n the summer of 2013, as part of her graduate work at the Yale School of
where woodland owners are often land-rich but cash poor. How could forest
conservation be ensured when land-control was so dispersed? What motivated landowners to hold onto their woodlots? What might make a stronger case for conservation
than appealing just to the goodness of landowners’ hearts?
As a forestry student, Milikowsky knew that talking about timber value was usually
part of the answer. It’s something that most woodlot owners understand but don’t
always appreciate during the long stretches of time between harvests. But while
conducting these interviews, Milikowsky noticed something interesting: many landowners derived much more gratification from selling maple syrup than they did from
selling stumpage. “People had small sugarbushes, and they weren’t making that much
money off the maple syrup, but they were so excited about the small amount of annual
income,” she explained. More excited, even, than for the income from more lucrative
timber sales every 10 or 15 years. Somehow, that small amount of annual income made
holding onto the land seem worth it. This got Milikowsky thinking. If small economic
incentives from sugaring could promote conservation, could
harvesting other forest products have the same effect?
In considering other potentially profitable products, acorns
seemed an obvious place to start. They had provided a staple
food for Native Americans for thousands of years. They’re
abundant, nutritious, and easy to identify. Maybe oak could be
the next maple? Milikowsky began experimenting with acorn
flour but quickly encountered a marketing dilemma. As delicious
as acorn-flour baked goods could be, hardly anyone knew how to
make them. Acorn flour is nothing like wheat, so it’s not an easy
substitute. Finding a market would mean educating consumers; it
would mean building demand from the ground up.
Conserving Small Woodlots
with Acorn-Finished Pork
By Benjamin Lord
Walden Hill came out of Jennifer Milikowsky’s quest for a cash crop that could help
generate income for landowners; acorn-fed pork commands a premium at market.