What’s not to love about farming in the woods? Forest farming is an agroforestry practice where non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are stewarded and/or cultivated in the forest understory. Forest farmers manage the trees above to enhance shade levels and create habitat for optimal NTFP production. NTFPs include medicinal (i.e. ginseng, goldenseal, black cohosh), edible (i.e. ramps, mushrooms, syrups), and ornamental, craft, and landscaping (i.e. vines, florals) crops.
Wild populations of forest botanicals are threatened by over harvesting and habitat loss, and some are listed as at-risk and vulnerable to extinction as a result. By sustainably growing forest botanicals in the understory, forest farmers help conserve these plants to ensure they are here for generations to come. However, traditional prices paid for forest botanicals are often too low to cover the costs of producing these plants. With fair wage prices from conscious consumers, forest farming can improve livelihoods for Appalachian farmers dedicated to sustainable practices.
One challenge to predicting sustainable wild harvesting is a lack of reliable information on their markets, both how much material is harvested from the forests and how much is being sold. The Root Report is an ongoing project of the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech. The Root Report’s goal is to measure the scope and distribution of non timber forest product production and its economic impact. This is more challenging than it may seem.
The ginseng trade is well documented because buyers are required by law to apply for licenses and keep sales records. Yet sales of other forest botanicals, like black cohosh, goldenseal and others, known as ‘off-roots’, are not tracked. Steve Kruger, the lead researcher for The Root Report, has been researching this off-root trade by surveying registered ginseng buyers about the market structure, volume and harvest. Kruger found that most of the trade in volume and value came from goldenseal and black cohosh roots and rhizomes harvested and sold in central Appalachia. This research is ongoing and provides the crucial information on trade that is needed to determine threats to these wild plants and possible sustainability practices.
For more information, download Medicinal Forest Product Trade in the Eastern US, an infographic describing this research and summarizing volume and pricing findings of the survey.
Exciting efforts are underway to use forest farming as a practice to develop sustainable and ethical supply networks of forest botanicals from Appalachia. Below are some of key initiatives. See the calls to action below to see how you can help!
Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) founded the Herb Hub in 2017. A shared-use facility in Duffield, VA the Herb Hub envisions a thriving and sustainable herbal economy in Central Appalachia, where at-risk plant conservation is achieved through profitable cultivation. To achieve this goal, ASD offers seed to sale training, on-farm technical assistance, commercial herb processing equipment, and aggregation and marketing assistance to connect a network of medicinal herb farmers with buyers seeking sustainable and ethical supply. Learn more about the herb hub here, and donate to support their work here!
The Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition (ABFFC) is a network of forest farmers, universities, and governmental and non-governmental organizations that share a common goal of improving agroforestry production opportunities and farming capabilities among forest farmers. The collective aim is to increase awareness, capacity, and long-term viability through education, networking, and conservation.
See the ABFFC website to get more information, resources, and news about upcoming events and trainings. The Spring 2020 Newsletter is packed with information, success stories, opportunities, and what is on the horizon. The ABFFC also coordinates an active Facebook page and group. See more about ABFFC partners and upcoming initiatives here.
Recent renewal funding from USDA NIFA has allowed ABFFC to greatly expand membership and exposure by recruiting and training new Appalachian beginning forest farmers and continue its tradition of providing in-depth, multi-day training and technical resources for forest farmers on propagating and managing forest botanicals. In addition, over the next three years, ABFFC will help expand the Forest Grown Verification program (FGV), increase forest farmer mentorship, and improve propagation and distribution of planting stock for forest farms.
The Forest Grown Verification (FGV) Program was established in 2014 to create a voluntary, third-party verification for non-timber forest grown products that are produced and harvested in a sustainable and legal manner. In the summer of 2019, United Plant Savers assumed the leadership role and is ushering the program into a new era. For more information on FGV visit the UpS website. Also be sure to look out for FGV product lines from herb companies, like Mountain Rose Herbs. By purchasing FGV products, you are supporting forest botanical sustainability and forest farmer livelihoods in Appalachia.
The USDA National Agroforestry Center is funding work to create a framework to make the Forest Farmer Coalition permanent and go nationwide. The goal is to transition the coalition into the United State’s premier forest farming association.
The American Forest Farming Council (AFFC) is envisioned as the natural evolution of the Appalachian Beginning Forest Forest Farmer Coalition (ABFFC), which is set to retire in 2023.
The AFFC will likely resemble other professional societies/associations, with sub-committees focused on topics like science and technology, external advocacy, and member services, but there will also be unique programs and goals. You can help us ensure the AFFC meets your needs and we look forward to hearing from you. You can start by providing your thoughts here.
The ABFFC is developing a Point-of-Harvest (PoH) training and market development program for wild harvesters. The PoH program will focus on supporting environmentally responsible and economically viable wild NTFP enterprises. The goal is to offer free PoH harvester trainings that recognized by the industry and large landholders.
The PoH program is a workforce development project and will depend on support from the companies that buy these materials. Contact ABFCC to learn more about the PoH program and offer input into its design. Click here to fill out their survey!