The normal fate of a tree that falls in an urban neighborhood is a compulsory date with a wood chipper or a landfill.
But when a tree comes in down in Nick Harvey's Hayward neighborhood, it just might end up as somebody's new kitchen table.
That's exactly how Harvey, a former scientist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, landed in the tree-saving-furniture-making business -- a tree fell in his neighborhood.
"I thought it was crazy they’re going to enter the waste stream," Harvey said, "so I had them deliver it to the front of my house of all places."
Harvey called a portable miller, and turned his garage and backyard into a quasi-lumberyard. The boards filled his garage, and fed his conscience.
From the experience, he founded Bay Area Redwood, a company devoted to salvaging fallen trees from the urban forest, and turning them into products like tables, bar tops or cutting boards.
"We’re taking that waste," Harvey said, "and being able to create something out of it to where people can improve their lives."
Harvey has spread his operation throughout the Livermore area. A stone's throw from Interstate 580, a large red barn stores boards milled from a variety of trees. A sleek storefront in The City Center mall at Bishop Ranch serves as his showroom, displaying finished furniture. And a barren field on a Livermore hilltop is the portable milling site where the trees are transformed.
"People think that tree has no use," Harvey said, sitting on a large stump at the mill site. "But in reality there’s still a lot of value that’s locked into these logs."
Cal Fire's San Joaquin Urban Forester said here's also a climate change byproduct to the effort to keep the trees from ending up in a wood chipper or in a burn pile."
"What happens to these urban trees or city trees when they come down is that they’ll go to the waste stream or the city dump," said Cal Fire's Greg Dion. "And then they’ll decay and release carbon into the atmosphere."
By contrast, Dion said milling the lumber releases less CO2 into the atmosphere, and well -- you can get a new bar top out of it.
"It’s just crazy how we can plant a tree way out of its environment," Dion said, "and then it goes into the waste stream when it’s gorgeous wood."
Kyle Dowd, founder of Golden State Portable Milling teamed-up with Harvey, milling the trees with a battery of industrial milling machines that can turn a massive redwood trunk into sheets of table tops in less than an hour.
"If you can take a log that’s coming down in your neighborhood, cut it in that neighborhood to where it never even has to leave," Dowd said, "and it can be used within three or four blocks to build another fence or to work on a deck or rehab someone’s house, what’s more green than that?"
Cal Fire recently awarded Harvey a forestry grant for Urban Wood and Biomass Utilization, that will help fund his work and even help him to plant new trees.
Harvey quickly paced around the mill site, continually brushing his long hair from his face as a blistering wind whipped across the barren ground, sending torrents of sawdust in every direction. A milling machine growled as it sliced through a large tree trunk, and a small utility tractor flitted about carrying logs one direction, and freshly cut slats another.
Harvey reflected on his journey that began with a tree, and has now set sights on an entire urban forest and its potential for replacing waste with green products.
"It’s not going to be one solution it’s going to be many," Harvey said, "and creating a smarter way of how we live in urban environments."