Every day, it seems, we’re warned that so many things produced by farms are bad for our health. Whole milk, red meat, GMO crops, eggs, bacon, gluten, cream, soybean oil — if it’s an agricultural commodity, chances are someone is telling us to avoid it.
I’m leery of such warnings. However, when an honest study or sound research reveals a way that things can be done better — or made safer and healthier — everyone benefits. As farmers, we should always strive to improve what we produce. Complacency can be our downfall.
But oftentimes the warnings issued about food produced by farms are misguided, driven by agendas from organizations and groups that really don’t care about your health. They don’t like production agriculture, and they’re trying to scare you into sharing their belief.
And it’s not just the farm-raised foods we eat that are under attack.
Another segment of agriculture — the one responsible for putting a roof over your head — is battling a threatening misconception that could be financially crippling to its progress.
You see, there’s a belief among many that it’s a bad thing to cut down a tree and use it for lumber. Timbering is bad for the environment, they say, and therefore it’s bad for us.
I’m not talking about chopping down a majestic, old oak that has stood as the centerpiece of an area for decades. No one likes to see a stately tree reduced to a stump for no reason.
But when it comes to managing a forest for timber production, cutting down trees is essential, obviously, and environmentally-speaking it’s beneficial as well.
That’s the message the Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council wants people to hear, and it’s working hard to make sure the word gets out.
Yet it’s not easy.
During the Pennsylvania Farm Show, I spoke with Jon Geyer, executive director of the council, about the struggle to overcome fallacies facing the industry.
“There’s still this perception that it’s bad to cut down a tree, and it can be an uphill battle to educate folks,” Geyer said.
At the Farm Show, the council brought out its secret weapon — the Pennsylvania Woodmobile.
The eye-catching traveling exhibit uses interactive displays to teach visitors about the benefits of sustainable forest products. While I was talking with Geyer, a steady stream of people filed into the attraction. Interest was obvious.
“I think we’re reaching people with the Woodmobile,” he said. “They understand that the timber industry isn’t the evil thing they’ve been told it is.”
In fact, timbering is about as “green” as it gets.
A young, growing tree is one of the best collectors of carbon dioxide that exists. Once a hardwood tree matures, however, it doesn’t capture as much carbon. It’s not growing, but rather just maintaining itself. When a mature tree is removed from the forest, it opens up space for younger trees to thrive, and the resulting growth means more carbon is captured.
It is a regenerative process that not only benefits the environment, but also the state’s economy to the tune of $21.8 billion annually, according to Geyer.
“We still have the forest resources in Pennsylvania to grow even more,” he said. “We just need to educate people that this is a green practice. We don’t want to pillage the land.”
Yet the same misconceptions that plague so many other agricultural commodities aim to pillage the forest industry as well.
I will never understand the desire to attack the agriculture industries whose products feed, cloth and shelter us.
Whatever the reason, the all-out attack is incomprehensible. The other side of the story — the truth — is one the needs to be told, and that’s what the Woodmobile is doing for our green, sustainable, regenerative hardwood industry.