The Northeast Forest Farmers Coalition: Building a Community of Practice

Project Overview

LNE21-423
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $249,193.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2024
Grant Recipient: Yale School of the Environment
Region: Northeast
State: Connecticut
Project Leader:
Karam Sheban
Yale School of the Environment

Commodities

  • Additional Plants: ginseng, herbs

Practices

  • Crop Production: agroforestry, forest farming

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification:

    The cultivation of commercially-valuable herbs under a forest canopy—an agroforestry practice called forest farming—represents a strategy for increasing economic and ecological diversity on farms across the Northeast. It presents an opportunity to diversify on-farm income streams with low additional labor and costs by converting idle forestland into an economic asset without compromising forest health or timbering potential. The result is greater product diversity, increased farm resilience, and long-term ecological and economic viability (Chittum et al., 2019).

    A major barrier to establishing a forest farming enterprise is access to technical information and assistance on topics such as farming techniques, market strategy, regulations, and forest resource inventory and management (Jacobson and Kar, 2013). While coordinated technical assistance is being organized in other regions—exemplified by the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition (ABFFC), a group founded by Virginia Tech University in 2015 dedicated to the development of forest farming enterprises—this assistance remains sparse and uncoordinated throughout the Northeast U.S.

    Meanwhile, prices for forest crops are rising, research and extension around forest farming is improving in quality and quantity, and national support for the agroforestry is growing—evidenced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s (D-Maine) proposed 2020 Agricultural Resilience Act, which would expand the National Agroforestry Center through three new regional offices.

    Solution and Approach

    Our project will allow farmers to meet this opportunity by providing the first region-wide forest farming educational campaign in the Northeast. We will build a broad community of practice, centered around small and mid-sized farms with a forested component. This project directly addresses the problem above through strategic regional partnerships, providing the resources and relationships for forest farmers in the Northeast to optimize their operations. This project builds off lessons learned in the Appalachian region to bring their knowledge of forest farming to the Northeast.

    In-person trainings, the establishment of a peer-to-peer forest farming mentoring network, and the creation of forest farming demonstration sites at strategic locations throughout the region represent the core of our educational campaign. Meanwhile, project research will generate baseline data to address understudied ecological, financial, and production questions related to five important forest farmable species with significant profit potential—American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), ramps (Allium triccocum), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

    This project represents an opportunity for the Northeast to build on national momentum around forest farming research and education, and it would come at a critical time. With a national American Forest Farming Council in the early stages of design, the establishment of a Northeast Forest Farmers Coalition would lay a foundation of forest farmers and educational resources in the region. 

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Project activities will result in 100 new forest farmers across the Northeast region planting commercially valuable native understory species across 50 acres of forestland, resulting in a profit potential of $500,000 dollars added to privately owned forestland in the region.

    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.