Friday, March 21, 2014

Woodland Crops: Sustainable Harvests from Forests

Forests are most commonly identified as a source of wood and associated products but very few realize that they are also home to a host of woodland crops. Aboriginal people have known about the vast array of uses for forests dating back to antiquity. The growing importance of sustainability may well prove to be a catalyst advancing the growth of woodland farming. Collecting the forest's bounty (wildcrafting) is different than woodland farming which involves larger production volumes.

The wonderful thing about woodland crops is that rather than cut down trees they need the dappled light provided by the forest canopy to grow. Getting involved with woodland farming generally involves thinning out the forests and opening up the understory. While almost any shade-tolerant plant or fungus will grow in a wooded setting, it is always best to work with species of flora that are indigenous to the area you are farming. 
Forests directly contribute to the life and livelihoods of 1.6 billion people around the world and they provide substantial economic benefits including jobs. Wood production and associated industries account for nearly 1 per cent of global gross domestic product. Non-monetary benefits from forests, such as water, energy, shelter and medicine, are estimated to be two to three times as great. While it is hard for those of us who live in the world of big-pharma to fathom, to this day a huge percentage of the world's population still rely on naturally occurring remedies. 

There are a wide range of opportunities in forests or even small woodlots. This includes harvesting crops, native plant nursery (seeds and planting stock), crafting, and agrotourism. Forests offer great opportunities alongside sustainably harvesting of wood. If you cultivate crops already onsite the initial capital outlay is virtually non-existent.

While there is a dedicated niche market for woodland crops, like any business it is important to know and develop your market. Consider a business strategy that does more than sell woodland crops to a third party for resale. You can radically increase your return through value added efforts and direct marketing.

Here are some examples of woodland crops:


Berries: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries
Nuts: Walnuts, hickories, pecans
Mushrooms: Shiitake, lion’s mane, oyster
Others: Fiddle heads, cattails, maple syrup, honey, native fruits, leeks, pawpaw, ramps


American ginseng, goldenseal, and bloodroot.


Hostas, ferns, heucheras, hellebores, daylilies


pine straw for mulch, deadfalls for firewood.

There is considerable value associated with some of these crops. For example, wild simulated ginseng will generate an estimated $20,460 per half-acre after nine years. Organic, forest-grown goldenseal yeilds $2,490 per one-tenth acre after four years and ramps can be worth $770 per one-tenth acre after three years.

Institutions like Washington State University's, Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources offer a curriculum on the Sustainable Farming of Woodland Crops. This program teaches forest crop management, Organic certification, crafting, and agrotourism. 

For more information about woodland crops, click here to go to USDA Forest Service site.

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