Forest Farming

(A Central Appalachian Foodshed Conference Session Topic)

Session Host: Christine Laporte, Consultant, Sacharuna Foundation

The premise of this session was to explore interest and existing work in forest farming in Appalachia. Christine Laporte of the Sacharuna Foundation led the session, and introduced the Foundation’s interest in linking forest farming and forest crops to low income communities and individuals, support existing projects that will retain the value-added income for the grower and stay within the local community. Currently the Sacharuna Foundation is seeking grant partners Eastern West Virginia, Southwest Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky.

The group discussed some key issues that pose challenges to forest farming. For example, the group examined the balance between species conservation and over-exploitation of a wild food resource for economic reasons. They posed the question; can forest farming, and cultivating forest crops, be an alternative for transitioning coal communities? Session participants also noted the problems that forest farmers face in bringing their product to market, including prohibitive state policy and farmers’ market regulations, and a lack of connection between producers and buyers.

Several efforts were identified that could make forest farming more viable in the region. These included policy and regulation changes, forming networks and connections across people and groups that harvest wild foods, the introduction of greater self-regulation of ethical harvesting techniques, and the introduction of forest farming into the state forestry plan, among others. The group identified the creation of Facebook groups of harvesters to promote communication, a publicized list of fair buyers for wild products with ratings, and more publicly available information about plant propagation specifically, and about forest farm products in general.

Key Issues and Questions:

  • How can find a balance between species conservation and over-exploitation of a wild food resource for economic reasons?

  • Can forest farming, and cultivating forest crops, be an alternative for transitioning coal communities?

  • How can we grow the market for wild species and ensure that the market is fair?

  • How can we promote shared learning around ethical standards for wild harvesting?

More notes from the session