On this Arbor Day, when people are encouraged to plant trees, meet a Kentucky physician who has planted more than 750,000 of them on his own land.
Dr. James Middleton, 68, who also is a farmer and forester near Munfordville, Kentucky, began adding to his family’s land holdings in the 1970s, buying areas along the Green River that others had stripped of timber and abandoned. He’d plant trees such as oak and black walnut, and then harvest some of the wood, but replant.
His sustainable management of 3,000 acres of woods not only makes money, but also reduces soil erosion along the river, preserving the river’s quality for communities miles downstream, the Arbor Day Foundation says.
On Saturday, the foundation will give him its annual Good Steward Award, which recognizes stewardship and conservation efforts on private land, in a ceremony in Nebraska City, Nebraska.
“All this was forest at one time. Mankind started farming it and opening it up, and now we’re trying to plant some of it back,” Middleton said by phone Friday.
Middleton says he has lived his whole life surrounded by trees. His rural family home, built by his grandparents in a family apple orchard, was constructed from and landscaped with trees that came from the farm.
Besides practicing family medicine in Munfordville and planting and harvesting trees - with the help of forestry people who advise him when to cut the land and then re-establish the forest - he farms and raises cattle. Until federal funding dried up in 2004, he grew tobacco as well. He has converted those tobacco patches to more timber fields, and sees forestry as a way forward economically for his fellow farmers in Hart County.
“If people see economic advantages to it, they’re more likely to put trees back on a hillside than run cattle on it,” Middleton said. “We try to promote good forestry - planting trees, taking care of our trees, re-establishing our forests. In the long run, our land is better off, and our landowners are better off, too.”
Middleton promotes forestry throughout the county - he hosts forestry students to let them examine the planning and projects that he and his forestry contractors have done - and in his doctor’s office.
“People ask every day in my clinic, ‘Doc, what do you think about this tree? What kind of trees should I plan at my place?’ That’s how I try to give them that understanding,” Middleton said.
The Arbor Day Foundation is honoring Middleton for his “lifetime commitment to stewardship,” and his community outreach, Arbor Day spokesman Sean Barry said.
“He’s been walking the walk in terms of conservation in Kentucky,” Barry said. “He proselytizes constantly … about conservation and the importance of taking care of the trees.”
Middleton will be one of 16 people and organizations receiving various awards from the Arbor Day Foundation on Saturday.
Friday is Arbor Day in the United States. It started in 1872 as a tree-planting holiday in Nebraska.