Eric Dahlberg knows a thing or two about making a buck off his land. The New York native has several businesses in place that are helping him earn a living from his properties. His plots are located in the southeastern part of the state, on the edge of Schoharie County where it joins Albany and Greene Counties. All told, he owns, rents and manages more than 300 acres.
“I’ve got 93 acres in the main spot. The gravel pit has 22 acres, and I have a few others,” he says. “On my land I’ve got about 30 acres of pasture. The main farm has two houses, a cabin and a sawmill. We rent out the cabin, and we do some recreation on our land.”
The land is on the edge of the New York City Watershed, helping to protect the safe drinking water for 9 million people – about half the population of New York state. “One of the farms I rent is owned by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. They own a fair chunk of land in this area, and they’re constantly buying land to protect the watershed. That’s how we got involved in this,” he added.
Dahlberg knows the area well. He grew up on a farm just a few miles down the road. It’s a place with rolling hillsides, open vistas, and beauty at nearly every turn. “I can look out my living room window and see about 20 miles away,” he says. “I’m about 2-1/2 hours outside of New York City.” It’s close enough to take a day trip to the Big Apple, if someone had a mind to. It’s also far enough away to enjoy a quieter and more pastoral lifestyle in a rural setting – dial-up Internet connections and all.
A rough and rocky landscape
“The area is very hilly,” he says. “I can see the lights from the local ski slope and a mountain behind it with one of the highest vertical ski slopes in the East.”
“Years ago, our forests were either clearcut for farming or selectively harvested for the best timber,” says Dahlberg. Hemlock bark was also harvested for local tanneries. Tannersville and Prattsville nearby had some of the largest tanneries in the Northeast.
“Some of the new growth and overgrown farm field vegetation could be termed a nuisance,” he added. According to Northern Woodlands magazine, hemlock bark has a high tannin content and was the preferred choice for making the tannic acid used in tanning leather. Tannic acid helps to preserve leather, and hemlock gives a deep reddish-brown color. “They haven’t been utilized. We’re talking about soft maple, silver maple and white birch. I’m at 2,200 feet of elevation. We have a fair amount of white birch here.”
It’s a rough and rocky landscape, he adds. He first sought to buy property 20 years ago for his cattle. “I was looking for a spot for my animals, Scottish Highlands. They look like big shaggy cows. For the Highlands, I was looking for animals that could graze on rough types of land under not-so-pristine conditions. Our farm is called ‘Rock-n-Pinkster Farm.’” He also had Herefords, Angus, and white face cattle over the years, between eight and 12 animals at a time.
“We rent four farms, and provide hay for our animals. We do sell a fair amount of hay,” he says. Aside from using the crop land to grow hay, the surrounding pasture land has a fair amount of “hard hack” and poplar. Hard hack is a low-growing bush about 3 to 4 feet tall. It’s also a nuisance and very hard to get rid of. They also have lots of pinxter, a native azalea with showy blooms that grows at higher elevations. “I had the Highlands grazing it, but they were not keeping up with the brush. I then brought in the elk, and they did a great job clearing the hard hack.” He says in the spring when the sap starts to run, “The elk will grab hold of the bark and peel it with their teeth. This is good. It kills those trees (and bushes).”
He bought his elk about 12 years ago, give or take. Today, they also use them for meat and sell velvet antlers, but the Highland cattle are long gone. “I had the Highlanders a short time to clear the brush, but they didn’t do a great job,” he says. “I currently have 28 elk, one draft horse, and one mule.”
Dahlberg also manages two businesses making use of trees on his property. A little more than 50 acres of the property is woodland, where they harvest some of the firewood. “We harvest timber on lots that we bid on. We’re what they call a HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program) vendor for four counties,” he says. HEAP assists low-income New York residents with the costs of heating their homes with firewood. “We do several hundred cords of firewood a year,” he says. “We sell hard maple, oak, ash and beech firewood. My son helps me, and we have a couple employees.”
“My son and I and one other guy are called ‘TLC’ – Trained Logger Certified. It’s a statewide program, but NYC watershed does part of it,” he says.
The TLC program recognizes loggers who complete certification training in three core areas:
• Chainsaw operation, safety and productivity
• Environmental concerns (forest ecology and silviculture)
• Adult first aid and CPR
The firewood business is booming now compared with last year. “This year the demand for firewood seems to be phenomenal. People are running scared, because last year they ran out of pellets and firewood due to the long and cold winter. So this year they ordered more pellets and firewood,” he says.
Last year clients in the HEAP program received $550 for assistance, and if they ran out, they could get another $550 through the program. “I even had Salvation Army send me checks to help out.”
His second wood-related business is manufacturing and selling wooden stakes and rough-cut lumber. “I was looking for utilization for ‘shorts’ – wood which is less than 8 feet long. I have a lot of that. Mills didn’t want it,” he says.
Then he saw an advertisement for a wooden stake business, and he purchased it. Some of the stakes he makes are a half-inch-thick and 1-1/2 inches wide. They use white ash, beech, maple and oak for the stakes. “We make various types of stakes, just not the one. We can do several types of stakes upon request.” He sells his stakes to customers as far away as Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Jersey, as well as Buffalo, New York.
If the livestock, rentals, hay, firewood and stake businesses weren’t enough, Dahlberg also makes money from his quarry.
“The quarry is on an adjacent farm 3 miles away that I bought,” he says. “We sell sand and aggregate stone to municipalities and contractors. A lot of our material and work goes into replacing old septic systems located near waterways.”
All of the wood for his stake and firewood businesses comes from the trees on his land or from nearby forests. Even though his stake and firewood businesses are thriving, Dahlberg says he doesn’t feel he’s asking too much from the land. “We have more biomass going to waste in our forests today than we could ever possibly use,” he says. “I feel good because we’re getting utilization out of the land, and it’s not lying dormant.”
Glenn Rosenholm works for the U.S. Forest Service Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry. He enjoys writing about inspirational people in the field of conservation.