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In the land of sustainable agriculture diversity is king. Many small farmers in Southern Appalachia hedge their bets and grow for variety, rather than stake their annual income on the success of a single crop. By branching out into new markets, they can insure against the failure of one crop while tapping the potential of another.

Cultivating crops beneath the canopy of a woodlot or unused forested land is one strategy that is gaining attention with growers in our region. American ginseng, goldenseal, ramps – these products command high prices on local and international markets. But there are barriers to entry; most notably, the growing practices themselves are different from those of traditional row crops.

We are fortunate that pioneers in the field of agroforestry have already put decades of scientific and economic research into cultivating these woodland edibles and medicinals. In fact several are on the list of presenters at the upcoming Organic Growers School Beginning Forest Farming workshop on Friday, March 10th, 2017. The full-day workshop will provide an overview of growing methods, as well as packaging and supply chain specifics. Regulatory and third-party certification will also be covered. (See the end of this post for complete workshop schedule and details.)

Woodland edible and medicinal plants maintain a high status in our regional culture, and their market value remains strong. Farmers who take to the woods to cultivate ramps, ginseng, goldenseal and black cohosh are not only increasing their farm’s profitability – they are lending a hand in protecting the wild cousins of these native plants for generations to come. Registration for this workshop ends soon! Visit to sign up now.

Beginning Forest Farming – Cultivating Crops Under the Canopy

* Session 1: Growing Forest Botanicals: Introduction to Forest-Grown Medicinals Including: How to Grow, Harvest, and Dry the Plants Most in Demand

* Session 2: Issues Specific to Ginseng Production Including: Unique Growing, Harvesting, and Drying Methods, Wildlife, and Protection Theft

* Q & A: Question and Answer Panel with Speakers and Several Experienced Growers

* Session 3: Rules and Regulations for Growing these Plants Including: State and Federal Regulations, GAPs and GMPs, and How they Apply to Growing Forest Botanicals

* Session 4: Selling Your Product: Marketing and Branding Including: Value-Added Products, Markets, Consumers, & Third Party Verifications.

* Session 5: Buyers Perspective Including: Large and Small Buyers, Local and Domestic

* Q & A: Question and Answer Panel with speakers and industry experts

This one-day workshop is offered in collaboration with the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer (ABFF) Program, which is dedicated to increasing opportunities for farmers and forestland owners in Appalachia and beyond who are interested in starting or expanding/diversifying a forest farming operation. Join the ABFFC coalition to become part of the movement! Info here.

Further Reading: “Ginseng Digging: Local Traditions and Global Markets for Appalachia’s Medicinal Plants,” by Hal Herring,

Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals, by Jeanine Davis: North Carolina Natural Products Association: Connects growers with buyers, and provides support for following best practices in the growing, harvesting, handling and marketing of woodland medicinals, particularly American ginseng.

About the Author: Kristina Israel heard tales of ‘sang hunting and ramp digging as a child in Western North Carolina. At her first OGS conference in 2004, she learned how edible forest landscaping creates an alternative to wild-harvested ramps and ginseng. Last year she and her husband broke ground on Breezy Acres Farm in Flat Rock, NC. You can follow their farming adventures on Instagram.


Author: OGS

Organic Growers School is a non-profit organization providing organic education since 1993. Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support people in our region to farm, garden, and live organically.

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