The Forest Farmer Grower-Industry Expo and Training on May 19 and Field Day on May 20 brought together over 80 forest farmers, herb company representatives, and experts in the fields of cultivating, processing and marketing forest botanicals for two days of learning and sharing. We were so glad to hear from repeated feedback that it was a great success! ASD, along with partners in the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmers Coalition, offered a packed schedule to those attendees that came from all over the US.
The first morning included a buyer’s panel with Gaia Herbs, WishGarden Herbs, and Herbal Ingenuity, following by a grower’s panel with Michelle Pridgen, Ryan Huish, Chip Carroll, and Bob Beyfuss. A keynote address by Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, finished the morning. The mid-day expo gave participants a chance to showcase their products, which included ginseng, goldenseal, solomon’s seal and other planting stock, herbal products from small to large manufacturers, and the latest research and technical assistance support in forest farming. There was a lot of positive energy and connections made during the expo, and it was great to see all of the networking taking place.
In the afternoon, participants got to choose between a beginning overview of forest farming, offered by Dr. Jeanine Davis, NC State University, or an advanced session on black and blue cohosh cultivation, offered by Dr. Eric Burkhart, Penn State University. Margaret Bloomquist, NC State University, showed attendees how to propagate a variety of forest botanicals through root division, and those participating got to take home a potted start. Joe Hollis, Mountain Gardens, showcased a technique for making a ginseng extraction, and Ryan Milt, Asheville Wild Foods, offered tastes of a variety of wild-foraged foods. The day finished up with an informative session on handling and value-added production by Jeanine and Margaret, and a group discussion on the importance of forest farming for plant conservation led by Blackberry Botanicals owners, Neal and Beth Laferriere.
They spent part of their time touring the Appalachian Harvest (AH) herb hub with grower Michelle Pridgen and ASD staff, hearing about the economics of forest farming from Dr. Burkhart, and certification offerings by Tess Wiegand, manager of the Pennsylvania Certified Organic Forest Grown Verification program. The rest of the day was spent visiting the forest farm of UVA-Wise botany professor, Dr. Ryan Huish. The rain held off for participants to hike through the forests of Ryan’s farm, looking at a diversity of plant species. He and his family shared their ideas for expanding plant populations in the forest under-story and their experiences managing and harvesting plant populations for the AH herb hub.
We’re grateful for all the people that took the time to be a part of this event, travelling and taking part in the conversation about the value of forest farming. We feel that educational events such as this are an important part of building up a regional, herbal economy and we’re honored to play a part. Thank you Catherine Elliot and her catering team for the good food, and to our generous sponsors: Gaia Herbs, Mountain Rose Herbs, United Plant Savers, and Pennsylvania Certified Organic.