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Sharing Successes in Agroforestry

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Forest farming plays an important role as we move beyond resource extraction-based economies. It can provide supplementary or primary livelihoods rooted in diverse, meaningful, and multigenerational cultural heritages. Sharing Successes in Agroforestry (SSIA) values this practice, the local knowledge that sustains it, and being ecologically tuned in to the landscape. 

The goal of this project is to provide educational materials for farmers, potential farmers, and professionals who support the efforts of new farmers pursuing a model of agroforestry (such as agricultural extension agents, non-profits, and scholars in related areas). These materials include short videos, scenarios, and case studies. They describe the ways in which native Appalachian forests can provide diversified livelihoods, food, livestock, botanical, herbs, syrups, and other non-timber as well as timber products through sustainable management. These educational materials are designed using participatory methods, and overseen by a group of people with a variety of roles and interests: local farmers, practitioners, and scholars.

The intent is to inspire young and beginning agroforesters to start farming as well as to create products that will help them get started through the highlighting of successful practices. Deliverables include short case studies, videos, and technical scenarios each with slightly different audiences and aims towards the overall goals of the project.

SSIA is a collaboration between LiKEN, Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, Ohio State University Center for Folklore Studies, a community of Appalachian Forest farmers, and is funded by the National Agroforestry Center of the US Forest Service. Our primary service areas are the historic coal regions of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and other highly rural and low wealth agricultural counties throughout Appalachia

Two agroforesters harvesting crops from a row of plants on the forest floor.
Ed Daniels and Clara Haizlett harvesting goldenseal propagules. Ed and Clara were awarded a 2020 Agroforestry apprenticeship grant from the WV Folklife Program, Division of Humanities. Apprenticeship grants compensate a master practitioner (Ed Daniels) for working with an apprentice (Clara Haizlett) whose travel expenses are paid. Following her apprenticeship with Ed in Mill Creek, WV, Clara began forest farming on her family land in Wetzel County, where she now runs a summer youth camp. Photo by Mary Hufford.


Project History

In 2020, with funding from the National Agroforestry Center, LiKEN launched a multi-year study of agroforestry in the Central Appalachian region.  Headed by Chrissa Mae Kallal (West Virginia University), our team of researchers, comprising scholars from the humanities and social sciences, included economic forester Tom Hammett (Virginia Tech), folklorist Mary Hufford (Ohio State and LiKEN), and folklorist/videographer Daisy Ahlstone (Ohio State and LiKEN).  Although travel was curtailed during the pandemic year of the study, our team members met remotely with six practitioners in the region in order to begin learning about multiple facets of agroforestry as a growing movement in Central Appalachia.  We gained a view of agroforestry as an emerging set of practices that are stewarding and marketing dozens of non-timber forest products in a time of post-industrial economic and cultural transition. Central Appalachia affords an especially diverse array of opportunities for agroforestry.  


What is Agroforestry?

The USDA officially endorses five agroforestry practices, including windbreaks, riparian buffers, alley cropping, silvopasture, and forest farming.

While all of these practices may be found in Central Appalachia, it is our region’s distinctive mixed mesophytic hardwood system, together with historic legacies of use, that sets it apart.  The diversity of forest habitat and species covering most of the region offers unique opportunities for forest farming, which the Appalachia Beginning Forest Farming Coalition defines as: “a practice which cultivates medicinal, edible, decorative, and handicraft crops under a forest canopy that is managed to provide shade levels and habitat which favor growth and enhance production.”   Many Central Appalachian communities historically practiced field and forest farming to supplement incomes from timber, coal, and gas industries.  

A graphic displaying the layered nature of Central Appalachia's Mixed Mesophytic Forest
Figure 1: The Central Appalachian mixed hardwood forest supports a remarkable diversity of marketable products. This illustration depicts forest canopy-dependent products intentionally cultivated by our partners, who are also imagining future possibilities.  Stewardship of such products offers forest farmers a source of income, while allowing forest ecosystems to recover and mature. For products and stages of forest succession engaged by our partners, please see the case studies. Artwork by Carly Thaw.

Combining scientific research with years of personal observation and recourse to local knowledge, our partners are shaping new livelihoods. Each of our partners emphasized the importance of learning from and working with particular forest habitats to propagate native non-timber forest products. With locally sourced inputs, zero waste, and connections to local, regional, and global markets, our partners are modelling forest farming as an ecologically and economically viable future in Central Appalachia. (See Figure 2)Importantly, Central Appalachian forests foster a sixth agroforestry practice, recognized by the USDA, though not officially endorsed, sometimes called “forest gardening.” Forest gardening is defined as “multi-story cropping systems where a diverse multi-layered system of useful woody plants are vertically integrated one on top of the other” (Shephard 2014, 217).  See figure 1.  

A graphic showing a cyclical growing and harvesting calendar for Agroforestry in Appalachia
Figure 2: The biological diversity of the Central Appalachian forest has long contributed to local livelihoods. Our partners have calibrated an annual seasonal round of labor with life cycles of forest products.  This illustration depicts an array of activities supported around the year in Central Appalachian forests. For the rounds of individual farmers, please see the case studies.  Artwork by Our Numinous Mind.


Case Studies and Scenarios

LiKEN has produced six case studies, one with each of six agroforestry partners, for which links are provided on this page.  In addition you will find two agroforestry scenarios, one on medicinal botanicals, and one on festivals and farmers markets, along with an educational video on Afrolachian Forest Farming, with Ruby Daniels, of Creasy Jane’s Herbal Remedies.  Forthcoming are a third scenario, on social ecological site assessment for forest farming in Central Appalachia, along with a second educational video on forest farming for medicinal botanicals, with Ed and Carole Daniels, of Shady Grove Botanicals.

Creasy Jane's Herbal Remedies

Afrolachian Forest Farming: multiple edge-of-forest roots and herbs and value-added products, site assessment for beginning forest farmers.

Silver Run Forest Farm

Nursery stock: bare-root native fruit and nut trees (pawpaws, elderberries, persimmons, aronia, hazelnut, chestnut and more), shiitake mushrooms, nut flours

Festivals and Farmers' Markets

Laurel Fork Sapsuckers

Maple syrup, shiitake mushrooms, and native understory botanicals.

Tonoloway Farms

Walnut syrup, shiitake mushrooms, chestnuts

Understory Botanicals and Eatables

Shady Grove Botanicals

Native understory medicinal and edible botanicals (ginseng, goldenseal, blue and black cohosh, bloodroot, ramps) for stocking and value-added products.

Yew Mountain Center

Forest Farming Educational Center, Host of Beginning Appalachian Forest Farmers: beekeeping, shiitake mushrooms, maple syrup, understory medicinal botanicals, site assessments for beginning forest farmers.

Afrolachian Agroforestry with Ruby Daniels

Ruby Daniels combines her family heritage with sustainable farming techniques to grow non-timber forest products, offering a model for eco-friendly and community-centered living.

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