I am amazed to find, that even in Alabama, there are students who do not know anything about the woods.
I share this article with you in an attempt to have you think about who owns our forests. Surprisingly, it is NOT corporations. It is rare, but in Alabama, more than 70% of the forests are owned by private landowners, families like yours and mine.

I teach an art class and one of our topics is “nature”. I urge you to get out and find a leaf, do a texture drawing with a child, share a walk in nature. It will do you and the person you share it with good. It may even spur you to creativity.

Each year in October, the ATFA Leadership Conference is held to help landowners and non-forest landowners learn more about the resources available through the Alabama TREASURE Forest Association.

I read about the conference in a publication at the end of last summer, and while I had attended more than twenty different tours, workshops and meetings about forestry, I had never attended this leadership conference or any meetings conducted by the Alabama TREASURE Forest.

I had always thought that the Alabama TREASURE Forest Association was some special “group” of people who had those “signs on their property”. I approached the sign-in table with caution, and was pleasantly surprised when I was handed a huge red binder and introduced to the Executive Director, Mr. James Malone, and his wife, Joan, who quickly made it clear that this organization was open to anyone with “A Spirit of Thanksgiving, Encouragement and Inspiration”. Joan Malone serves as Program Coordinator. This was her topic of introduction, describing it as the Essence behind the Essence.

The following is taken from her Devotion during the Conference Oct. 4-5, 2001.
“A Spirit of Thanksgiving, Encouragement and Inspiration”

Thanksgiving means to express gratitude.

Expressing gratitude to God….for our natural resources and the first original seed God placed in the vegetation and trees that are still reproducing for us today.

Expressing gratitude for the calling He has placed on our lives to be good stewards over the land.

Expressing gratitude for the movement that is going on across the land, which is renewing respect for the land and for one another.

Encouragement means to spur one on; to stimulate, giving hope and promise; to give courage.

Inspiration means to influence, move or be guided by divine inspiration; to motivate people to work. To breathe into and upon and through!

As I sat there listening to her message, it amazed me that I had never been a part of this particular group. Sure, I had attended seminars on the value of timber, walked through managed pine forests, learned about building roads and make-shift bridges, knew a bit about BMP’s, and SMZ’s, had attended teacher training workshops at Auburn and Camp Beckwith (although I am not a teacher), had learned little things here and there to make your property more functional and more profitable. But here was the glue that made all of those things make sense.

Their pride for their mission and the passion in which they delivered their message was addicting. I was eager to learn, not only how to manage my forest land, but eager to determine how my little piece of earth could be used for something bigger than just a piece of dirt that grows trees. And immediately I felt that this group of family “stewards” could help me accomplish such feats.

The overall purpose of the Conference is to identify willing potential leaders for the Alabama TREASURE Forest Association in all sixty-seven counties of Alabama and to equip those committed leaders.

Before any of us even showed an interest or were committed to “lead”,
We were provided with a clear understanding of the purpose and objectives of the ATFA.
We were given a clear understanding of:
the ethical and monetary value of landowners helping landowners,
steps to organizing a chapter,
effective meeting management techniques,
resources and tools available to the chapters,
the art of delegating,
involving political partners at the local level,
communicating the many values of our forest resources and value of Private Forest Landowners to society,
and TREASURE forest Certification (which to my surprise, was NOT a requirement for membership).

In fact, you don’t even have to be a landowner to join. You must simply enjoy the outdoors and the practice of good stewardship of any land.

A simple statement from a talk organized by Mr. Mike Tidwell with Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA), said it all, “There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart……..pursue those.”

And obviously, this conference did catch a few hearts. By the end of the two days, we had assembled a group of Baldwin County residents who were asking the same question, “Why don’t WE have a chapter?”

Mr. Malone’s response was, “Well, it looks to me like you have enough interest here to get one started. Call our office next week and let’s see what you can do.”

And thus was the beginning of our new chapter, the Baldwin County Chapter of the Alabama TREASURE Forest Association. And after a few planning meetings, then an election of officers, we started off with a BANG!

The first event was held at Smithfield, a property near Stockton, which is owned by our newly elected President and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Smith.

It was fascinating to hear the story behind the beautifully manicured forest that stood before us. It was originally purchased as cattle land, but deer flies soon changed the direction for the owners. In the 1960’s the timber was cut, bringing 75% of the purchase price for Mr. Smith’s father, who then owned it.

In 1975, his father died, and the property was managed by the Smith boys who helped their mother run the family farm. And with the help of the county forester, Mr. Robert Dismukes, they groomed the land. It wasn’t always an easy task, with a number of setbacks, Hurricane Frederick being one of them. They lost 100% of the oaks on the property as well as a number of pines. They experienced a lawsuit that developed with a salvage company that marked trees without their knowledge. They lost a number of trees to drought or disease. They dissolved a former hunting club and began doing their own pine planting.

In November of 1979, Smithfield Farms, Inc. was established as a family business. Davis Forestry of Monticello, Ark. introduced hardwoods and in 1981 the home was built.
In 1982, 30 acres was cut and planted in Loblolly pines. In 1998, that harvest was thinned. As we bumped along the dirt lane on the back of the trailer, Mr. Smith was able to show us how every fifth row was cut, then the adjoining rows were thinned. We witnessed first hand, acreage that had been burned, and that which had not. There were huge fields planted in oats and rye. Immediately there was a rumbling on the trailer about what had worked for some and what was preferred by others.

He even shared plans that were never carried out. There had been a plan for fruit trees, but the harsh weather had been a factor. He also shared that he had little luck with Saw tooth Oaks.

The property now has a lake with three year old bream and bass that came about as a collaborative effort with a neighbor. They share the property with their son and daughter, and their grandchildren, who are also learning to love the land.

After the tour, Mrs. Smith had an incredible lunch prepared with barbeque, pasta salad and an incredible caramel cake.

So here, in one tour, we have witnessed all of those things that the Malone’s talked about at that meeting less than a year before.

We saw hospitality, we experienced stewardship, a love of the land, a responsible landowner sharing his experiences.

This article was published in the Treasure Forest Association publication 2002. and written by Allison Adams.