Timber to truffles: West Virginia workshops in traditional and special forest products

Final Report for ENE03-077

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2003: $61,614.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
David McGill
WVU Appalachian Hardwood Center
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Project Information

Summary:

In recent times, there has been an explosion of information and markets for special forest products (medicinal herbs, mushrooms, natural textiles, etc.). West Virginia has habitats that are ideal for many of these woodland medicinals and specialty products, many of which have a long established tradition of being important forest commodities. This proposal provided training 2-day training workshops in traditional and special forest products to extension agents, West Virginia Division of Forestry service foresters, NRCS technical staff and associates, West Virginia Conservation Service Supervisors and staff, and WV Master Forestland Owners over the course of three years. The intent of these train-the-trainers was to have participants take the knowledge learned and convey it to others in their own communities.

Performance Target:

Performance target 1. Training in traditional and special forest products to 80 extension agents, West Virginia Division of Forestry service foresters, NRCS technical staff and associates, and West Virginia Conservation Service Supervisors and staff over the course of two years—40 in the first year and 40 in the second year.

Results:
We met this initial performance target by the end of the second training session. Our attendance in 2004 was 37 and in 2005 it was 43, hitting the 80 participant target. By using the facilities at Glenville State College, in collaboration with their forestry department, we were able to spend less on these training sessions that originally planned. We were granted a one-year extension and in the third year we held a third Timber to Truffles training session with 32 participants. In total, with 112 participants we exceeded this performance target and still were able to facilitate the county-based workshops with 546 participants mentioned above.

Performance target 2. At least 10 percent (4 beneficiaries) of these 80 workshop attendees will sponsor woodlot trainings or seminars within a year of completing the training workshop and a total of 20 percent (8 beneficiaries) do this within two years. Hence, the targeted beneficiaries will generate a total of 16 extra workshops.

Results:
With the early evaluation results showing that only a couple participants of the Timber to Truffles workshops at Glenville in 2004 went on to carry out trainings in their communities we did not achieve this target. However, this information prompted us to follow up with the WVU county agents that did attend the workshops and their efforts alone exceeded this target with a total of 23 county-based workshops in special forest products.

Introduction:

Timber to Truffles was a three-year, train-the-trainers project in West Virginia that aimed to provide training in special forest products to natural resources agency personnel and educators. The intent was to have the participants of these training workshops take the knowledge they gained from the workshops and share it with people from their local communities.

Three workshops that featured expert speakers formed the foundation of the project. Experts included West Virginia experts involved in various topics and two extension specialists from other states. Topics featured at these training workshops were alternative forest enterprise planning and development, marketing special forest products, ginseng production, Christmas tree farming, medicinal herb cultivation, maple syrup production, shiitake mushroom biology and cultivation, wildlife habitat assessment, portable sawmill opportunities and demonstration, recreational opportunities, and herbaceous plant identification. Each workshop also had a trip to a local landowners property where both timber and medicinal herb production were primary objectives. Most of these training topics provided for hands-on learning. Shiitake mushroom production, where participants inoculated and took home their own logs, was particularly enjoyable.

The initial post-workshop evaluation indicated that two participants had themselves conducted workshops following their Timber to Truffles training. However, 47% stated they were continuing their own shiitake mushroom production. Evaluations of the workshops were very favorable and the participants were genuinely appreciative of having the opportunity to take part in the workshops.

In the last phase of this project, 13 county-based workshops on portable sawmills, 9 county-based workshops in shiitake mushroom production, and one workshop on ginseng production were facilitated with a total of 543 farmers, landowners, and other interested individuals participating. A survey of the participants of the portable sawmill workshops was completed and an evaluation survey of the shiitake mushroom workshops is currently underway. Both the county agents who hosted these workshops and the participants thought these county-based workshops were helpful, interesting, and enjoyable.

This SARE-sponsored series of workshops in special forest products initiated a general interest in these topics among West Virginia University county extension agents. Apart from the county-based workshops mentioned above, many of the agents are motivated to carry out more of these workshops in 2007.

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

To promote information on sound forest stewardship and management of traditional and special forest products, we used a train-the-trainers program that targeted extension educators and other natural resources professionals. Over the course of three years (two years in original proposal and one additional year with a grant extension) we provided three, two and a half day field-based training sessions to Extension personnel of the West Virginia University, West Virginia Division of Forestry service foresters, NRCS employees, conservation district supervisors, West Virginia Conservation Agency staff, and other natural resource agency personnel. The annual woodlot opportunities training workshop featured experts in forestry, wildlife, forest grown medicinal plants, gourmet mushroom production, and other alternative forest-based enterprises.

Our engagement strategy was to first advertise for the workshop. These advertisements were made through WVU Extension Service, WV Division of Forestry, WV Forestry Association, WV Farm Bureau, USDA NRCS and USDA Farm Service Agency. Some of the key players on this project were upper-level administrators of the organizations employing our targeted beneficiaries and had given approval for their personnel to attend these workshops.

Target beneficiaries participated in both indoor classroom and outdoor, hands-on training. This provided a variety of educational alternative forest management topics for target beneficiaries and gave them the ability to develop educational training sessions for their own clients. The project team included initially included forestry consultants, extension agents and specialists, agriculture and natural resources agency representatives, and farmers and private woodlot owners as key players. During the project period both the West Virginia Division of Forestry and the West Virginia Conservation Agency had major personnel changes with initial project partner contacts moving on to other jobs. We continued our contact and partnership with these agencies, however, working with the replacements of our original contacts.

Evaluations by workshop participants helped to monitor progress toward project targets. These evaluations were also used to modify the Timber to Truffles workshops in subsequent years.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

For the most part, accomplishments were made by Timber to Truffles participants in the last year of the project. With early information from workshops attendees it became apparent that, for whatever reason, participants were not self-motivated to conduct workshops that were essentially not part of their normal work activities. By facilitating county-based workshops we exceeded our performance targets and expanded interest in these farming/forest landowner activities. Extension agents, many of whom did not attend the Timber to Truffles trainings, are now requesting workshops in these special forest products topics.

Initially the target audience consisted of natural resources educators and agency personnel. We encountered a couple of unexpected events during this project. In our initial year, as pre-registration looked to be low, we opened the workshop to landowners who had participated in our 3-day master forestland owners workshops here in WV. In our second year of Timber to Truffles we were pleasantly surprised when we had 15 West Virginia Division of Forestry service foresters attend the workshops. Another unfortunate surprise was that we found out that USDA Natural Resource Conservation Agency personnel cannot accept the scholarships that we offered for these training sessions. We feel that this led to low attendance by this agency.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

The follow-up survey of the 2004 Timber to Truffles participants showed that two individual have facilitated workshops on nontimber forest products. One of the workshops demonstrated Shiitake mushroom production and the other was a meeting for ginseng growers. Other participants are engaged in nontimber forest products activities, for example, 47% of the survey respondents indicated continued work with raising Shiitake mushrooms.

Possibly the biggest impact that this project has made in West Virginia is the motivation of several county extension agents to host these “natural resource” based workshops. Many of the WV agents have formal training in traditional agricultural production. By facilitating county-based workshops following the Timber to Truffles training workshops, the agents had the opportunity to learn about new opportunities for their traditional clients and producers, but also saw many new faces and were introduced to a whole different clientele. Many of the people attending the county-based workshops had never been to an extension-sponsored meeting in the past.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

For the most part, accomplishments were made by Timber to Truffles participants in the last year of the project. With early information from workshops attendees it became apparent that, for whatever reason, participants were not self-motivated to conduct workshops that were essentially not part of their normal work activities. By facilitating county-based workshops we exceeded our performance targets and expanded interest in these farming/forest landowner activities. Extension agents, many of whom did not attend the Timber to Truffles trainings, are now requesting workshops in these special forest products topics.

Initially the target audience consisted of natural resources educators and agency personnel. We encountered a couple of unexpected events during this project. In our initial year, as pre-registration looked to be low, we opened the workshop to landowners who had participated in our 3-day master forestland owners workshops here in WV. In our second year of Timber to Truffles we were pleasantly surprised when we had 15 West Virginia Division of Forestry service foresters attend the workshops. Another unfortunate surprise was that we found out that USDA Natural Resource Conservation Agency personnel cannot accept the scholarships that we offered for these training sessions. We feel that this led to low attendance by this agency.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The primary contribution made by this project was the increased awareness and motivation of many WV county agents to host workshops in special forest products. Undoubtedly, these workshops will continue even now that the SARE-sponsored project is complete.

Another contribution resulting from this project was the direct contact made by the 658 total workshop participants with the various special forest product experts. The information gathered through these workshops have been used and will continue to be used by the participants. Continuing evaluations of these impacts will help us better understand these contributions.

Future Recommendations

While we found that our Timber to Truffles training workshops based in a single location were easy to host and to bring in experts from as far as the state of Washington, the county-based workshops seemed to have a bigger payoff from the standpoint of assuring information gets to the local level. The 2-day training format allowed us to provide participants a wide variety of topics and it likely initiated the WVU extension agents to host workshops in their own counties. However, if we were to do this project again, we would likely add a performance target that includes assistance for county-based workshops.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.