A Three-Pronged Strategy to Equitably Provide Planting Stock to Forest Farmers: Propagation Training, Seed Exchange, and Working with Wild Harvesters

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $246,505.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2026
Grant Recipient: Smokey House Center
Region: Northeast
State: Connecticut
Project Leader:
Marlyse Duguid
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies


  • Additional Plants: ginseng, herbs, native plants


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, forest farming, nurseries, shade cloth
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    Forest farming—the cultivation of crops under a forest canopy—is an agroforestry practice that represents a significant economic opportunity for farmers, forestland owners, and land stewards in the Northeast. Forest farming is gaining traction in the region, in part due to initiatives like the Northeast Forest Farmers Coalition and in part due to the benefits derived from forest farming: diversified income, farm resiliency, protection of forestland, and increased understory biodiversity (Chittum et al., 2019). With growing numbers of BIPOC land stewards engaged in regenerative land management practices regionally, forest farming also represents an opportunity to counteract the systematic marginalization of these groups. 

    However, for farmers with access to forest land, there are two major barriers inhibiting adoption of forest farming in the Northeast: 

    1. major shortages in forest botanical planting stock (seeds and roots)
    2. low price points in wholesale markets do not currently support forest farming operations 

    This lack of planting stock is inhibiting beginning forest farmers from starting their own enterprises. Additionally, mature roots being sold wholesale into medicinal markets fetch only one tenth the price of roots being sold as planting stock (Felumlee, 2021). Together, these barriers are stagnating the growth of a healthy regional forest farming industry. 

    We propose a 3-pronged approach to simultaneously solving these issues by equitably increasing planting stock in the region. Project initiatives include:

    1. Increase Propagation Know-How: Launch an educational campaign based around development of a Research and Demonstration Nursery (R&D Nursery), on-farm workshops, and online educational materials that promote sound forest botanical propagation techniques. Research will provide empirical data supporting existing farmer knowledge of four successful propagation techniques used for commercially valuable forest botanical species. 
    2. Equitably Distribute Local Seed Stock: Create an online Forest Botanical Seed Exchange Marketplace that connects seed collectors to forest farmers interested in buying seed as well as working to gain seed collection rights on private lands for BIPOC land stewards. 
    3. Increase Available Root Stock: Train and enroll wild harvesters in a certification program that helps establish channels for sustainably harvested wild roots to be sold locally as planting stock, rather than into wholesale markets. 

    All of these initiatives will prioritize working with BIPOC farmers and other historically marginalized groups. These efforts will jumpstart a new regional forest botanical propagation economy where forest farmers, land stewards, and wild harvesters provide sustainably sourced and genetically-diverse planting stock to forest farmers, in turn removing the biggest bottleneck to forest farming adoption. Additionally, forest farmers and land stewards will access an entirely new planting stock market that provides higher price points and shorter harvesting intervals compared to wholesale markets. In total, this project will benefit up to 1,000 small and mid-sized farms and forested properties, plant nurseries, and wild-harvesters. 

    Performance targets from proposal:

    1.1 10 independent forest botanical propagation enterprises will be established.On existing farms. These operations will benefit farmers by diversifying crops and income streams by expanding markets for farmers.

    1.2. Propagule  exchange program will link 25 seed/plant collectors to a diverse group of 100 propagators/forest farmers

    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.