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Twelve years ago, when Marc Jaffe lived with his family in Manhattan, he knew nothing about forestry. “I’m pretty sure my dogs knew more about trees than I did,“ Jaffe laughs. The Jaffe’s 80-acre property located in Sullivan County in the town of Rockland was originally purchased as a second home in the country. The property now serves as the full time residence of Marc, his wife, and their two children (ages 9 and 12) and has since 2002.
Jaffe, a farmer by trade, runs a diversified livestock operation on his land. He produces organic and pasture raised meats mostly for the New York City market. However, the Jaffes didn’t start as farmers and the land wasn’t originally purchased with that intent. The woodlands are very young; the area was still being hayed 50 years ago. He became interested learning more about forestry when a logger approached him asking if he could harvest 100-150 of his trees. Jaffe didn’t agree immediately and instead approached Cornell Cooperative Extension to learn more. Extension provided him with resources that allowed him to continue to learn about different fields and programs that would be beneficial to managing his land.
He became involved with the “Goats in the Woods“ program (created by Cornell Cooperative Extension) and he is also a New York Master Forest Owner Volunteer. Having been involved in these educational programs, he now works closely with local resource professionals. With Chris Tcimpidis, Jaffe’s consulting forester, they have developed a forest management plan, which Jaffe refers to as “a living document” that has been evolving and will continue to do so in the future. Tcimpidis and Jaffe have diversified the management plan to include an offshoot from Jaffe’s previous experience with the “Goats in the Woods“ project. The family raises 35-50 pigs a year in the woods. Pigs, it turns out, are ideal species in the woodlands. They can be controlled with a portable electric fence and moved around. The pigs turn over the duff and eat the nuts and fruits while minimally damaging the trees. After the pigs rotate through, grass can grow back. They still keep goats in the woods where they thin out the younger saplings. Of the 80 acres, they are only using 30-40 acres at a time. Jaffe says, “It is a constant source of opportunity and creative energy, its great. We’re constantly finding new ways to live with it and work with it.“
The property provides a livelihood for the family. Jaffe reflects, “It’s kind of interesting we’ve almost figured out how to make a livelihood off the land.“ Beyond a source of income, the Jaffe property provides a source of recreation and learning. The family enjoys using the space to play baseball and ride their bikes. They hunt deer for consumption and trap to remove predators. On the property there are also old apple orchards and acres of blueberries. The family also taps some of the mature sugar maples.
The Jaffes love planting trees. Every year they plant 150-250 saplings. There were no conifers when the property was purchased but Jaffe comments that they have had great success growing Norway Spruce. “They (the conifers) make you feel good about your ability to do something,“ he says in reference to their fast growth. Overall the family has planted white oak, various spruce and pines—most of which end up feeding the deer Jaffe admits begrudgingly—and sycamore trees. Although his forester, Tcimpidis, had second thoughts about planting sycamores, Jaffe has fond memories of sycamores from growing up in New York City. Sycamores are the most popular species in central park and line many of the cities’ avenues. Marc stated, “I remembered it and I wanted it.“
The Jaffe’s have tried many different projects to manage and utilize their land with varying success but they have persevered through failures. “Not everything we do out there works and we haven’t been able to do all that we’ve wanted.“ Even so they have remained constantly motivated and engaged. Jaffe sees extension, several of his farming friends, and Tcimpidis, his forester, as playing roles in mentoring him in owning woodlands. “All I knew was that I didn’t know anything and I was happy to listen to anyone who wanted to teach me.“ Jaffe recommends that woodland owners “get out there; the more time you spend in your forests the more it will give you and the more benefit you will derive from it. It’s guaranteed.“
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