In dappled patches of sunlight beneath the Appalachian forest canopy, certain flora thrive and gardens adapted to woodland conditions can flourish. Cultivated plants and fungi suited to forest farming have a range of uses from medicinal to nourishing to decorative, and those with access to woodlands might be surprised at what they can grow among the trees.
For those wanting to explore the possibilities of farming in the forest, Organic Growers School presents an intensive workshop Saturday, Sept. 30, and Sunday, Oct. 1, in concert with the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition and Warren Wilson College, held on the college’s campus. The instructors and topics represent an array of regional know-how on all facets of running a forest-based growing business, including production and marketing.
Already in counties across Western North Carolina, says event organizer Margaret Bloomquist of the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, farmers have been expanding their cultivation of native plants in a wild setting. And, she says, those efforts have generated vital farm income while spreading knowledge and raising “awareness of our native allies, bringing wisdom back to new landowners in the area, as well as being a huge win for our regional environment and the sustainability of the species themselves.”
Cameron Farlow, farmer programs director at the Organic Growers School, says boosting farmers’ income and profits is a key goal for the workshop. “Being able to make better use of parts of your land not suitable for traditional farm crops and creating diversified income streams are crucial for farmers of all stages,” says Farlow. “We’d like to see more farms on the ground, and more farmers meeting their income goals. Forest farming can be an important piece of that puzzle.”
A beginners’ track for those with up to two years of experience farming in wooded areas will provide an overview of growing in lower-light conditions, as well as the business side of developing forest-grown products.
For seasoned forest farmers, an intermediate to advanced track will explore practical propagation methods and tips for processing the bounty. The track will also offer a broader view of the economics of forest farming for regional growers and guidance on regulation and certification.
While the technical information presented at the workshop is critical for growers’ success, Bloomquist says the opportunity to network with the teaching team and others interested in forest farming promises to be equally valuable. “We hope [participants] will take away a well-rounded view of the opportunities and challenges surrounding all aspects of growing, harvesting, processing, and marketing forest medicinals such as black cohosh, goldenseal, ramps and ginseng,” she says.