Helping Forest Farmers Harvest Success
Is it really possible to quit your day job to become a full-time forest farmer?
Meet Rick Felumlee, who went from searching the internet for information about non-timber forest products to attending workshops to launching Mayapple Farms. And quitting his day job.
Rick was looking to supplement his income by planting crops on his forested land in Dresden, about an hour east of Columbus, when he first discovered Rural Action’s Sustainable Forestry program. It wasn’t long before he was attending Rural Action and United Plant Savers workshops about ginseng and ramp production, which paved the way to launching Mayapple Farms five years ago.
“Early on was kind of an experimentation thing,” Rick says. “The more we got involved, the more we learned about the market side of things through Rural Action workshops. It came into focus that we could turn this into a full-time business.”
Rick currently works full time on Mayapple Farms while his wife, Jan, juggles her job in the insurance industry with work on the farm. They’re close to the day when she can dedicate herself to the farm full time, too.
“He is that mythical creature – the full-time forest farmer,” says Rural Action Sustainable Forestry Program Manager Andrea Miller. “Everyone is asking if this is possible. He turned it into a serious business venture and did it creatively with a diversified operation.”
Rural Action’s Sustainable Forestry program moved into new offices at Sugar Bush Farm in 2021 and brought in Karam Sheban as program director. New equipment was acquired to help landowners harvest their timber in sustainable ways, and The Appalachian Wood Craft Scholarship was created in partnership with Hocking College and the Community Makerspace to teach people how to create businesses around woodworking. And major emphasis is placed on non-timber forest products that help landowners like the Felumlees earn income from their land in sustainable ways.
“We’re a hybrid with botanicals and ramps,” Rick says. “Our main focus has been mushrooms for the past few years, on logs and wood chips. We have a separate indoor mushroom operation.”
Mushrooms were a “happy accident,” Rick explains. “We started looking solely at the plants, common botanicals. But one of the challenges was the time scale that those crops take so we started looking for quicker-cycle crops we could grow in the meantime as a bridge. One of those was the mushrooms. When we started introducing them at farmers markets, it was clear that was our most popular product. It’s become the largest part of our business.”
Mayapple Farms also grows garlic, ginger, and turmeric on nearby land they are leasing from his parents.
“Most of our sales are direct-to-consumer,” Rick says. “We do a lot of farmers market mushrooms and we’re running a CSA through winter and spring.”
In addition, Mayapple is certified organic, which is “a pretty huge feat,” Andrea says. “They have only five acres or so. We often think it takes hundreds of acres, but the reality is that by being open minded you can do a lot with just a little.”
Rural Action’s Sustainable Forestry program helped Rick get started, and he’s now come full circle, serving as a presenter and mentor at our workshops.
“Rural Action does a really good job of promoting the events that we’ve been involved in, and the networking opportunities lead to other opportunities outside Rural Action,” he says, noting that he met Penn State’s Eric Burkhart last fall during the forest farming conference and talked to Burkhart’s agroforestry classes about mushroom farming in April.