Forest Farming Reaps Large Profits

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If you have land with a significant number of trees and want to make some money, you may want to give forest farming a try.

It's a practice of agraforestry, which ranges from planting trees on crop fields to stewarding the forest and working with the species that are in the forest.

"Forest farming is working with generally a natural forest stand where you introduce different species that are of interest.  So in this part of the world, American ginseng grows native in the forest,  and so a lot of people will reintroduce ginseng to their woods and cultivate ginseng for sale and help pay the taxes," said Colin Donahue, executive director of the National Network of Forest Practitioners.

The network is headquartered in Athens.

Property owners who try forest farming grow crops like mushrooms, blackberries and ginseng. These crops thrive on the forest floor.

"There's a lot of land that's owned by folks who've owned this land for generations. A lot of times, you have a hard time paying the taxes some years. You look at the economy being what it is and if you can re-naturalize ginseng in your woods, that can be kind of like a savings account. So you can draw on that when you need help paying the taxes," said Donahue. "Ginseng, for example, is a long standing tradition in the area. Folks will go out hunting ginseng in the fall. It's a very important cultural tradition to keep present as well."

The cost of forest farming can vary quite a bit. Ginseng production may need an investment of several hundred dollars or more to purchase the necessary equipment to get started.

Leeks, native fruits and nuts that are already growing on a site may not require any out-of-pocket costs except for containers for harvesting.

"It is something that, you know, you have to learn about the species that you're working with. You have to learn about the ecology of the forest. One of the things I really like about re-naturalizing ginseng or other plants is that it's something that really can get you in tune with the forest and the overall ecology. You have to learn about the soils," he said.  "You have to learn about how much light should be getting through for the species to do well. There are a number of organizations who've done trainings on that."

Woods-grown ramps will be worth nearly $800 per one-tenth acre after three years.

The payoff is huge for wild simulated ginseng: $20,000 per half acre after nine years.

"Native, just natural, wild ginseng is a multi-million dollar sort of industry, and it's something that really could be expanded. Most ginseng is exported to China and there's a huge demand," he said. "The economy has really grown a lot there. So there's a potential to really expand how much is exported. So there's hundreds or maybe thousands of  folks in Ohio, but there could a be lot more folks who are doing it."

The profit can be even greater for value-added products like wreaths and garlands made from forest greenery.