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Tree Farmer Bulletin: Fall 2013

Joe Arington, Outstanding Tree Farmer of 2013

For Joe Arington, the American Tree Farm System’s® (ATFS’s) 2013 National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year, sponsored by STIHL, Inc., tree farming is an accidental third career—and one he has come to love. After decades in the workforce— first working for the state of Nebraska and then founding and leading a high-tech medical imaging company—Arington retired in 1999, turning over the reins of his business to one of his five daughters and moving to 20 country acres in Cambridge, Wisconsin.

He didn’t set out to be a Tree Farmer. “Originally I just wanted to retire and relax in the country,” says Arington. “I fell into tree farming because I needed to find something to do with my time and thought trees would be a fun thing to do. Then I found out how much I didn’t know.”

Arington’s professional background taught him that a good manager knows when—and where— to seek knowledgeable help. “Being successful in one area transcends to another,” he explains. Arington soon connected with the expertise he needed through field days and other educational activities sponsored by the Wisconsin Tree Farm Committee and Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association. “ATFS has provided me with the opportunity to meet people tree farmer profile Joe Arington, 2013 National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year who have the skills to help me manage well,” Arington says.

A Family Passion

Arington has developed a passion and commitment to tree farming he never would have imagined when he began buying land 14 years ago. Today, he, his family and staff manage more than 6,000 acres of woodlands, marshes, ponds, streams, grassland and cropland. Arington joined the Tree Farm System in 2002, and 160 of his forested acres are now ATFS-certified. Three of Arington’s five daughters, their husbands and seven of his 11 grandchildren now live in houses they built on the land.

During the past 14 years, Arington has created a long-term management plan for Arington Tree Farm, planted more than 130,000 trees and placed his lands and business in a familyrun trust that will ensure his Tree Farm legacy will continue long into the future. He employs a full-time staff to run the farm, and publishes a blog, “Under the Oak Tree,” about the day-to-day experiences of tree farming: battling invasive garlic mustard, harvesting timber, conducting field- and work-days on the farm, lobbying state and federal policy-makers on behalf of forest owners, hosting Earth Day events for local schoolchildren and installing wood duck boxes on the farm’s ponds.

Living in Wisconsin, where pioneering conservationist Aldo Leopold first wrote about the “land ethic,” has led Arington to think about managing his own land in a more holistic way. “What we’ve found by following the land ethic is that we’re more thoughtful about what we do, and its impact on the land. Whether it’s trees or crops, we want to farm it in a more sustainable manner.”

Arington’s thoughtful approach to management has earned him the respect of many in Wisconsin. “ Arington Tree Farm is becoming one of the premier sites in the country at demonstrating the power of people and land coming together,” says Buddy Huffaker, President and Executive Director of the Aldo Leopold Foundation. “I’m inspired by how a father, daughters and grandchildren are learning to love a place. But even more importantly that they also recognize the opportunity to share their passion for wood, water, recreation and wildlife as part of a larger community.”

It’s a fitting summary of why Joe Arington was chosen from among Tree Farmers across the country as the 2013 National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year.

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