Family Forests Get Built on the Shoulders of Giants, and SFLRP Helps Make It Possible

Posted: February 2, 2023 at 12:19 p.m.

By Avis Gray, Owner of Gray Family Farms 

As I approach my 10th year as a participant in the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project, I am happy to say that my experience working with this organization has been an impactful one.

Since 2013, my daughter, Jordyn, and I have learned so much about the value of our property and what we need to do to maintain it. We own 117 acres of land in Windsor. On 67 acres, we grow loblolly pines; we also have 25 acres of row crops – mainly corn and soybeans – along with a small herd of cattle. This land (and more) originally was purchased by my great-great-grandfather, and I inherited the acreage that wasn’t lost – for a variety of reasons – in 2011.

When we first joined the SFLRP program, we weren’t sure what to expect or how to proceed. But the journey has been an exciting and positive one. During the past nine years, we have been invited to participate in local, state and out-of-state conferences, and I had the opportunity to serve on the American Tree Farm System’s Independent Standards Review Panel in 2020.

My daughter, Jordyn, and I have learned so much about the value of our property and what we need to do to maintain it.

We also have been able to meet fellow foresters and agriculturalists from all over the country who own and manage far more land than we could ever dream of, but never did we feel like our little slice of heaven – or small piece of the earth – was “less than.” We were all comrades-in-arms fighting for the same cause – to preserve the land of our forefathers – and sharing the same difficulties in forestry.

But out of all the things that Jordyn and I have learned together about forestry – from present use value assessments, to securing a forest management plan, to now considering our very first tree thinning – we have learned that we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. I am speaking not only of our family but of the extended family we have adopted at the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project. If it had not been for Michael Champion in our local Natural Resources Conservation Service office, and Patricia Clarke, Alton Perry and Reba Green-Holley (all of the SFLRP organization at one time), we would not be where we are today.

Because of the indelible mark they have made upon our lives, Jordyn and I have come this far by faith, and she and I have become even closer in our relationship. I wish nothing but the best for my SFLRP family, and I encourage woodland owners uncertain about their property’s future to consider participating in the program. May we all become giants and help to create new ones.