Bob and Shirley Barton

Member Profile:

Bob and Shirley Barton

by Bob Barton and Brett Chedzoy

Member_Profie_2018_July.jpg

Our 100 acre farm is in the town of Hector, the second largest town in New York State. It is entwined with the early history of Massachusetts which extended into the Finger Lakes region. The farm was originally inhabited by the local Indian populations, before it was taken by settlers and the several wars leading to the American Revolution. The land was used as payment to the soldiers of the war for their service. These were called the Military Tracts, and there is a great connection to the Greek Civil war that was passionately a part of the history of upstate New York. Towns like Hector, Ulysses, Utica, Rome, and others had names connected to this civil war, and this region had its own special architecture called Greek revival.

The farm is now owned and managed by Bob and Shirley Barton. The original farmhouse was built in 1842 and is a classic Greek revival architecture. Shirley’s family was able to buy the land in 1942 as a sad part of the Great Depression from a farm foreclosure. Her father began farming the property. Interestingly, we met a member of the family whose farm was foreclosed during the depression. She talked about the orchard and the arrowheads she found in the fields. The whole farm was in fields that we guess were mostly hay fields. There were no forests, so it is easy to conclude the age of our current 40+ acres of woods!

There is one generation on the farm, since Shirley, Sharon and Carl’s folks died. Bob and Shirley have retired here, but Carl always lived on the property. Sharon and her husband are now also in the 1942 farmhouse, now restored to close to its original splendor. Bob and Shirley built a small house next to the forest, hoping to gain weather protection from the tall trees. It didn’t work.

They have a classic mixture of oaks, hickories, ash, ironwood, basswood, and of course aspens. There are more, but the self-seeding of these trees is a classic succession forest. There is a several acre plantation of aging Scotch pine, mistakenly planted in the wrong place in the 1950’s. This section is now falling down and mixed with some oak and aspen edges that started relatively early. The Scotch pines were a fashionable planting in the 50’s era. They are rapid growing, so they cover quickly. Some were harvested by Shirley’s dad for building sheds and other lightweight projects. Today, we learn that the wood is a prime home for carpenter bees, so there is rebuilding coming!

A sidelight to using local lumber, Shirley’s dad ran a sawmill in Sawmill Creek in Hector in the 50’s. Carl remembers riding in the truck pulling out of the creek with sawn lumber on it. To continue that fine tradition, his father decided to build a sawmill on the farm. Being a transmission mechanic in Ithaca (no longer able to take farming in the sun) their father took a Thunderbird engine, found a sawmill trolley, modified the engine and transmission to drive the trolley, and proceeded to saw lumber with a 54” round blade powered by the Thunderbird engine. He sawed wood from the woodlot and built a complete shed over the mill. That’s what a woodlot is for! He cut the trees for a small cabin, sawed the lumber, and built it. Sadly, both are now “taken” by the forest.

Carl and his dad enjoyed the sugarbush in the winter. Small farmers do that with materials on hand. They built a fire underneath the 55 gallon drum and used buckets in the trailer behind the Ford 9N to carry the sap from the sugar maples to the drum for heating. Sugar maples were fairly plentiful in the succession forest, and emptying the tap barrels was the pleasure of sunny days in February. Wood from the forest heated the drum, and the solitude of the burn was good for the soul. Today, the sugar maples are difficult to find and grow. Seems that the forest environment has changed and the sugar maples don’t grow so well. There’s a lot of discussion about this, especially from the folks watching closely the “changing” of the forests.

Bob joined NYFOA in 2006, not fully understanding the scope of the mission. He was a research scientist in underwater acoustics for the Navy, and all his training was in software engineering, and other electronics engineering topics, and underwater acoustics. Shirley was trained in microbiology, but she ended up working to develop aquaculture of lobsters at University of Rhode Island (URI). Shirley worked at URI Cooperative Extension after her experience as a youth in 4H, so she was well prepared to return to the soil and the farm. Upon retirement in 2004, and the return to Shirley’s family farm, for both of them the view-shed really changed. It was totally engaging, refreshing and appealing.

Bob really got hooked by the tremendous woodswalks he attended. They were eye-opening. There were so many forestry connected concepts, and they were so different from…acoustics. The world was opening up.

Not so long after joining, Bob trained as a Master Forest Owner/Volunteer. This was a great experience, because it extended the regional woodswalk topics into more broad-based topics. This was needed because of the diversity of small- and medium-sized wood lot owners. They too have the wonder of “what should I do with these areas on my property.” This is a well-crafted program of training, for a wide range of woods owners. Bob recognizes the idea of varying interests of the owners of these woods. No one size fits all. It’s really the job of NYFOA and its members to shepherd these interests.

The family’s woods are multidimensional joys. Every day, they walk either in the woods or on the periphery. The dogs benefit and they benefit from the joy of everyday changes. In the summer there are changing plant situations in the forest. They walk the snowmobile trail both winter and summer. The snowmobile trail is a benefit for all. It is a snowshoe trail in winter and cooling walk in the summer. The vegetation changes as they walk. Mayapples and trillium and trout lilies in spring, and tree blossoms in summer, and cherries in fall, and…

The fairways and “rough patches” are now of interest because of the Xerxes Society. This group is focused on the invertebrates, such as bees. The Bartons now have bees and are encouraging different bee type habitats based on their unique interests. Some bees are specialized, living in specific forest areas and some are focused on fields. It’s more than just “honeybees.”

They have hive honeybees for the buckwheat crop, at the request of the owner of the hives. It is interesting that bees also use forests as pollen sources for honey. This is a mutually beneficial case where the field crops are beneficial to the honey crop. Interestingly, the honey crop does depend upon tree pollen as well! Also some recent research at Cornell discovered that most of the region’s apple orchards are predominantly pollinated by wild bees, obviating the need to bring in hives for apple tree pollination.

The Bartons also run a certified organic farm for buckwheat, vegetables, and mushrooms; the last crop became available over the last three years as a certified organic “wild harvest” from a shady forest spot. Shirley and her brother and sister grew up on the farm and never once saw the chanterelles in the forest. The weather cooperated over the past several years to allow this crop to be taken. Warmth and rain seemed to cause the flush in late July. The chanterelles grow best in moderate shade with lightly filtered sunlight peeking through.

The forest was high-graded in the 90’s and evidence of the stumps is still visible when walking through. There was heavy emphasis on the oaks and hard maple, although stumps of the oaks seem to last longer. When the Bartons retired in 2004, they needed to claim firewood from the woods to heat the farm house. The coal burner had long been taken out and the whole farm house was heated with a wood stove. All the kids remember dressing in front of the stove on the cold mornings. So Bob’s retirement began with buying a tractor to go into the woods to cut firewood for a wood-fired boiler out in the barn. The boiler was installed and now keeps the whole house quite pleasant. It is an efficient gasification system built by a local business in the area. Bob said that there was still slash from the high-grading that went into the stove from the woods. He usually harvested the hornbeam trees because they were usually the right size to go in the fire after cutting to length, they were plentiful, and they burned hot.

Bob joined the steering committee of the Southern Finger Lakes Chapter of the New York Forest Owner’s Association around 2010. He really enjoyed the forestry related ideas that kept flowing from committee members. Brett Chedzoy and Peter Smallidge were patient with him, too!

One thing Bob mentioned frequently was the relationships that exist among the elements of a forestry system. It wasn’t just the trees. There were connections too: animals large and small, mycorrhizae in the soil, hydrology, soils and nutrients, vernal pools. He said there were so many research topics. He mentioned an example of recent research in garlic mustard growth patterns. Garlic mustard is a common invasive that has engendered “garlic mustard pulls” to get rid of it. Research seems to indicate that the soil may be adapting and reducing the biological mass of this invasive.

Bob and Shirley Barton enjoy the 44 acres of woodlands on the farm, and they don’t manage it for timber or money. A snowmobile trail goes through the woods and the family enjoys walking that trail in the heat of summer or the blowing cold winds of winter when it is quiet and peaceful.

They also see the connection to the New York Nut Growers Association and other forest related organizations such as NYS DEC. There really is a community of forestry related organizations and people, and a lot of uses for your woods!


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