TREE OWNERS NEWS
As we near the end of our first thinning harvest, there simply aren't words to describe our joy as, day after day, week after week, our sawyers mill the logs from
our first thinning harvest and our four sawmills produce a seemingly endless flow of beautiful tropical hardwoods.
Nor as our tractor brings in from the field trailer after trailer laden with the freshly sawn lumber, every board carefully marked with its owner's initials and the field where the tree that yielded the board had been grown.
Nor as our workers carefully pile ever-growing stacks of beautiful hardwoods in our just-completed solar dryer, filling compartment after compartment in the dryer and an auxiliary air-drying shed with 200,000 board feet of new, beautiful tropical lumber - nearly three times the lumber we had projected in our last newsletter.
We are truly thrilled as we see and touch what was only a vision when we began Tropical American Tree Farms™ just eight short years ago, as our craftsmen now make the first beautiful prototypes of furniture from hardwoods from this first thinning, from trees that not long ago were only seeds in the palms of our hands.
One of our craftsman discusses with Steve the
beautiful dresser he has lovingly crafted from
7-1/2 year old teak we have just harvested.
To see more photos of why we are so
excited, go to From Trees to Beautiful Furniture
in our Photo Gallery.
As we see these first tangible fruits of your faith in us, and realize what, together, we have been able to accomplish in this short time, and the magnitude of what lies ahead, Sherry and I are truly grateful and humbled.
As this exciting chapter of Tropical American Tree Farms begins to unfold, we thank every one of you, and we thank God, for making all of this possible.
Even though we are now more than half way through 2000, we want you to know what all you made possible in 1999. With your participation and support, in 1999 we:
planted our one-millionth tropical hardwood tree
hosted the Second Vice President of Costa Rica, three Costa Rican congressmen, and many other regional and local officials on Campo Real
welcomed our one-thousandth tree owner
added, and planted, our seventh farm, the farm that we wrote about last September
began our first thinning harvest
opened an administrative office in San José
hosted a wonderful Christmas party for all of our workers and their families, nearly 600 people in all
were honored with the AWFS Sequoia Award for our "leadership in environmental innovation".
reached our goal of planting one million
hardwood trees before the year 2000. Steve, Sherry,
Beto, and Doña Elizabeth Odio, the Second Vice
President of Costa Rica, plant our one-millionth tree.
So far in 2000, with your help, we have:
milled approximately 200,000 board feet of teak, idigbo, mangium and suradan from our first thinning harvest
built a 100,000 board-foot solar dryer, to use the heat from the sun to dry the lumber from the thinnings
built a 100,000 board-foot pre-drying shed to hold the lumber until it goes into the solar dryer
begun to make prototypes of beautiful furniture and other products from the hardwoods from this first thinning
begun construction on a 9,000 square-foot workshop where later this year we will begin producing beautiful furniture, accessories and architectural accents from the lumber from the trees we are thinning
In our last Tree Owners News, we wrote about our goal of planting one million precious tropical hardwood trees before the year 2000 and asked your help in reaching that goal. Your response and enthusiasm were truly heartwarming!
With all of your help, we were able to plant our one-millionth tree last year and reach our goal. Thank you very much!
When Randall Sanchez, our attorney here in Costa Rica, learned that we were going to reach our goal and called to congratulate us, he suggested that we have a small celebration to commemorate the planting of our one-millionth tree. Randall has worked with us from the very beginning of
Tropical American Tree Farms and is very committed and involved in what we are doing. Sherry and I agreed, and Randall went to work.
He called periodically to tell us that an official from this county or that municipality where one of our farms is located would be attending. One day, he called and said that a Costa Rican congressman was coming. And then another. And another.
And then one day he called to say that Doña Elizabeth Odio, the Second Vice President of Costa Rica, who has the unusual honor of also being the Minister of the MINAE, the Costa Rican environmental and natural resources ministry, would be coming to Campo Real for the celebration.
He said that all of these officials were coming to express their gratitude for what we are doing for their country.
Randall and Beto, together with our San José and San Isidro offices, arranged everything while Sherry and I were in the U.S. participating in some trade shows.
As the day for the celebration approached, Beto had constructed a temporary roof over the large concrete floor he had just poured for what was soon to become the solar dryer at Campo Real. It was perfect for the nearly 100 people who would attend. He also chose a small field nearby that hadn't been planted and made a narrow gravel foot path to the area, and prepared and planted the whole field, but left one hole unplanted, ready for our one-millionth tree.
When Sherry and I returned from the U.S., Campo Real was alive with activity! Our new sawmills had been delivered from the States and Beto had one of the mills set up for an on-site demonstration. Our workshop was busy making pens and paper weights from the thinnings of our young trees to give to the dignitaries, and furniture to show them the beauty of this young wood and the beautiful products that can be produced from the young trees. Even Beto's house was getting a fresh coat of paint!
On the morning of the celebration, you could feel the excitement in the air. What an honor for our workers to have the Second Vice President of Costa Rica and three Costa Rican congressmen visit our farm and participate in the celebration of their work!
When Sherry and I arrived, we marveled at what we saw - a huge white banner with royal blue lettering saying, in Spanish, Welcome to Tropical American Tree Farms One-Millionth Tree Celebration. Chairs and tables with white cloth tablecloths, each with fresh flowers, were neatly arranged under the temporary roof. Soft Costa Rican music was playing through a music system that Randall had had brought in.
And we could smell the wonderful aroma of chicken and beef kebobs grilling in preparation for the luncheon to follow the ceremonies. Tears literally welled in our eyes as we realized the incredible amount of work that Randall and his wife, Maritza, and Beto, Carmen, our office staff, and our workers had done to make this day so special and memorable for all of us.
As the dignitaries began to arrive, Sherry and I were immediately struck with what good people they were. Absolutely every one of them was natural, sincere, and open. They were all very kind to us, and warm with each other, regardless of position.
There were national, regional, and local officials, along with local school children, and
Tropical American Tree Farms workers. And not one of the officials was looking for any recognition or deference. Not one of them sought out the reporters who were here. Not one was posing for a camera.
Doña Elizabeth brought along her 80 year old mother. One of the congressmen brought his young daughters, and held them in his arms or on his lap most of the time. Many others also brought family members.
Steve and Sherry with Vice President Elizabeth Odio
during our One-Millionth Tree Planting Celebration
ceremony and luncheon held on Campo Real
One of the congressmen, as he rose to thank us and say how important our work is, recounted a small story that embodies how Costa Ricans feel about their country. He said, "Back in the beginning, when God had finished creating the Earth and was selecting where each people would live, the Costa Ricans were at the very end of the line. And when they came up, God said 'You are late (as Costa Rican's often used to be) and I have given out all the land and nothing is left for you.' But then God thought, and said, 'I have been saving this very special, beautiful
place on Earth where I was going to live. But since you are "buena gente", good people, I want it to be yours. You will live in Costa Rica.'"
Our eyes welled again. It was truly wonderful to be among such warm and genuine people who openly love their country, its people and its beauty.
Sherry and I were touched as Doña Elizabeth spoke. She thanked us very much for our work and our contribution to her country. She explained that not only should we all take care of our world, but also that we have the real responsibility to pass it along to the generations who follow us. "After our people, the most important resources our country has are our natural resources, and for that reason, this project of the Brunners is a stimulus of the coexistence with nature, that we must continue" she said.
Each congressman, Orlando Báez, Jorge Eduardo Sánchez, and Horacio Alvarado, graciously thanked us for the contributions we have made to Costa Rica, the employment we are providing and the example we are setting. One declared that "This great work will be the seed that will permit truly sustainable development and the hope of millions of human beings."
I too had the opportunity to speak, to thank every one of them for their kindness and for taking the time to come to the farm, and to tell them that only because of their wonderful country, its laws and its wonderful people are we able to carry out our project, and that only because of you tree owners are we able to do all we are doing, and only because of the hard work of our workers in the field and in our offices can we get our work done, and that Sherry is my absolute equal in all that we do. It was also a wonderful opportunity to give Beto a special salute and publicly
thank him for all of his hard work, dedication and loyalty. And to thank Randall for his dedication and work.
It is startling how many times we simply can't find the words to try to describe what a wonderful and fulfilling experience this is. Sherry and I thank you all again!
At the close of the ceremony, we all walked along Beto's little gravel path to the area he had prepared. With the three congressmen and our guests all looking on, Doña Elizabeth, Beto, Sherry and I planted our one-millionth tree. Sherry and I were filled with emotion as our guests responded with ringing applause, followed by many congratulatory handshakes and hugs.
We couldn't help but think back to a day just a little over seven years earlier when we stood in another field on Campo Real and planted our very first tree. It was a day with much less fanfare. We were surrounded by only a handful of our workers. But as we planted that first tree, with tears in our eyes, we both knew that we would devote the rest of our lives to this wonderfully rewarding work.
With your wonderful support and enthusiasm, from the one million tropical hardwood trees we now have planted, we will produce over the next twenty-five years between 50 million and 100 million board feet of beautiful, precious tropical hardwoods - and not one inch of it will have been taken from the natural rainforest.
Sherry and I had the pleasure of exhibiting Tropical American Tree Farms™ hardwoods at the 1999 Woodworking, Machinery & Furniture Supply Fair sponsored by the Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers (AWFS), held in Anaheim, California.
This biennial woodworking show was the largest woodworking trade show of 1999 with 758 companies exhibiting and a record of nearly 20,000 woodworking professionals, hobbyists, and furniture manufacturers and suppliers attending.
As an AWFS exhibitor, months before the opening of the show, we were invited to submit information about our work for consideration for the 1999 Sequoia Award. This prestigious award promotes the industry's proactive efforts to manufacture and produce environmentally friendly wood products.
Tropical American Tree Farms™ was awarded the
Association of Woodworking and Furnishings
1999 Sequoia Award for our
"leadership in environmental innovation"
Sherry prepared our information, which included an overview of our environmental efforts, a detailed description of our work, and four photo pages to provide the judges with a pictorial view of Tropical American Tree Farms™.
Just before we left Costa Rica for the show we received a telephone call from AWFS congratulating us on being one of four winners of their 1999 Sequoia Award for our "leadership in environmental innovation." We were thrilled. To be acknowledged in that way by top industry professionals is truly an honor.
When we arrived for the first day of the show, the AWFS people greeted us warmly. Soon after we were in our booth, they appeared and presented us with the beautiful Sequoia Award plaque. There was continued excitement during the show as photographers stopped by to take photos and several of the Sequoia Award judges and AWFS board members came to our booth to introduce themselves and congratulate us for our work.
Although Sherry and I were the ones at the show receiving the praise, the credit really belongs to all of you. It is because of your enthusiasm and support that we are able to plant more trees and protect more rainforest. Thank you all for helping to make Tropical American Tree Farms™ a leader in environmental innovation!
The quantity of lumber produced from this first thinning of our 1992 teak, 1992 suradan, 1993 idigbo and 1994 mangium is truly outstanding, nearly three times the yield we had projected in our last newsletter.
Sherry and I are always intentionally very conservative whenever we make projections, but the lumber yield from this first thinning has been an unfolding surprise.
We had apparently underestimated both the percentage of the thinned trees that would be useable for lumber and the actual volume of lumber yield from each tree.
Other than our intentionally being conservative, the single largest contributor to the greater yield from this first thinning was our decision to have four new thin-kerf sawmills made to our specifications in the U.S. and have them shipped here to the farms so we could mill the logs right in the field where they were harvested.
It was not an inexpensive decision, but thin-kerf technology uses a much thinner blade, actually a metal band only 42 thousands of an inch thick, which makes a kerf (the groove of wood that is converted to sawdust while sawing) of less than 1/10 inch. Thin-kerf technology reduces substantially the amount of wood that is converted into sawdust and similarly increases the lumber yield.
But even more important, by milling the logs right here on the farm, we have been able to much more tightly control the milling process and saw much more efficiently - milling nearly every tree, and producing much more lumber from each tree. And greater yield of quality lumber is our constant objective.
Tropical lumber from this year's thinning
drying in our newly-constructed solar dryer
We won't know the economic yield from this first thinning for several more months yet, until we have properly dried and graded the lumber and determined its best use or market.
We expect that the economic yield from this first thinning will also be greater than we had projected in our last newsletter and thinning letters, simply because we have produced so much more lumber. But, as always, we want to be conservative and make very clear that the economic yield, while likely to be greater than we had projected in our last newsletter and thinning letters, will probably not increase in direct proportion to the greater lumber volume because a good bit of the lumber from this first thinning of young trees is still sapwood.
We will let you know
For those of you who own 1992 teak or 1993 idigbo, whether you chose to receive the proceeds from the sale of your lumber, or you elected to exchange your lumber from this thinning for additional trees, as soon as we know the economic yield, we will let you know directly.
If you chose to exchange your lumber for additional trees, we will increase your credit as soon as we know the actual increase in the economic yield from this thinning.
Trade still possible
For any of you who own 1992 teak or 1993 idigbo and would still like to choose to trade your lumber from this thinning for additional trees and get your yield working for you immediately, that opportunity is still available. Just send us a brief note or e-mail and we'd be happy to make the exchange. We will make the exchange on the basis of actual economic yield.
Yields from subsequent harvests
The most important factor of the abundant lumber yield from this early thinning of the smallest and least desirable trees, is that it is an absolutely wonderful indicator of the larger yields we can look forward to from the subsequent thinnings and harvests of the remaining superior trees as they continue to grow in height and diameter, and as the heartwood to sapwood ratio increases. We can likely look forward to many more happy surprises.
How this surprise unfolded
We started this first thinning by first cutting our own trees, to train our crews and work out any kinks in the process on our own trees.
For the very first cuts, Sherry and I were there to personally measure the lumber, board by board - not because they were our trees, but because we wanted to confirm empirically what we had projected. The yield was greater than we were expecting.
Satisfied that any surprises were going to be good surprises, and that our sawyers were doing a good job with the new mills and that our workers were keeping exact track of each tree, log and board (even in the dryer, every board has its owner’s initials and field marked right on the board), we stopped personally doing the calculations after only the first few groups of trees. We continued to periodically go into the field to monitor the sawing, but figured that we’d ask the office to do the calculations from Beto’s field notes once the thinning was completed.
As the thinning progressed and we periodically asked Beto how he felt the sawyers were doing, he would say that they were doing very well and that there was a lot of wood coming. Each time, he would emphasize “a lot.”
We bought a tractor and wagons to haul the sawn wood in from the field. As our workers began to stack the lumber in the first compartment of our new solar dryer we noticed how quickly it began to fill.
Day after day, the volume continued to grow, and we quickly realized that we needed to double the size of the solar dryer, which we did.
The volume of lumber coming in continued to grow, so we added an air-drying shed, in addition to the solar dryer, to hold wood until there is space in the dryer.
Even that has not been enough, and we are now adding a fifth compartment to our solar dryer, which will bring its capacity to 125,000 board feet.
Sherry and I are completely thrilled with the tremendous yield from this first thinning, and with what it indicates we can look forward to from subsequent thinnings and final harvests.
We thank God for the wonderful growth of our trees and this first, bountiful harvest.
An important observation we made during this first thinning is that any place in the field where, for whatever reason, a tree was missing, the remaining neighboring trees yielded more lumber than the same-aged trees where no trees had been lost. The same was true where we had done experimental early thinnings of our own trees. The remaining trees were larger.
So it is now clear that, although we need to continue to plant at the same density to force the trees to grow tall and straight, we need to move to earlier first thinnings, removing the least desirable trees earlier to make more room for the remaining larger, superior trees to continue their wonderful growth. Even if the earlier thinnings yield less lumber, of a lower quality, and with more sapwood, than if had we waited longer, by doing earlier first thinnings we can further increase the overall yield of quality lumber from each stand of trees.
Because of the superior growth we are experiencing, that is exactly what Leonardo is recommending. His recommendation is that we begin later this year the first thinning of our 1992 and 1993 nargusta, 1992 trebol, and 1993 teak. As soon as we can get the thinning reports prepared, we will be sending thinning letters to those of you who own these species.
If you own 1992 or 1993 nargusta, 1992 trebol, or 1993 teak and would like to speed up the thinning of your trees and not wait until you receive your thinning letter, just send us a quick note or e-mail and we will schedule your thin as soon as we can move the equipment and crews to the field.
Leonardo is recommending that next year, 2001, we do the first thinning of our 1992 cocobolo, 1992 Brazilian cherry, 1992 goncalo alves, 1993 trebol, 1993 peroba rosa, 1994 nargusta and 1994 teak, and that is our plan.
It is exciting to see how wonderfully everything is progressing.
With the exciting growth of Tropical American Tree Farms™ and Raleo Design™, our office administrative work has increased as well, and, to meet our increasing administrative needs, we have moved our principal office to San José, the capital of Costa Rica.
We will still maintain our Tropical
American Tree Farms office in San Isidro, the largest town near our tree farms, to handle our farm payroll and purchases, but our new San José office will focus on everything related to you, our tree owners.
San José is the center of commerce and cultural events for the country. It is located in the central valley where two thirds of the entire population of the country resides.
Our San José office is conveniently and centrally located in the city, with our bank and our U.S. mail courier service, AAA Express Mail, just around the corner. UPS and DHL Worldwide Express provide package pick-up and delivery service right to our office door.
Moving our principal office to San José has given us the opportunity to be much more efficient in our correspondence, shipping and banking, and organizing your visits to the farms, and has given us the added benefit of being in a large, cosmopolitan city that has allowed us to attract a skilled, bilingual staff.
Carmen Quesada, our administrative manager who had managed and worked in our San Isidro office, was originally from San José and moved back to San José to also manage the new office and coordinate the opening. She has hired three new, bilingual administrative staff, Dolores López, Ileana Barquero, and Marisol González and one support staff person, Jeannett Coronado, to be members of our San José office team.
Our San José office team - Carmen, seated,
Ileana, Dolores, and Jeannett (Marisol not pictured)
Our toll free line now rings directly into our San José office, so even when Sherry and I are out on the farms or in the States participating in trade shows, our San José office will be open to assist you during normal business hours.
Our San José office numbers are: toll
free from the U.S. and Canada 800-788-4918, or direct-dial 011-506-291-0713, and
fax 011-506-291-0398. You can e-mail our San José office at
email@example.com, and on the subject line, put "Attn: Carmen" or "Attn: San José office."
Our San José staff is a joy and a blessing to work with. We are delighted to join Carmen in welcoming Dolores, Ileana, Marisol and Jeannett - they are wonderful additions to our administrative team!
Magazine, the respected trade magazine for makers of cabinets, furniture, millwork and architectural details, published a nice article about Tropical American Tree Farms™ last year entitled Tree Farm Raises Tropical Hardwoods, and we have recently been including reprints of this article in our packets of literature. However, for those of you who have not yet received a copy, you may click on the above link to enjoy reading the article, or we would be happy to mail you a reprint.
Sherry and I have been delighted that a number of articles have been published about Tropical American Tree Farms™ over the past several months in a variety of publications:
We invite you to click on any of the links above to read the articles in their entirety.
Recently, more than a few of you have commented that with the slowing of the increase in stock prices, you are moving to lock in your gains and diversify, and are putting a portion into trees. One tree owner told us that as his associates anxiously scan the news each morning for anything that will affect their tech stocks, he enjoys telling them that he wakes up every day knowing that his trees are bigger than they were the day before, and just keep growing.
As we enter this new and exciting phase of Tropical American Tree Farms™ and see the beautiful lumber coming from the trees we are planting, Sherry and I would like to once again thank every one of you very much for your continued enthusiasm, trust and support. The work you have given us is truly an incredible experience.