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Growing Up with Reclaimed Lumber

Sophie in 2008

Sophie in 2008

Here I am back home in the Valley (well, the foothills) after 5 exciting years in Santa Cruz and Chile. At 23 I’m living with my mom and working for my dad, but I dig it.

My job right now is doing outreach for my dad’s business, Crossroads Recycled Lumber in North Fork, California.  I’m supposed to get our name out there and let architects and institutions that are building green know primarily about reclaimed lumber, and secondarily about Crossroads. I really enjoy doing this. I spend mornings pulling nails or milling boards with the guys in the yard, and afternoons here in the office doing outreach and making connections.

My dad’s been doing the Recycled Lumber thing for years now, since before I was born. When I was a kid he worked different jobs throughout the year, logging in the summer, construction or demolition in the winter. When he worked demolition he would salvage lumber, doors, windows, whatever was salvageable from wrecking jobs. The house I grew up in, that he built with help from friends and neighbors, was nearly 100% reclaimed. Even my first pets were salvaged when Dad was on a demolition job and the two cats (Ishi and Mr. Brown) that had belonged to the abandoned building were left homeless. Crossroads took off when I was about 7, after Dad finally bought a sawmill and could do custom milling instead of just selling pieces “as is.”

Our Backyard in Bellingham, WA

Today the business is strong (well, less so in this economy), with a few guys working in the yard, the old Woodmizer Mill, and a couple planers Dad’s picked up to finish boards. I’m extremely proud of our family business. In October, before I was hired by UCSC to coordinate their Campus Earth Summit, I worked here doing some research for the website they were revamping. I had this fear in the back of my mind that during my research I would find some kind of terrible flaw in the Recycled Lumber process and discover that Reclaiming and Remilling Timbers is actually horribly unsustainable! I was pretty into the biodiesel idea when I was younger, and now the sustainability community has discovered that using vegetable products is not exactly an end-all solution to the fuel crisis so I learned not to invest in one idea too much. But no, after doing that research I am an even greater proponent of using reclaimed lumber and what we’re doing here at Crossroads.

The benefits behind reclaimed lumber are many fold, and in comparison to other building materials I see few drawbacks. Lumber in and of itself is a beautiful, natural building material. It is easy to work with and sturdy. But logging and using virgin timber has gained a negative reputation. As I mentioned, my dad worked as a logger when I was a kid, and he feels strongly that logging can be done not only responsibly, but is even necessary to maintain forests and control fires. However, it is fact that uncontrolled logging can destroy natural habitats for forest flora and fauna, contribute to disrupting a forests’ natural carbon cycle (which in turn affects the planet’s climate and our air quality), and disrupts the natural water cycle (which can reduce soil cohesion and lead to natural disasters like landslides and flooding).

In the last 15 years or so, sustainable forestry has taken off, and guides such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification can provide some assurance that virgin timber was grown and harvested responsibly. However, even FSC certified virgin lumber takes a LOT of energy to harvest. Just try to imagine how much oil and human energy it takes to fell trees, and then how much it takes to ship those logs on semi-trucks all over the country (mostly from Canada and the Pacific Northwest). If anyone can actually find that statistic, I would love to know what it is.

V-Groove Vertical Grain Doug Fir from Cribari Winery in Crossroads Office

When I was still in high school I went with my dad one weekend to scope out a building in Fresno. That’s a big part of the job- checking out demolition/deconstruction sites to make sure there’s enough quality wood to make it worth the effort to salvage. Anyway, it was an old winery and I remember thinking how beautiful it was, the brick walls all seemed structurally sound with wisteria crawling up around the old windows. Dad said there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with the building, they just needed to tear it down to make room for an industrial park or something like that. It was so sad and disturbing to me that they (I don’t even necessarily know who “they” are) would tear down something so beautiful and so useful, just because they had a vision for something else.

Look around at the buildings you see in your daily life and think about every board, every brick, every nail that makes them and just take a moment to consider where they came from. Consider the process and the human power it took to harvest the raw materials, to process them, even consider the work it took to create and maintain the tools used to mill each board, to melt down the ore and alloy it to make steel, to set and hammer each board into place with each nail. It’s a tremendous amount of time and energy, and it’s what people spend their LIVES doing. That winery was torn down. Crossroads bought some of the beams and “they” probably recycled some of the metal because you can get money for it, but I don’t think anyone around here recycles bricks. All of that beautiful red brick must have gone to the landfill, and the careful hard work of the brick makers and the masons to create a product that will last, is gone.

Marc and Sophie on a father-daughter kayak trip with the Thomases of Mad Marmot Mills

Marc and Sophie, father-daughter kayak trip with the Thomases of Mad Marmot Mills

That respect for human effort, as much as the environmental impact, is why recycling is so important to me. According to the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, logging has a fatality rate 21 times higher than the rate for all workers, so not only did people work very hard to bring the lumber around us down from mountains to be used all over the world, but they literally risked their lives.

To see a building torn down after 50 years, and the lumber and other materials used to build it sent to the landfill when they could last another 50-100 years (the old first-growth trees that were logged 50 years ago were much tighter-grained and stronger than our planted forests today), is heartbreaking and disrespectful to the hard-working human beings that handled the tree from when it was cut down to its installation in the building, not to mention disrespectful to the life of the tree and the forest itself.

And that is why I am so proud of my family’s business and happy to be working here with my dad and the rest of the crew, and why I want to promote this whole concept. Sustainability is so human… the environment is very, very important for many reasons, but sustainability isn’t just about trees, it’s about our entire existence. It’s about respect for ourselves, our species, our communities, and everything within our lives, including the value of our work. This is the lesson I have learned growing up on a Recycled Lumber yard.


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PO Box 928, 58500 Hancock Way
North Fork, CA 93643
Phone 559-877-3645
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