My Land Means Home To Me: Rachel Dandeneau Shares Her Story
Women in the Woods is a collaboration between UNH Cooperative Extension, NH Timberland Owners Association, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and other partners aimed at connecting women forest landowners, managers, and stewards with the resources, skills, and community they need to make informed stewardship decisions that promote healthy forest resources. As part of this effort, we are sharing the perspectives of women landowners and managers in New Hampshire.
Name: Rachel Dandeneau
Acres owned: 37
Town: Stark, NH
I own this property and manage it with the support of my boyfriend Todd Caron, NH Licensed Forester and my Father Mike Dandeneau, a small-scale, self-employed logger.
When did you acquire your land and how? What is the story of how you came to be a landowner?
I acquired my land in September 2015 when I purchased it as my home and property. This property had been owned by a family who had deep roots on that property and the adjacent ones. The man I purchased it from had grown up there and shared stories of running through the woods and all over that area when he was young. I was looking to purchase a home at the time and happen to be talking with a friend at NH Fish and Game who commented that she had seen a 'for sale' sign on this property. When I drove home that day (I was living with my aunt right up the road at the time), I drove by to see if it was for sale, and it was! I called the realtor immediately, viewed the house and property the next week and begun the process of purchasing. It is 37 acres total, with about 10 acres open field, scrubby hillside, and farm and garden around the house and outbuildings.
Do you have a favorite memory from your land?
Sure do! My Father did some selective harvesting for me in the winter of 2019 and the winter of 2020. My oldest son was 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 years old those winters and we went down into the woods almost every day when we got home. We would get our snowsuits on and walk down to see 'Da' (that's what my boys call my father). I have some HUGE white pines on my property and we often would watch him drop the last tree of the day and then ride back up to the yard on the skidder with him. It was dreamy.
Another fantastic memory was in the summer of 2022. I have a small herd of Nigerian dwarf dairy goats. I use mobile electric fencing to create temporary foraging paddocks on the scrubby hillside around my home and farm. The soil on my property is all sand, gravel, and cobble and these hillsides have no topsoil on them. My goal is to support topsoil formation through intensive, short term foraging in these areas. And this provides free, nutrient dense, and diverse food for my goat queens! When we move the goats from one area to another, we go through and weed whack or hand-prune any remaining standing stems. We leave these in place to help capture organic matter as part of this topsoil encouragement. In one area that required quite a lot of weed whacking and hand pruning, my boys were out there with me for every moment of that paddock move and pruning process! They hauled sapling aspens and helped me prune blackberry canes. They were 2 1/2 and 5 1/2 at the time and they trucked up and down the hillside (quite steep) with me for hours!
What are some ways that you connect with your land? What do you like to do on your land?
All the things. My most important role is Mama, and as a Mama trying to cultivate strong relationships between my boys and their land, we spend quite a lot of time on our property. We do walks regularly. We ski and snowshoe the fields and woods. We slide down our steep hill. We get into the woods and build small fires to cook a marshmallow or toast a sandwich over in all four seasons. We bring the dogs along and are training a goat to be a woods goat to bring along also. We make a big deal out of every bit of wildlife that we see in our lower field - black bears grazing in the spring, deer grazing from April to November, fawns, moose, coyotes year round, fox, turkeys - the boys love it! Both boys know many of the most common tree species, including some Latin names. We also spend quite a lot of time cutting trees down. Both boys had their first axes before they were two years old - a Wetterlings multi-purpose hatchet for Theodore and a Snow and Nealley outdoorsman's hatchet for Nathaniel. These, along with portable handsaws serve the purpose of cutting firewood and saplings for various forts behind the house and in the woods. Sharp tool safety is a regular topic of conversation.
Another way that I connect to my land is through education. I work at White Mountains Community College in Berlin, NH. My fancy title is Department Chair of the STEM and Advanced Manufacturing department, but my favorite title is Environmental Science Professor. I often bring my student to my property for tree and shrub identification and forestry related projects.
"My most important role is Mama, and as a Mama trying to cultivate strong relationships between my boys and their land, we spend quite a lot of time on our property."
What are some challenges or learning opportunities that owning your land has presented you?
Time management. I would like to do all the projects NOW! I want to create the trail system, I want to create the wooded paddock for pigs, I want to plant turnips for deer under the tree stand. I also want to produce as much food from my property as possible! I do a lot of that through farming and gardening, but have recently become interested in food forests. I'm looking into hazelnut bushes and chestnut trees. Some of my next property-related purposes will be elderberry bushes, hazelnut bushes, and maybe a hybrid chestnut seedling or two.
What excites you about your land in the future?
Further food production potentials. I currently raise most of the meat my family consumes. The beef that we purchase to help fill our freezers comes from Riverstone Farm in West Milan, NH. It is owned by my second cousin and she raises beef cattle less than five miles from where I live. She feeds her cattle hay from a field on the property right next to mine - pretty darn local! I mentioned hard and soft mast producers and food forests in another question. Check out my website for more info about my property!
What does your land mean to you?
Ooh - kind of a tough question. My land means HOME to me. Certainly my home is the house I live in and the people I share it with, but my land is a big part of that too. I find myself overwhelmed by so much of the stimulus I get from the outside world every day. My house and the surrounding property, my HOME, is my sanctuary from all that. It revives me every day and gives me and my family a place to step into whenever we need to.
"My land means HOME to me. Certainly my home is the house I live in and the people I share it with, but my land is a big part of that too."
If there was one thing you could share with other women landowners, what would it be?
DO. IT. Buy the land; however small or large, whatever your budget can handle. Buy it, then work it. Put a campsite on it and sleep there. Make it your HOME, your sanctuary. Drink a beer under a big pine tree. Raise your babies on it and/or share it with people you love. Have faith that you can do these things. Be smart - don't back yourself into a tough spot by overspending, but have faith that you can do it. Make goals and accomplish them, however slowly, over time. Ask for help - from you forester boyfriend, or your logger Father, or some experts at Cooperative Extension or Fish and Game or NHTOA. Do it!
Funding for this program is provided by a Landscape Scale Restoration Grant, U.S. Forest Service.