Beginning forest farmers to be supported by USDA grant, Rural Action
Athens, OH — Landowners interested in starting a forest farming operation are the focus of a new partnership between Rural Action and Virginia Tech University. Rural Action is part of a coalition that has been awarded $656,903 to promote forest farming for beginning farmers in the Appalachian region. Funds will be used to create a network of organizations and personnel, including regional NGOs and university extension agents, which will provide technical, administrative, and market-based assistance for new farmers interested in the production of non-timber forest products. According to the USDA, a beginning farmer is someone who’s been farming for ten years or fewer. The funds are part of a $17 million national initiative administered by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), a program of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
Forest farming is the cultivation and sale of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), a broad category of financially viable alternatives to timber, which includes medicinal herbs such as ginseng and goldenseal, edible mushrooms, maple syrup, and more. Over the past ten years Rural Action has worked directly with landowners to produce dozens of personalized NTFP management plans for those interested in the production of NTFPs, and through its workshop program has educated approximately 400 workshop attendees each year. By conducting an annual ginseng planting stock sale Rural Action has helped 315 unique buyers begin cultivation of their own ginseng crop. Facilitated by the BFRDP funds, Rural Action will forge new relationships with beginning forest farmers and expand its assistance services in the region. Funds will be used to host workshops, coordinate a mentorship program, develop NTFP trainings for extension agents, and facilitate discussions between industry, verification, and organic certification professionals.
The USDA announced the initiative early this month, with funds distributed to universities and organizations throughout the country in order to help beginning farmers “implement tested strategies and new ideas that in turn benefit all of us by reducing food insecurity, growing economic opportunities, and building communities,” said Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, quoted in the official USDA press release. Through its partnership with Virginia Tech University, Rural Action will be working alongside North Carolina State University, Iowa State University, the U.S. Forest Service, the University of Georgia, Penn State University, Maryland University of Integrative Health, and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, as well as regional development and conservation organizations, including Appalachian Sustainable Development in Abingdon, VA and United Plant Savers in Rutland, OH.
Rural Action is a membership based organization working to build sustainable local economies in Appalachian Ohio. For more information about Rural Action’s work visit www.ruralaction.org. For more information on Ohio’s local food systems, visitwww.ohiofoodshed.org.