Farming your Woodlot

Today was a great day.

Over the last month and a half, I've been setting u two workshops on forest farming, one on ginseng and other woodlot herbs, the other on growing Shiitake mushrooms. I met with farmers, learned about mushrooms with Kirsty, and started trying to figure out who I could get to do a talk.

It just so happened that Tom (my office neighbor at ASD) was in the process of arranging a horticulture conference right here in town! From my previous conversations with farmers, it was clear that a lot of them had forestland that they weren't sure what to do with. A horticultural conference, then, would be a great place to reach people who were already growing stuff and had forested land.

After all that preparation, I was really nervous about how today was going to go. I arrived at the Appalachian Regional Horticultural Conference after spending some quality time with a copier and a stapler.

I sat through a really slow presentation and a really fast presentation, and then it was time for lunch. Tom put me in charge of the "Specialty Crops" room. The first presentation (by Tom's wife, Deni) was to begin after lunch. I ate lunch with a really interesting and inquisitive ex-Amish fellow who had moved away from Pennsylvania because it was too touristy and developed.

After lunch, I helped Deni set up her cut flower growing presentation and hustled in and out of the room while she talked, making extra copies of handouts, turning up the heat, and generally wondering when the heck my ginseng guy, Jim, was going to show up.

At the end of Deni's talk he finally did show up, and proceeded to give a charismatic presentation to a packed (but small) room. Among the main points he made about growing ginseng and other herbs were to get your soil tested, which he said maybe 10 times, and to "keep it natural" by which he meant keeping costs down by doing as little as possible. With ginseng, doing the minimal effort of simply seeding and waiting for nature to take its course not only increases your profit margins, it makes the ginseng root more gnarled and therefore more valuable. You can download a copy of his presentation (which, it should be noted, is 17 MB) here.

Next up was Kirsty's talk on Growing Shiitake Mushrooms. Despite her normally confident attitude, Kirsty was extremely nervous about her talk (while we were organizing it, she kept telling me she wasn't an expert and tried to back out of it more than once). No matter, despite her nervous voice and British accent she gave an informative talk to a rapt audience. Her presentation was full of practical advice, which is just what I was looking for when I began organizing the workshop. She brought in a couple of her logs, and used them to show that you can tell when your log's been colonized by looking for a white ring at the end of the log. Her presentation (minus the log demonstration) can be downloaded here.

I was so interested in both of the talks that I neglected to take any pictures! A big part of why I set them up in the first place was that I wanted to attend them myself, and doing anything but listening never crossed my mind.

The best part of the day was the people who attended these talks. Most of the people came to both, since they were of a similar theme. They payed attention, asked questions, and gave me their email addresses for follow up. They owned "woodlots" and farmed their cleared land, and some truly seemed likely to start farming their woodlots (rather than clearing them) as a result of the talks. If I could do this kind of work on a regular basis, I would not only be making a difference, I would be a happy man.


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