Timbergreen Farm Wins
The Wisconsin Small Family Business
Award - 2012
The Wisconsin Family Business of the Year Award was created to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of family businesses that make an impact of the Wisconsin Business community. The award was founded by Smith and Gesteland, LLP of Middleton, and is also sponsored by InBusiness Magazine. Winners are chosen by an independent panel of judges. A total of 7 Family Business Awards were given in different categories, statewide.
The Grand Award for a small company was presented to the Birkemeier family by Sarah Botham – last year’s winner from Botham Vineyard in Barneveld. The Banquet was Thursday, May 10th at the Marriot Hotel in Middleton.
This family loves their land and forest, and they love wood.
Timbergreen Farms of Spring Green had its beginning in 1973 when Bill and Helen Birkemeier bought a farm and started growing corn and hay, and raising cattle. Their son, Jim started to salvage trees killed by oak wilt, getting the logs sawn at local sawmills. In 1988 Bill, Helen, and Jim formed a partnership to buy a WoodMizer sawmill, and built three solar heated lumber dry kilns. In 2007 Jim opened a retail store in Spring Green to provide a market his products and other producers in the area.
Farming their 60 acres of tillable land was not profitable or sustainable, but the forest products business has become an amazing family run operation. They make natural and solid wood products for other families homes. In their words, “wood is the perfect fuel for their family business”.
Being disappointed in their early efforts at industrial forest management due to low values and high damage, they studied the MenomineeTribal Forests and German Dauerwald and developed their own system they call “Full Vigor Forestry”. Their forests produce four times the volume and quality of the average woods in southwest Wisconsin. They harvest a few dozen dead and dying trees each year from their 200 acres of forest using “arthroscopic logging” techniques and the smallest possible machinery.
They dry their lumber in their own Solar Cycle lumber dry kilns. They have learned to earn 100 times the income that other forest owners get from timber buyers in the traditional timber market. Controlling the entire forest-to-finished product process and selling and installing their wood furnishings in customer’s homes makes their business unique. While their wood flooring sales have slowed during the recession, internet sales of laser cut and engraved wood gifts, ornaments, and a hundred other wood products have recently soared.
They teach and encourage other forest owners to earn the same high values from their woods. Jim has been a featured speaker at two United Nations International Conferences on Forestry in Bangalore, India in 2011 and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in 2006 and he is now working on the next UN International Conference on the Art and Joy of Wood in South Africa, March 2013.
In their community, they have always had a passion to encourage others to manage their forests. The Sustainable Woods Cooperative movement that started in 1997 began in Jim’s educational demonstration days on the farm.
They are truly innovative in their business practices. They protect and manage their forests like it was their bank account. They are rich in timber but use only a small amount, the interest, to live on. Always leaving the principle for the future. They are rich in natural resources but live simple, sustainable lives. They heat their houses with waste wood, and give away tons of fuel and mulch to their neighbors.
Four generations are currently involved in the business and it is being run by the second generation. Bill is a retired professor of engineering, is chief of maintenance, tour guide, and sells lumber from their shop. Helen operates a wildflower nursery and holds a plant sale every spring to encourage native prairies and woodlands. She writes a column for a local paper and is the author of several books.
Planning has set the stage for Jim to buy out his siblings, but has no children to pass the business to. They have set the stage for another family to continue the business. Amie and Matt, Two soon-to-be-married employees of their Spring Green Timber Growers have been “adopted” by Jim and work with the understanding that they will take over the business, making them the third generation. Amie’s children are already involved in the business, and are the fourth generation. A total of ten families now work together in Timbergreen Farm’s wood business - providing wood products, training, and inspiration to other families around the world.
Photos and other winner's information is now posted at Wisconsin Family Business Award