebec Lumber drew crowds, and resulted in many individual consultations as well. Jeremy Guerrette of Ground Perfection Specialists, showed off a 10-foot wide mulching machine that he’s used to create trail systems on large woodlots through Maine.

Other outdoor demonstrations and displays were offered by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, USDA forestry assistance programs, the Maine Forest Service, Maine Natural Areas Program, and Maine CDC. In the display tent were the Sustainable Forestry Initiative flume table, modeling streams and water courses, an informative display on invasive plants, and many others.

A special feature of the woodlot tours, by tractor-drawn wagon and on foot, was a bridge constructed with cost-share funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service that provides year-round access to parts of the property.

Black Acres has also been honored with the Outstanding Northeast Region Tree Farmer award, making it one of  four  properties  nationwide recognized this year by the American Forestry Foundation.  


 

Pictures, below, are from the 63rd Maine Woodland Owners/Tree Farm Forestry Field Day - September 2017.