From Hollywood to Firewood
Odd Jobs | JANUARY 18, 2016 ISSUE
BY ERIC LACH
Forbes March wasn’t always in the firewood business. He spent three seasons on the ABC soap opera “One Life to Live,” playing the doomed winery owner Nash Brennan, who falls to his death through a skylight window. Soon after, in 2009, March quit acting, moved to Jeffersonville, New York, and established the New York Firewood Company. The firm now supplies kiln-dried, plastic-wrapped bundles of logs to seventy-five restaurants and hundreds of private residences in and around New York City.
“I’ve fallen into everything,” March said on a recent Saturday morning, as he navigated his forty-foot delivery truck through Manhattan traffic. March and a helper, a burly man with tattooed shoulders named Ronald Stickle, had set out from Jeffersonville at 4:30 A.M. They had fourteen stops to make: a house in Westchester County, seven restaurants in Manhattan, one in Williamsburg, one on Staten Island, and four houses in New Jersey. “We got college kids, we got professors, we have old families on the Upper East Side—I’ve delivered firewood to the Roosevelts—we have Irish pub owners,” March said.
At Bella Blu, a restaurant on Lexington Avenue that serves wood-fired pizza, Stickle wheeled twenty-five bundles into the kitchen on a dolly while March sized up a honey locust outside. “In another forty years, that would be a gorgeous tree,” he said. “You got a nice long straight section with no branches.” March, who is forty-two, and from Nova Scotia, still appears more or less camera-ready, though his dirty-blond hair and pale-blue eyes have begun to compete with some crow’s-feet. Back in the truck, he explained how, after nearly two decades of acting and modelling, he decided to go into business. He first considered opening a winery, to trade on his old character’s name. “I had a huge following,” he said, as he double-parked around the corner from La Tarte Flambée, on East Thirty-third. “I could have sold wine up the ying yang.” But firewood was closer to his Canadian heart. On his right forearm, there is a long dark scar he got when he was eight, while cutting wood with a bow saw.
The delivery truck held more than five hundred bundles, mostly fine-split ash, but also large-split “regular” mix, plus hickory, cherry, and apple. “They have different smells,” March said. “Some people get into it like wine.” Hickory will make a house smell like a ski lodge. Cherry is prized for the way it crackles and pops in a fireplace.
March estimates that his company cuts, splits, dries, packages, and ships about three thousand “Manhattan cords” (some forty cubic feet of wood, or fifty bundles) a year. Prices range from two hundred and fifty to four hundred and twenty-five dollars per Manhattan cord, depending on the species. Then there are special orders. “There’s an axe community in Brooklyn,” March said. “They always want us to bring them logs, to practice their axe-swinging prowess.”
Several of the day’s deliveries were to wood-fired pizza restaurants, which have been crucial customers ever since March got the stamp of approval from Roberto Caporuscio, the owner of Don Antonio and Kesté, in 2012. Outside Eataly, off Madison Square Park, March and Stickle watched as a man driving a forklift carted off an entire pallet of their fine split.
Pizza chefs are finicky. March once had a client who burned only white birch for his pizza. Another guy was partial to the red cores of beech trees. “If you change their wood, you change the way their oven behaves, and they can’t cook in it,” March said. On Houston Street, Stickle hopped out to make a delivery, while March stayed in the truck, which was parked illegally. He watched several police cars drive by. “If I get one more moving violation, I lose my license,” he said. “Then I’ll have to move back to the city.”
Last year, as part of an effort to protect the city’s air quality, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law prohibiting the installation of any new wood-burning fireplaces, and mandating that wood burned in a preëxisting fireplace have a moisture content of twenty per cent or less, by weight. (Drier wood burns cleaner.) These changes don’t much bother March, who has all the clients he needs. Plus, he already brings the moisture content of his logs down to eight per cent, drying them in a giant kiln that’s long enough for their ends to carbonize. “That’s very dry,” March said. “It’s ready to burn.” ♦
The Gentleman Farmer | May 23, 2015
By Laura Silverman
At first, the logic of Forbes March’s career path can be a little hard to follow. “From Hollywood to firewood,” is how the Nova Scotia native puts it. After years spent modeling in Europe and New York, he worked in film and television, becoming known for a recurring role on the popular soap “One Life to Live.” He discovered Sullivan County on a family camping trip and returned for the fly-fishing whenever he needed to decompress from his acting gigs. Eventually, he bought a house in Jeffersonville and took refuge there when the recession hit along with his Italian wife, Vanessa, and their two kids, Marina, 15, and Peter, 8.
About a year into his new life, March got into the firewood business, splitting, kiln-drying and packaging hardwood for a discerning urban clientele. (He earned his upstate street cred by accidentally chopping off a finger.) “The Catskills are situated 90 miles from what is arguably the largest consumer market in the world,” he says, “and in Manhattan you can sell anything if it’s the best.” His gorgeous wares can be found in the hearths of Roosevelts and Williamsburg hipsters, and he also counts 70 city restaurants as year-round clients.
He earned his upstate street cred by accidentally chopping off a finger.
Waking up to a beautiful view of rolling hills is one sweet reward of living on eight pristine acres, and March waxes lyrical about the neighbor’s cows crossing the field every morning and again at dusk. But he’s fully aware of the back-breaking work that goes into that kind of farming. Most years, he’s trying out some new scheme of his own. Once it was growing thousands of tomatoes; then he raised 5,000 organic meat chickens. Now, his son Peter is getting into the game with an egg business.
March describes the Catskills as “the ultimate suburb,” again citing its proximity to New York City as a major advantage. But it’s his love of the Beaver Kill, the fact that he and Peter can catch catfish in the creek at the bottom of his road, and favorite local hangouts like the Dancing Cat Saloon and Benji & Jake’s—“where kids try (and hopefully fail) to catch turtles off that little pier”—that make him loyal to the area.
“I’m not here for the winters,” he laughs. Aside from the bucolic scenery and the bountiful rivers, he’s in it for the entrepreneurial opportunities. For his next project, March is looking into raising organic shrimp. And aquafarmer just might be the perfect role for him.