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New Site Shows Forests Aren't Just Timber: Think Mushrooms, Ginseng and Sugar


News from
Cornell University

By Lauren Chambliss, Cornell University
April 3, 2007

From understory to canopy, the millions of acres of forests that cover much of New York have untapped potential to provide popular products for consumers and generate additional income for landowners.

A new Cornell online resource center can help forest owners learn to cultivate economically viable and environmentally sustainable crops other than timber. The How, When and Why of Forest Farming Resource Center (HWWFF) uses video clips, Web text and images, PowerPoint presentations and text files to provide a one-stop shop for farmers, landowners, researchers, natural resource managers and agencies to work together to create thriving agro-ecosystems out of forest lands.

"Many landowners question how to afford to have so much forest land and pay taxes on it," said Louise Buck, co-coordinator of the program and senior extension associate in Cornell's Department of Natural Resources.

In New York, gourmet mushrooms, maple sugar and such medicinal herbs as American ginseng and goldenseal are among the products that have the highest potential for producing additional income.

Forest log-grown shiitake mushrooms, for example, which are considered epicurean delights, sell for two to eight times more per pound than the more widely available commercially grown version. Like many new enterprises, working with forest ecosystems to create economically viable crops requires a high level of commitment. For log-grown mushrooms to thrive, for example, tree selection is important, and inoculation, monitoring and harvesting have to be properly timed.

Mushroom farming is just one of the seven "learning units" highlighted on the new online resource center, which was instituted by Paul Treadwell, information technology team leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension. The HWWFF Web site, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension program, provides information on forestry farming 11/24/2007 latform for different audiences, from educators with extensive knowledge to forest owners who have great interest but little know-how.

Landowners can research how to evaluate soil quality, existing vegetation, pests, drainage and other factors to determine which crops would be most suitable for their particular forest. Natural resource educators can tap into course content for forest resource management, while maple sugar farmers can learn to cultivate American ginseng, a crop that thrives in the understory of maple forests.

"Landowners are interested in cultivating their forests and making things happen with sustainable agroforestry, rather than just harvesting them for timber," said Buck. "The idea is catching on."

The HWWFF Resource Center can be viewed at http://hwwff.cce.cornell.edu. The Web site periodically will be updated with results from ongoing research, funded by federal grants from Cornell's Agricultural Experiment Station to improve forest farmers' success with new crops.