Sanctuary Stewards: Suzanne Johnson and Jeff Joseph
It was our good fortune to become land stewards in 2003, when after a long search we purchased 33 acres of forestland in south-central New York State. We are both Biointensive gardeners and naturalists and have also studied primitive skills with Tom Brown’s Tracker School. I have herbal certificates from Donna D’Terra’s Yerba Woman program in Willits, CA and from The Northeast School of Botanical Medicine. Jeff is a woodworker, New York State Master Forest Owner and member of the New York Forest Owners Association. Our intention was to find a location we could caretake to bring the forest back to health while learning to grow and provide our own food, medicine, heat and shelter.
The property is part of the central Allegheny Plateau, at about 1100 ft. elevation, and lies at the northernmost edge of the Susquehanna River watershed. The entire region was covered by a shallow sea in the Paleozoic Era (+/- 370 million years ago); aquatic fossils are common in the sedimentary bedrock. The soils are glacial till left behind after the last glaciation, and on our property is a fertile, silty loam. Most of the region was cleared for agriculture before reverting to forest in the last 70-100 years, with limited pockets of older-growth forest characteristics in the many ravines that thread throughout the area – including one on our property (see photo). We have counted over 40 tree species on the land, including such rarities as cucumbertree (Magnolia acuminata) and American chestnut.
The closed-canopy forest habitat, and in particular the edges of the creek bed and adjacent slopes of the ravine have provided a refuge for a great number of medicinal herbs once common to the area, including at least six from the “At-Risk” and “To-Watch” lists. With endangered species of plants already growing on the land, we feel we have a special opportunity (and responsibility) to both protect what is already here, as well as to improve previously damaged areas while increasing diversity of all species (flora and fauna). As part of that process, we have begun to reintroduce medicinals no longer found on the land that were likely native at one time, including goldenseal, black cohosh, bloodroot, and wild yam, in addition to the dozens of more common medicinal herbs that we cultivate in our herbal gardens or wildcraft from the variety of ecological niches on the land. We also have a large organic garden from which we raise an abundance of produce, collecting and saving seeds from open-pollinated varieties, and an organic fruit orchard, which includes a number of antique or locally rare varieties.
Along with hands-on ecological stewardship, our long-term goals in purchasing the land included a strong desire to promote bioregional worldview, as we strongly believe that the best models of sustainable community and livelihood are the ones that exist all around us, in our unique place on the planet—in local geography and watersheds, the native flora and fauna, soils, weather patterns and in the deep well of knowledge developed by the local inhabitants over thousands of years. In our own small way we hope to become a model of that view and to help others along the same path. We are honored to join the UpS Botanical Sanctuary Network.
Spring 2010 update:
Happy Spring! Some exciting news here at Shindagin Hollow Botanical Sanctuary. This morning, in a leisurely woods walk, my husband Jeff found a small patch of the beautiful Lady Slippers flowering right next to the path!! We have never seen them in the 7 years we have been here! He came and got me to take some photos and show me the surprise. We counted at least 12, plus some with just the two base leaves and no flower stalk (yet?). We also recently discovered True Solomon Seal. We have lots of the False Solomon seal.
Another exciting note; Jeff had planted a small patch of Goldenseal and Wild Yam in the woods a few years ago, and we have seen the Goldenseal return year after year, but not the Wild Yam. Well today - there it was in 3 different places nearby!
Finding these stimulates our excitement to grow and protect them even more.