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Growth Rings

Growth Rings

by Kate Sutton

2 years ago

Part of the CERES Fair Food newlsetter series, words by Chris Ennis.

In his recent ABC Gardening Australia profile architect Paul Haar goes to a building site – he wants to talk about pine – the timber we use to build stud walls in our houses.

Paul holds up a four-by-two end-on to the camera.

Pointing out the very fine growth rings, Paul estimates this piece of wood comes from a 200-300 year old Baltic pine

He then shows a second four-by-two, three broad growth rings indicate it’s from a 30 year old Australian Radiata pine.

To most builders there’s no difference between Baltic and Radiata pine; pine is pine is pine, they cost the same, they build stud walls and roof trusses the same.

Baltic pine sounds so wholesome; it makes me think of saunas, mid-century Danish furniture, singing along to Norwegian Wood in my bedroom when I was fourteen.

The truth is not so wholesome – the 200-300 year old Baltic pines we’re building our houses with are being cut from a fast disappearing boreal forest in Eastern Russia. 

This Amazon-sized eco-system, home to Siberian tigers, is a massive carbon sink and won’t ever be replanted – once it’s gone, it’s gone. 

The Radiata pine meanwhile comes from a local plantation which will be regrown after each harvest.

Learning about these two types of pine is like discovering the difference between battery hens and proper free range chickens.

My reaction is, Why don’t we know this? Why don’t they tell us this at hardware stores?

Like Baltic pine there are lots of other native timbers we use every day but don’t talk about – Merbau from South East Asian rain forests, Cumaru from South American jungles, even our own old growth Mountain Ash.

This timber cone-of-silence was what drove Paul Haar to help establish Fair Wood at CERES.

He envisioned Fair Wood talking about where our timber was coming from and then be a place that you could go and buy an ethical alternative – just like a regular hardware.

These days Fair Wood has its own warehouse, just like a regular hardware and its managers, Hayden and Pete, have been very resourceful at finding “good wood” alternatives.