Did you know that Maryland's largest forest product manufacturer doesn't produce lumber?
Updated: May 23
Meet Tom Johnson, owner of Eastern Shore Forest Products
“I started out in this business at age 14, selling firewood around town. Of course, I was too young to drive, so my parents helped me deliver the wood.” This is how Tom Johnson, owner of Eastern Shore Forest Products company, described his earliest business experience. Now his company enjoys a national market for its wood products and is the largest single forest product manufacturing firm in Maryland.
“The firewood business led to a short stint as a contract logger for a paper company. It was during this time that I took note of what a shame it seemed to leave so much debris in the woods after each job was completed.” This concern became the idea for Tom to develop products and markets for what was otherwise going to be wasted. “At the time, the poultry industry was growing to meet increased consumer demand and had a large need for bedding for all the birds. We figured out how to make a suitable bedding product from the waste and ultimately set a path to continuously improve both the product and our abilities to service our customers.”
This dedication to improving products and customer service has led Eastern Shore Forest Products to become one of the largest producers of animal bedding in the US, having multi-state processing facilities that ship to all of the lower 48 states. Today the company produces not only animal bedding but also wood pellets for fuel, mulches, and specialty soils as well as bundled firewood. “Our company’s forestry division is charged with not only procuring the raw materials for our products but also a host of landowner services including timber stand improvements and wildlife habitat creation,” Tom notes.
“None of this would have worked had it not been for the blessing of having great people. We have some of the smartest, most dedicated people imaginable. If it does not go right the first time, these folks persevere till we do get it right. There is truly a team effort here to not only raise the bar for customer satisfaction but to try and make our operations enjoyable places to work. I am thankful each day for the opportunity to be in the presence of and to be chosen to help lead these great people.”
Tom has a knack for taking closed operations and either converting them to another purpose or reopening them. Either way, his operations represent new jobs and revenues in smaller, rural communities. Nowhere is this more evident than in Federalsburg, Maryland, where a closed facility that once produced such products as “Stovetop Stuffing” now produces small bundles of top-quality, kiln-dried firewood for consumers use.
He and his wife, Anita, have long been supporters of education and were instrumental in starting the “Salisbury School Education Foundation” in support of the Salisbury School which daughter Lindsey, now a recent University of Virginia graduate, attended. “Life has been good to me and my family, for sure, and now I feel I’m at the stage where I need to give back. I can’t think of a better way than to provide good jobs along with opportunities for personal and professional growth to my employees. That’s what gets me going every morning.”
Tom also recognized he’s had a lot of partners and help throughout his career and in the success in his business. “My parents, my business associates, those who work with forest landowners and support the forest industry have all been vital to our operations. We couldn’t do what we do without them.”
Photo Credit: EDWIN REMSBERG PHOTOGRAPHS
Project Support: RURAL MARYLAND COUNCIL
LINKS TO LEARN MORE:
Eastern Shore Forest Products
The Salisbury School Educational Foundation
Maryland's Forestry Industry StoryMap