Tom Elmore hosted the Forest Farming Tour on June 5th at Thatchmore Farm. A 10-acre, certified organic farm in Leicester, NC, with 2 acres in organic vegetables, 1 acre in container ornamentals and Christmas trees, and 2 acres in fruit, nut, and mushroom production. Tom and Karen started Thatchmore Farm in 1987. Their daughter, Liz, was born four years later and now manages the farm. They have successfully integrated forest farming into their existing farm enterprises. Their offerings are available at West Asheville and North Asheville Tailgate Markets.
During the tour, we focused on Thatchmore Farm’s ingenious use of forested lands into diverse agricultural opportunities that include mushroom cultivation, timber for heating greenhouses, and woodland crops.
We started the tour gathered around the wood heat boilers that provide some of the heat for Thatchmore Farm’s year-round greenhouses. We were introduced to Thatchmore’s chip boiler (https://www.portageandmainboilers.com/ model B500) and their process for drying wood chips. Wood chips are delivered to the farm by local tree trimming services and air-dried over a corrugated pipe system before being transferred to a large storage container with a conveyor system that feeds into the boiler. One advantage of burning wood chips for heat is that the wood chips are delivered for free. We were also introduced to Thatchmore’s free wood pellet boiler (FREE PELLET BOILER Contact firstname.lastname@example.org). Tom passed around bags of wood chips and wood pellets for the participants to observe the differences in size, weight, and appearance. Thatchmore is currently using 8.5 cords of cordwood, 51 cubic yards of dry wood chips, 620 bags (12 tons) of wood pellets, and 2220 units of propane gas to heat their greenhouses year-round. Currently, propane gas is still up to 60% of their energy source. The goal is to decrease the use of propane and increase the use of wood to a ratio of 40% cordwood, 40% dry wood chips, 10% wood pellets, and 10% propane. This will reduce their heating bill by $11,200 from $13,470 to $2270 per year.
For the next stop on the tour, we spent time talking about Christmas trees, ornamentals, fruit and nut trees, and integrating these enterprises into their farmers market offerings. We were able to view their ornamental hoop house, which is uncovered for the warm season and covered for the winter. We were able to see the tabletop Christmas trees of multiple sizes and discussed market pricing for each size. Tom shared some of their successful basket-making and creative projects, as well as their not-so-successful wood bark trash bin. We were also able to taste Goumi berries and discuss packaging/pricing for different types of fruit and nuts.
During the walk through their wooded orchard, we learned that Thatchmore Farm is growing over 18 types of fruit, nut, and ornamental plants. I really appreciated the use of intercropping woodland plants, specifically Christmas trees intercropped with young mulberries and hazelnuts. Once the mulberry and/or hazelnut reaches mature size, the Christmas will have been harvested. This practice of intercropping allows Thatchmore to utilize space in an efficient manner.
A list of tree crop varieties at Thatchmore: Che (melonfruit) – from Hidden Springs Nursery, 3 female, 1 male (debate on male helpfulness); Apples – Pristine, Enterprise, Gala Supreme, Liberty, Gold Rush, Arkansas Black; Blueberries – Blue Ray, Blue Jay, Blue Crop, Patriot (Southern HighBush) consider Rabbiteye for extended harvest into late summer; Goumi – Whitman Nursery – Portland Oregon; Hardy Kiwi – Ken’s Red, Anna, Meader, ‘Hardy Male’; Asian Pears – Korean Giant, Turnbull, Hosui, Shinko; Yaupon Holly – ‘Hoskins Shadow’ – caffeine producer – bake 20 min at 400F; European Pear – Seckel, Magness, Moonglow; Persimmons – Rosseyanka, TamKam, Sheng, Nikata’s Gift, Great Wall, Saijo; Cherry – Montmorency, Hedelfingen, Jubileum; Pomegranate – Al-sirin-nar, Salavatski; Grapes – Norton (aka Cynthiana) ‘Cabernet of the South’; Hazelnut – New Forest Farm ‘Selected Seedling’ 2015, ‘Controlled Cross’ 2017; Serviceberry – probably Useful Plants Nursery; Figs – Brown Turkey; White oak for shiitake (9×7 foot centers for coppice); Black oak for acorn oil; Lower Elevation Christmas Trees – white pine, Turkish Fir, Serbian Spruce, Canaan Fir, Corkbark Fir (Frasier fir needs 3500’); and Basket Willows – https://www.dunbargardens.com/willow-cuttings/ source of some of our cuttings.
We stopped at a 12×12 foot deck in the woods, which is a potential or future site for silvatourism (like agritourism, but in the forest). Thatchmore would like to build at least 3 decks for tent camping in their forest, aka silvatourism. We discussed the income potential of silvatourism with participants already offering campsites at their farms through hipcamp and other online platforms. The consensus was that silvatourism would be a financially viable enterprise to add to the farm. The last stop on the walking tour was the shiitake mushroom logs. Shiitakes are the most financially lucrative forest farming enterprise at Thatchmore Farm, with likely the least amount of input. They use sawdust spawn because it is less expensive than plugs. They allow nature to determine the watering cycle for the logs (they are not actively watering).
Once we completed the walking tour, the participants broke into two groups. One group was led by Margaret Bloomquist, NCSU, and the other was led by Tom. Margaret’s group learned about ramps, including life cycle, historical and cultural significance, proper patch maintenance, and ethical harvesting of ramps. Participants were able to take home ramp bulbs to cultivate their own ramp patch. Tom’s group learned how to propagate yaupon holly and were able to take home cuttings of their own. At the end of the workshops, both groups came together to socialize and were offered Tom’s spruce tip wine and beverages. Overall, the tour was a great success and a wonderful learning experience. We appreciate Tom and Thatchmore Farm for hosting us! And we look forward to the upcoming forest farming tours at Forest Farmacy and Greenheart Gardens in August.
Interested in learning more about Forest Farming? Check out our Forest Farming Workshop series with the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition (ABFFC). We have two more upcoming tours, which are selling out fast!
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: Stephanie Vinat
Author: Julie Douglas
Julie is the Marketing & Communications Associate. She is the owner and Clinical herbalist at Wildkrafted Kitchen, a holistic healthcare company in Asheville, NC. Julie is a medicinal herb grower, ethical wildcrafter, educator, and formulator of internal and external medicines. After graduating with an AA focusing on Photography and Ceramic art, Julie went on to pursue their passion for sustainable small-scale agriculture in Washington state where she apprenticed on various organic farms. After discovering their affinity for medicinal herbs, they moved to Asheville to study Holistic Herbalism at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine. Julie’s main goals are to make alternative healthcare accessible to marginalized communities, decolonizing herbal medicine, and be part of mutual aid networks which strengthen and empower the community.