His "worst first" policy has served him well. It has helped him find ways to develop a market for wood from previously valueless trees. And the quality and potential revenue of trees in his forest increases each year.
Currently, Birkemeier annually harvests and processes one tree per acre.
Birkemeier's approach to forestry evolved over 20 years, as he learned and assimilated sustainable forestry techniques. Many of his forest-management practices are inspired by the Menominee Tribal Enterprise, which manages a large forest holding with future generations in mind. He borrows low-impact logging techniques from the Amish and uses small-scale milling and planing machines designed by Scandinavians.
While Birkemeier shepherds his wood from forest to flooring, the key to Timbergreen Forestry's resounding financial success lies in the final step: installation. "It is only by getting into the customer's home and getting retail value for this wood that all the other steps pay off," he says.
For instance, a logger will pay a forest owner 20 cents for a small, warped tree. The same tree fetches around $2 at the paper mill. Installed as flooring in a home, however, customers will shell out more than $200 for the same tree. Now, that's what you call cutting out the middlemen. All of them.
With over 50 floors done, Birkemeier no longer needs to advertise; word of mouth alone keeps business steady. Each home is a showroom and each customer an enthusiastic salesperson.
"I talk him up all the time," says Katie Green, a journalist and longtime Sierra Club member who recently had flooring installed in five rooms of her Spring Green home.
"It is so wonderful when you find someone who is really competent, with a philosophy similar to your own," says Green. "Having Jim install our floors was a perfect marriage of what we wanted done and who we wanted doing the work."
Birkemeier's floors, while top quality, intentionally feature wood with natural imperfections, something Green feels gives her floors character. One hallway in Green's home contains a collage of various wood types and board sizes--Birkemeier's signature style.
Reflects Green, "Normal flooring is pretty but boring, like a Hollywood starlet."
Over the years, Birkemeier's approach to forestry has, like his flooring, become a hot commodity. He maintains an enormous Web site (timbergreenfarm.com) and sells a self-published book on his full vigor forestry system.