Make the Most of Your Woods With Forest Farming

Forest farming is an invaluable practice to integrate into any farm or homestead, especially as the need for unique value-added products and supplemental income becomes increasingly important for farmers. Discover a variety of food, medicinal, and non-timber products you can grow in the woods.

| November 2014

To many people, forests are primarily reserved for timber and firewood harvesting. In Farming the Woods (Chelsea Green, 2014), authors Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel invite a remarkably different perspective: that a healthy forest can be maintained while growing a wide range of food, medicinal, and other non-timber products. In the following excerpt, Mudge and Gabriel touch on a number of food crops that can be grown using forest farming techniques and highlight a particular crop that has the potential to make a comeback as a mainstream commodity, the pawpaw.

Buy this book from our store: Farming the Woods.

Food from the Forest

At the Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York, there is a woodlot called the MacDaniels Nut Grove, where students and the public come to learn about forest farming. In the fall of 2006, a memorable culinary occasion was held there called the forest feast, in which an array of edible nontimber forest products (NTFPs) were prepared and served. The main course was roast goat. This wasn’t just any goat. This goat had been raised at Cornell’s Arnot Forest as part of a research project called “Goats in the Woods,” to see if goats could be used as part of a forest management plan.

The MacDaniels Nut Grove has an abundance of hickory and black walnut trees, with a few white oak trees and some Chinese chestnuts, which played a role in the feast. Nyla, who had recently spent her summer internship shepherding the goats in the woods, was smashing hickory nuts, shells and all, in a large wooden mortar and pestle. These were thrown into a pot of boiling water to separate the rich oil, called pawcohiccora (hickory milk), from the nut meat/shell mash. After everyone at the forest feast got a taste of the hickory milk, the rest was used to fry acorn ash cakes. First, the acorns were leached several times in water to remove the bitter tannins, then ground into a flour to make the ash cakes (“pancakes”) that were cooked on a hot stone. Several other students were cooking a stir-fry of pickled ramps (wild leek), forest-cultivated shiitake mushrooms, and wild lion’s mane mushrooms, as well as wildcrafted black trumpets and porcini. Jim made a fragrant porridge from the inner bark of slippery elm. Forest fruits were in abundance. Abdoul came up with “Cornus mas sauce,” made from the fruit of Cornelian cherry dogwood. Just a little tart, it went well with the goat.

There was a soup made from nettle and lambsquarter, and applesauce made from wild crab apples. Beverages included tea made from hemlock and pine, and dandelion wine (from Isaac’s lawn). For dessert there were brownies made with hickory nuts and walnuts collected from the site. Marguerite made a pawpaw mousse, and Sefra contributed a wild berry torte made from blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, and blueberries!

10/17/2017 5:01:56 AM

Permiculture will show you different systems of growing, replicating nature. They show you ways to grow a Forest garden maintenance free. This can be started from scratch or added to an existing forest. Ive been studying it for a year and I realize now, we have been gardening all wrong! There is too much labor involved and too much attention to weeds. There are other ways to grow food with no man-made chemicals.

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