Organic Production and Marketing of Forest Medicinals: Building and Supporting a Learning Community Among Growers

Final Report for LNC05-256

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $106,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Dennis Hosack
Rural Action- Appalachian Forest Resource Center
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Project Information

Summary:

The scope of this project was designed to assist the Roots of Appalachia Growers Association (RAGA) develop a learning network among growers, to close the gap between growers and current research activities, and support RAGA entering the marketplace.

Introduction:

The Appalachian region of Ohio has experienced severe economic distress up to the present day. In the hilly terrain there are very few full-time farmers left, and the land has experienced fragmentation due to development. At the same time reverting tree cover and hills provide prime microclimates for cultivation of high value medicinal plants native to the region.
With prime growing sites and interest in the region from purchasers of herbal products, sound opportunities exist for ecologically and economically sustainable production of these plants. Properly grown wild-simulated ginseng brings at least $500/pound and is very ecologically sound, whereas improperly grown ginseng can bring only $20/pound and requires constant applications of fungicides. Already ginseng sales generate nearly $2 million per year in Ohio.

The project team’s focus on ginseng and goldenseal is drawn from the literature on the economics of ginseng and goldenseal production which shows that ginseng produced using wild-simulated methods is more profitable than conventionally cultivated ginseng given the scale of production and availability of natural shaded microclimates (Hankins, Persons, Beyfuss). Our emphasis with goldenseal will be on organic production, processing and marketing of COG goldenseal to companies that are willing to pay a premium as goldenseal can only be profitably grown on a small scale if it is sold for organic prices (OSU, Strategic Reports). RAGA’s focus on ginseng and goldenseal is a result of producer interest.

Project Objectives:

Short term:

· Growers will have knowledge of organic growing practices for woodland cultivation of ginseng, goldenseal, and other native medicinal plant crops.

· Growers will gain knowledge of current market conditions and opportunities around the production of ginseng, goldenseal, and other native medicinal plant crops.

· Grower knowledge will be shared between growers and shared with researchers along with grower information needs.

· Over 100 growers will participate in one or more peer learning and education events sponsored by RAGA.

Intermediate Term:

· At least 75 growers will have native medicinal plants under woodland cultivation.

· 25 growers will begin using the best practices suggested by our research results.

· At least 10 growers will make sales based on market information that we provide and will receive 150% or more of the price paid by local buyers.

· Membership in RAGA will increase to 100 members by the end of the project.

Long Term:

· Our region, led by RAGA as a strong and growing cooperative offering education and marketing services, will have a thriving woodland medicinal plant industry, resulting in increased income and diversification for farmers and increased biodiversity and woodland health.

Research

Materials and methods:

A variety of educational approaches and methods were used during the course of this project in order to maximize grower learning and increase grower interaction. Peer-to-peer networking during meetings and field days were used to facilitate interaction with knowledgeable “experts” in an informal setting. These events were conducted at the Rural Action Research and Education (RARE) center, a 68-acre research farm located in rural Meigs, County Ohio.

Written and web materials were also produced to help facilitate the dissemination and retention of information regarding production practices. Annual conferences and a series of educational workshops were used to provide formal structured information with opportunities for networking and interaction amongst participants. Landowners conference activities were conducted at Camp Oty’okwa, a 300-acre facility near Logan, OH, located in the Hocking Hills.

Research results and discussion:

April 2006

Activity: Conduct a tour for 4-10 medicinal plant buyers from the US and China.

Milestone: Two herbal companies toured the Rural Action Research and Education Center (RARE).

Results: Representatives from Lifestyle Nutraceuticals and Frontier Natural Products Cooperative toured the RARE center and became major sponsors of the Landowners Conference. Lifestyle Nutraceuticals has gone on to contract with RAGA members for the production of black cohosh roots for their line of products, as well as contracting with Rural Action for technical assistance with establish large scale production. Assistance was provided by way of on-farm site assessments and consultations with growers.

May 12, 2006

Activity: Convene four grower field days involving 60 persons hosted by the Roots of Appalachia

Milestone: RAGA hosted 1 grower field day at the Rural Action Research and Education Center.

Results: Growers were able to network in an outdoor environment where they discussed cultivation tips and techniques. An unspecified number of participants attended this event.

May 13, 2006

Activity: Convene four grower field days involving 60 persons hosted by the Roots of Appalachia

Milestone: RAGA in partnership with the Southern Ohio Forestland Association (SOFA) hosted 1 grower field day at the Heritage Homestead Farm in Scioto County, Ohio with 20 participants.

Results: Growers were able to network in an outdoor environment where they discussed cultivation tips and techniques. A tour was conducted showcasing successful cultivation of ginseng, goldenseal, and black cohosh. SOFA members were educated about alternative income opportunities, and were encouraged to pursue the sustainable cultivation of forest grown medicinals.

June 2006

Activity: Host two Landowner Income Opportunities conferences featuring best cultivation practices, market tips and other topics about forest-cultivated crops, attended by 150 persons each year.

Milestone: Convened the 2006 Landowners Conference with several workshop topics covered value-added opportunities and marketing.

Results: Thirty participants attended an intro to ginseng cultivation workshop and were trained to sustainably cultivate ginseng by using the wild-simulated method; 18 participants attended a workshop focusing on ginseng stewardship practices; 28 participants attended a value-adding workshop; and 43 participants attended a workshop focusing on developing natural resource based small businesses. In total 198 participants attended the 2006 conference.

July 2006

Activity: Convene three in-depth marketing-oriented sessions at conferences or workshops attended by 45 persons.

Milestone: One ginseng production workshop conducted by Chip Carroll in Dover, Ohio with 21 participants.

Results: Workshop participants were trained to sustainably cultivate ginseng by using the wild simulated method. Attention was also focused on site selection, maintenance, disease and pest management, value adding and marketing.

Summer 2006

Activity: Coauthor three crop fact sheets with OSU Extension.

Milestone: The fourth publication in the “Growing Ginseng in Ohio” series, titled “Growing American Ginseng in Ohio: Harvesting and Drying” was completed by Chip Carroll (Rural Action) and Dave Apsley (OSU Extension).

Results: This was the fourth installment in the “Growing American Ginseng In Ohio” series. The first three parts of this series were released in 2004 prior to implementing this project. This publication was designed to assist growers with proper harvesting and handling of roots to ensure the highest quality product, and economic return for the grower. Upon completion this publication was sent to growers over the RAGA list-serve, and was distributed at outreach events by Forestry Program staff.

October 2006

Activity: Convene four grower field days involving 60 persons hosted by the Roots of Appalachia

Milestone: RAGA hosted 1 grower field day at the Rural Action Research and Education Center focusing on goldenseal production with 15 participants

Results: Long time grower and RAGA member Charlie Hambel facilitated a session addressing proper harvesting and planting goldenseal in a cultivated setting. Participants’ harvested roots from research beds, learned proper cleaning and storage methods, and then constructed a woodland bed where harvested roots were transplanted. This was a valuable experience for participants who had not previously experienced root harvesting or development of production beds.

November 2006

Activity: Circulate one market update to 200 persons as well as ongoing updates via list-serve.

Milestone: Completed one market report for 2006 and included it in “The Grapevine,” the program newsletter of the Rural Action Sustainable Forestry Program, a publication received by over 1,500 people. This report was also distributed over the RAGA list-serve, reaching 200 people.

Results: Growers were updated about current herb market trends for 2006. This information can help growers develop products that will cater to current market trends and buyers.

November 2006

Activity: Four trips for growers to natural products industry events.

Milestone: Conducted 2 trips for growers to industry events in North Carolina and New York.

Results: Growers from RAGA had the opportunity to travel to North Carolina in November for the North Carolina Natural Products Trade-Show. Tom Johnson (Vice President) and Katharine Parks (President) attended this event to network with potential buyers and get the latest information on the industry. RAGA representatives were also present at the 5th Annual Catskill Mountain Ginseng Festival on October 8th, 2006 in Greene County New York. This trade show allowed RAGA members to network with large-scale ginseng buyers from NY City. RAGA was also able to recruit several new members at this event.

Conclusion 2006
Based on data collected in 2006, project development and participation were on target with original performance targets. During 2006, over 200 medicinal herb growers attended conferences, workshops and field days focusing on growing, marketing, value adding and sustainable cultivation practices for medicinal herbs. By participating in project activities RAGA recruited 14 new members, further enhancing their capacity to conduct NTFP outreach and education in the region.

April 2007

Activity: Convene four grower field days involving 60 persons hosted by the Roots of Appalachia Growers Association.

Milestone: Convened one on farm field day hosted by the Roots of Appalachia Growers Association at the Equinox Botanicals Farm near Rutland, Ohio with 24 participants.

Results: Growers were educated and trained by Paul Strauss, a professional herbal practitioner about value added opportunities, and specifically making value-added herbal products from goldenseal, black cohosh, and American ginseng. Growers were also trained in identification of native medicinal plants.

May 2007

Activity: Convene three in-depth marketing-oriented sessions at conferences or workshops attended by 45 persons.

Milestone: Tanner Filyaw conducted one presentation at the New Mattamoras Library in Washington County, Ohio, with 27 participants.

Results: Participants were educated about the sustainable cultivation of American ginseng by using the wild-simulated method. Many participants had both a personal and family history of collecting ginseng from the wild, and were unaware that wild-simulated cultivation could be achieved on a large scale. Fact-sheets detailing site selection, the wild-simulated approach, and marketing were distributed to participants. One attendee also purchased ginseng seed through the Rural Action Planting Stock program.

June 2007

Activity: Host two Landowner Income Opportunities conferences featuring best cultivation practices, market tips and other topics about forest-cultivated crops, attended by 150 persons each year.

Milestone: Convened the 2007 Landowners Conference with 120 participants. Work shop topics covered value adding with black cohosh and goldenseal, growing ginseng with the wild-simulated method, how to obtain income from forests while preserving at-risk plants, and medicinal herb identification.

Results: Roughly 75 participants were educated about value added opportunities, sustainable cultivation practices, site selection, and plant identification. By attending the value-adding workshop, one RAGA member began to pursue these opportunities and facilitated a hands-on workshop during a grower field day in the fall of 2007.

September 2007

Activity: Convene four grower field days involving 60 persons hosted by the Roots of Appalachia.

Milestone: Conducted an educational field day hosted by RAGA at the Rural Action Research and Education Center near Rutland, Ohio with 10 participants.

Results: Growers were educated and trained about value added opportunities, including ginseng seed production for profit, and making value-added herbal products. Growers were also trained in identification of native medicinal plants.

October 2007

Activity: Convene three in-depth marketing-oriented sessions at conferences or workshops attended by 45 persons.

Milestone: One presentation was conducted by Tom Johnson, Vice President of RAGA, at the Paul Bunyan Festival, an annual event of the Ohio Forestry Association, and was attended by 52 people.

Results: Workshop attendees were educated about ginseng ecology, sustainable production practices, and marketing. This was a valuable opportunity to discuss alternative income strategies from woodlands with participants predominately engaging in timber harvesting.

Fall 2007

Activity: Circulate one market update to 200 persons as well as ongoing updates via list-serve.

Milestone: Completed one market report for 2007 and was included in “The Grapevine,” the program newsletter of the Rural Action Sustainable Forestry Program, a publication received by over 1,500 people. This report was also distributed over the RAGA list-serve, reaching an additional 200 people.

Results: Growers were updated about current herb market trends for 2007. This information can help growers develop products that will cater to current market trends and buyers.

Fall 2007

Activity: Publish one research summary sharing results from existing research trials in a form useable by growers.

Milestone: Research results from on farm trials conducted at the Rural Action Research and Education Center were produced and included in “The Grapevine,” the program newsletter of the Rural Action Sustainable Forestry Program, as well as the RAGA newsletter.

Results: Research results documented the effects of various soil amendments, and planting techniques, and how they affect root growth and yields. Results were distributed to roughly 300 people from the RAGA database, 1,500 people from Rural Actions database, and one academic researcher currently conducting field trials with these species. Growers were educated about which practices were beneficial, as well as detrimental to root growth and development.

Activity: Coauthor three crop fact sheets with OSU Extension.

Milestone: A fifth fact-sheet in the ginseng series, titled “Growing Ginseng in Ohio: Maintenance, Disease Control, and Pest Management,” was produced by Chip Carroll (Rural Action), and Dave Apsley (OSU Extension).

Results: This publication was the fifth installment of the “Growing Ginseng in Ohio” series. Once released it was immediately sent to growers over the RAGA list-serve. By completing this publication growers now have an easily accessible document to reference in times of need. Roughly 200 copies were distributed to conference and workshop participants in Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Conclusion 2007: During 2007 188 growers participated in project activities, indicating that project development and participation were in line with original performance targets. The release of the fourth installment of the “Growing Ginseng in Ohio” series, and the summarized research findings are educational tools that will continue to be of great use to producers.

April 2008

Activity: Convene three in-depth marketing-oriented sessions at conferences or workshops attended by 45 persons.

Milestone: Convened a multi-stakeholder roundtable at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in central Pennsylvania with 50 participants, including 6 academic researchers and service providers from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This event was titled “Forest Farming in Eastern North America: connecting growers, collectors, and researchers.

Results: Participants were engaged in detailed discussions regarding ginseng stewardship, management of American ginseng amongst the states, marketing, good manufacturing practices and requirements for entering the marketplace, and the latest research findings for producers. Growers’ perspectives on the challenges facing the ginseng and herbal products industries were also documented and discussed. Discussion sessions and presentations will be compiled as part of a proceedings document, and will be made available to conference participants and the public. One unexpected aspect of this event was that 40 participants discussed the formation of a National Ginseng Growers Association, which has not existed in the United States for roughly 100 years. Due to the secretive nature of ginseng culture the community of growers has become decentralized and isolated. But because of work conducted by project beneficiaries, and numerous partners across the eastern U.S., this community has been significantly strengthened. The purpose of this Association will be to function as an educational, advocacy, and support group for grower’s nation wide.

Adjustments: This event was originally planned for 2007 as part of a NE region project LNE05-218, but staffing transitions made it necessary to seek a project extension and postpone the event until 2008. At this time unspent funds from this project were merged with project LNE05-218. By merging these two projects we were able to provide participants with travel vouchers to help ensure participation from highly experienced and qualified growers, allowing us to host a more successful event. Although this event was postponed, by taking extra time to plan and coordinate the event, better results were achieved.

Conclusion 2008: At the end of April 2008 project LNC05-256 reached more than 440 participants, and engaged 6 academic researchers and other service providers, nearly meeting the proposed performance targets for their involvement. Many positive outcomes have been achieved by this project. One of the most unexpected outcomes that will greatly impact the grower community was the discussion of the National Ginseng Growers Association, which could be positive asset for growers, diggers, and stewards.

Research conclusions:

Several positive outcomes have resulted from this project. By conducting on-farm field days, workshops, presentations, outreach out festivals and events, more than 440 growers, and potential growers have been reached. By networking at events and through Rural Action’s Planting Stock Program it is clear that most growers are pursuing more sustainable and ecological methods of ginseng cultivation, specifically the wild-simulated method. One local root buyer recently stated that he is seeing more wild-simulated roots sold on the market.

Since the beginning of this project RAGA has recruited many new members, but has also maintained a paid membership of 86 growers. RAGA members have continued to promote forest farming, and ecological cultivation methods around the state, urging interested landowners and farmers diversify their farm operations by cultivating woodland medicinals. This project has also had important impacts on local extension services, and the general public. By partnering with OSU Extension to produce the “Ginseng” series of fact-sheets, RAGA and Rural Action have helped increase the capacity of service providers to disseminate information to forested landowners. These fact-sheets have also helped reach the general public. Many new and existing growers who have participated in the Rural Action Planting Stock Program, or who have called to inquire about additional NTFP literature and publications, have sited these publications as the source of their inquiry.

Economic Analysis

The economic impacts of forest cultivation on farm viability are variable depending on the size and scale of implementation. Wild-simulated cultivation of American ginseng requires fewer inputs, but generates a higher economic return. In 2007 prices paid to the digger for wild-simulated ginseng reached as high as $900/per dry pound, indicating that there is potential for forest cultivation to have a positive effect on farm viability. There are also additional value-added opportunities that farmers can pursue when cultivating forest medicinals, including seed sales ($50-$75 per pound), and selling young roots for planting stock ($0.50-$1.00 per root).

The economic implications of this project are difficult to quantify because data was not collected directly from all growers who participated in project activities. Many growers indicated on application forms for the April 2008 roundtable that they derive between 10%-50% of their income from forest grown medicinals, but more work is needed to accurately assess the economic impacts of wild-simulated ginseng cultivation. Rural Action in partnership with the Roots of Appalachia Growers Association has recently submitted a SARE pre-proposal to survey growers in Ohio in an attempt to calculate these figures.

Farmer Adoption

In total over 440 growers have participated in project activities. Based on evidence and data collected from growers, it is clear that growers are pursuing sustainable and ecological production methods for American ginseng, and goldenseal. Traditional growers who have been involved with forest farming for many years have begun to, or already have, transitioned to these practices. It is also apparent that most new growers are almost exclusively pursuing sustainable wild-simulated production. For traditional growers to complete this transition it is necessary for them to eliminate the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Instead of purchasing these chemicals growers can use the money they have saved to purchase 1-2 pounds of extra seed. It is recommended to plant at least this amount of seed every season if growers wish to fully maximize the earning potential of their woodlands.

Upon completion of this project it is also evident that a stronger community of growers has been developed in the NC SARE region. The Roots of Appalachia Growers Association (RAGA) has greatly expanded its membership over the last few years, and some of this growth can be attributed to events conducted around the state by Rural Action staff and RAGA members. RAGA has continued to develop into an active educational force in the state by attending events, and conducting outreach and presentations. Several members have also begun to enter the marketplace, selling ginseng, goldenseal, and black cohosh. One member reported pursuing value-added opportunities by marketing black cohosh at a local farmers market as landscaping material, and receiving 5 times the wholesale value paid by root buyers. Rural Action and RAGA will continue to play an important role in fostering a strong community of growers in Ohio. For the next two years funding provided by the Ohio Environmental Education Fund will be dedicated to conducting site-evaluations for landowners, as well as offering consultations and technical assistance.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Several publications were produced during the course of this project. Two fact-sheets co-authored between Rural Action and OSU Extension were produced. These publications have proved to be highly effective in reaching the intended audience, which included new and existing growers, and the general public. Two herb market updates were completed and published in “The Grapevine” and RAGA newsletters during 2006 and 2007. These publication were sent to more that 1700 individuals each year. This was found to be an effective way of disseminating marketing information to growers. Conference proceedings from the “Forest Farming” roundtable conducted in April 2008 were completed in July 2008, and will be made available to conference participants, academic researchers, service providers, key industry stakeholders, and the general public.

During the course of this project 7 outreach events were attended by RAGA members and Rural Action staff. Events included, the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, Catskill Mountain Ginseng Festival, Paul Bunyan Festival, North Carolina Natural Products Convention, Forest Farming Roundtable, and 2 presentations conducted in New Matamoras and Dover, Ohio. Outreach at these events consisted of conducting presentations, herb identification field hikes, networking with event participants, setting up informational displays, and disseminating literature about forest cultivation and NTFP’s.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

Throughout the course of this project some areas in need of additional study have been identified. One of the primary concerns arising from the April 2008 roundtable is the lack of funding available to researchers for agro-forestry research, and forest farming production systems. Strong production systems are essential for supporting farmers/growers in the development of these enterprises. Secondly, it is necessary to conduct further economic analysis and data gathering to determine the actual impacts that forest farming can have on farm profitability.

Literature Cited

Beyfuss, R.L. 1998. American Ginseng Production in New York State.
Cornell Cooperative Extension. Cairo: New York.

Beyfuss, R.L. 1999. Economics and Marketing of Ginseng. Agroforestry
Notes (15).

Hankins, A. 1998 Producing and Marketing Wild Simulated ginseng in
Forest and Agroforestry Systems. Virginia State University Extension, Petersburg:
Virginia.

Ohio State University- pending publication on cost of production of
goldenseal.

Persons, W. S. 1994. American Ginseng Green Gold: A grower’s guide,
including ginseng’s history and use. Bright Mountain Books: Asheville, North Carolina.

Strategic Reports. 2003. Analysis of the economic viability of cultivating selected botanicals in North Carolina. Edited by Jeanine Davis and Jackie Greenfield. Commissioned by North Carolina State University. USDA 1949. Goldenseal: Under Cultivation. Farmers’ Bulletin No. 613. Washington, DC.

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.