Forests Ontario

News & Events

Hats Off to Trees

Posted: April 26, 2018

The following piece appears in the latest edition of Our Forest, Forest Ontario’s quarterly magazine. Our Forest is available to members. Your membership also supports our forest restoration, education, and awareness programs. Learn more and join the voice of our forests today!

by Mark McDermid

The experience and knowledge of our FAs is essential to the success of the 50 Million Tree Program. Hats have never looked good on me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wear them. I’ve had better luck, however, with wearing different hats in the figurative sense throughout my career.

Forestry and trees were not my passion growing up, but I was raised on a farm in Clearview Township and was involved with growing from an early age. I ultimately wanted a career that would keep me outdoors and forestry fit that bill.

I attended Lakehead University, where I received my Honours Bachelor of Science in Forestry, and was introduced to silvicultural systems and different stock types used for reforestation. When I graduated in 1997 there was limited employment in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources tree nursery system. In fact, the government run nurseries were being dismantled. I was fortunate enough to secure a job at Somerville Nurseries, one of the largest private bareroot nurseries in Ontario and worked my way up to a junior management position.

After 16 years as a propagation forester I started my own business, TreEquality Forestry Services, where I consulted with growers and assisted with cultural practices on their tree farms. In the fall of 2014, one of the Forests Ontario FAs, Don Gummer, was retiring and I was given the opportunity to shadow Don for a few months before I took over his role full time in the spring of 2015.

It was a great fit for me and I was extremely happy to be working with planting agencies and nurseries again. In the tree business, spring is always busy and most of my time as a FA is spent working with planting delivery agencies and performing tree planting audits for the 50 Million Tree Program. With my background in propagation, I have also taken on a significant role reviewing seed inventory and assisting in seed acquisition required to fulfill Forests Ontario’s planting program requirements.

Another opportunity presented itself in the spring of 2016, when I was approached by Tim Schneider, owner of Dunridge Farms in Duntroon. Tim had the foresight to see potential in the hard cider industry, similar to that of the multitude of beer microbreweries across the province, and wanted to model his crafting after the UK cider industry.

Unfortunately, there was a limited supply of bittersweet/sharp blending varieties available locally. Thus, Tim decided to start his own apple orchard to grow cider apples and I was hired to manage the new orchard.

Working in orchard management has presented new and inspiring challenges. The cultural practices of orchard management vary from my background in nursery stock growing since the ultimate goal is fruit production instead of tree form and wood production.

Dunridge Farms is certified organic, so the materials used in traditional orchard management are not available. It‘s been very enlightening to approach growing in a different way and to use tools such as cover crops and naturally derived fertilizers to build the soil as opposed to traditional synthetic fertilizers.

It’s been very exciting to be part of Duntroon Cyder House, especially as they officially launched with two varieties of cider in early 2017: Rain Dance, a rhubarb infused off dry cider, and Standing Rock, an off dry standard cider. To know the apples you grew created the flavour profiles of such a unique product is extremely rewarding. We also had the chance to share these new brews as part of the silent auction at Forests Ontario’s 2018 conference.

With both my Forests Ontario and Dunridge hats firmly in place, I‘m grateful for the diverse and fulfilling career I have established. I’m sure that the years to come will bring more unique forestry opportunities my way.

Mark McDermid is a Forests Ontario Field Advisor. Images provided by the author.