Accelerating Forest Farming in Central Appalachia:
Strengthening Market Connections and Collaboration for
Long-Term Sector Impact and Sustainability
Accelerating Forest Farming in Central Appalachia: Strengthening Market Connections and Collaboration for Long-Term Sector Impact and Sustainability” is a regional and multistate project designed to support continued expansion of the ABFFC work and prepare for ARISE implementation funding. The work will result in long-term transformational goals all critical to establishment of the Appalachian forest farmers as leaders in this global market.
Proposed Work – Planning into Implementation
The ARISE Project uses a multifaceted strategy to support Appalachian forest farmers, traditional wild harvesters who implement sustainable forest farming methods, and associated regional stakeholders. The planning work prepares for a five-year project to accelerate technical assistance, value-added market and technology development, sector capacity and efficiency initiatives, as well as efforts to raise industry investments and consumer awareness all of which underpin the economic viability of individual and collective business ventures across Central Appalachia and increase the long-term sustainability of a value-added NTFP supply chain. The project strengthens existing partnerships and programs in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Proposed programs and services will deliver a broad spectrum of market-centered opportunities for Appalachian residents and localities to transform a deeply rooted, traditional economic sector and create a sustainable platform for continued growth as the marketplace evolves.
Planning will allow for an intensive focus on some of Appalachia’s most distressed communities, places where many individuals have knowledge of and experience with NTFPs but have long been poorly compensated for their efforts. Further, access to individuals in these communities can be challenging for a variety of reasons (lack of broadband, limits to enterprise development due to income challenges, despair factors linked to persistent poverty). The planning project will establish implementation methods and pathways to expand outreach, increase value-added trade, and encourage participation in a rising trend: just compensation and increased economic benefits for the citizens and communities where these natural resources thrive. This multistate project will touch 133 counties across Central Appalachia in seven states.
Long Term Implementation Goals
The work will result in long-term transformational goals all critical to establishment of the Appalachian forest farmers as leaders in this global market. Long-term transformational goals include:
Position Central Appalachia’s forest farming sector at the forefront of the region’s future bio-economy;
Become the global marketing, processing, aggregation, and distribution model for sustainable forest farmed products;
Capture an unprecedented share of local, regional, national, and international value-added forest farming markets;
Develop an Appalachian forest farming brand recognized the world over;
Ramp and revolutionize forest farming planting stock, seed sales, mycelium and spore production, and tree-tapping equipment enterprises;
Elevate, coordinate, and connect forest farming tourism, cultural identity, and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives;
Grow the number of financially sound forest farming businesses predicated on sustainable whole-forest management;
Leverage and sustain highly successful ongoing technical training and assistance for forest farmers and technical service provider consultants;
Increase the reach and impact of current forest farming business recruitment, public awareness, and workforce development programs through product placement, experiential and technical education, and community engagement and tourism initiatives;
Expand market activity and the physical presence of medium- and large-scale forest farming dependent industries in Appalachia;
Celebrate Appalachian forest farmers as ecosystem services stewards who protect land, water and air quality, climate,biodiversity, and other natural resources; and
Spur the next phase of Appalachian forest farming in meaningful, impactful, and sustainable bioeconomic regional development.
Alignment with ARC Strategic Investment Goals and Objectives
Primary ARC Goal: Building Appalachian Businesses - Individual producers become small- and medium-sized business owners through technical assistance and participation in regional activities. Existing businesses (forest farming operations, primary buyers, nurseries, cottage businesses, tourism enterprise) expand revenue as supply chains grow and national and international investments increases.
Secondary ARC Goals:
Building Appalachia’s Workforce Ecosystem - By building and strengthening relationships, and coordinating and facilitating trainings, we will create an enabling environment for agroforestry to be a viable industry cluster for Central Appalachia.
Building Regional Culture and Tourism - Appalachia has a rich history of forested homesteading combined with use and celebration of our resilient and fecund forest commons. Build producer networks, NTFP markets, and connecting these with the broader tourism economy allows this rich history to take center stage in narratives about Appalachia, and in tourist experiences of Appalachia.
Project Activity Rationale, Framing, and Coordination
The following summary identifies key focus areas, informed by previous and ongoing work, specifically designed to address the need for additional resources and expansion of the ABFFC footprint for transformational sector growth. The impact of ABFFC initiatives to date is clear. Training and recruitment events are sold out, the number and scale of forest farms is growing, forest farming is increasingly celebrated in regional, national, and international media, communities in the region increasingly extol forest farming, and sector challenges and opportunities have led to on-the-ground solutions.
Building on the coalition’s success requires additional investments to expand sector growth and sustainability. The number of potential forest farmers who seek assistance is on the rise in terms of enterprise development (such as start-up support and training) with potential to maximize returns on investments. They seek business diversification by incorporating NTFPs into their production systems and/or by participating in substantial public and private investments in climate-smart commodities as well as carbon sequestration and water quality trading income streams.
The project is designed to maximize impact using known strengths of ABFFC partners to support specialized technical activities combined with partner organizations who bring standing networks and relationships along with deep knowledge of their respective landscapes and goals. Knowledge and skills are shared across the seven-state region with a neutral facilitator assisting in the equitable distribution of financial resources, project administration, and scheduling support. The framework for managing a balanced and broadly impactful project occurs across two simultaneous tracks: 1) sub-region baseline activities that continue producer recruitment and support, market connections and promotion, and sector sustainability; and, 2) region-wide technical initiatives that address existing bottlenecks identified over the course of the Coalition’s growth.
Sub-region Baseline Activities
Local partner organizations oversee direct engagement and support in their particular areas of responsibility, known in this project as a sub-region (state, collection of counties). Baseline activities include providing technical assistance and training along with producer and entrepreneurial recruitment and outreach. Outreach and support activities also engage existing technical service providers to integrate agroforestry support services into existing land-use programs. As needed, the VT/ABFFC facilitator coordinates support by local or regional partners. Newer and longstanding partners are positioned to expand the ABFFC footprint and its role in continuing regional growth. This allows for provision of coalition-forged practices to a broad region. Further, because local partners best understand their networks and localities, community engagement and public awareness/education are delivered through them to realize proximal impacts supporting coherent multi-state goals and objectives. Local community engagement activities receive support through the neutral facilitator/lead applicant by connecting with communications and outreach professionals engaged in the project. These measures include an intentional focus on traditionally underserved communities (BIPOC, LGBTQ+, women, socially disadvantaged) based upon an ongoing financial producer support program funded by a private family foundation.
To summarize, sub-region baseline activities include:
Continuation of technical assistance and training, as well as ongoing market development
Producer/business recruitment and outreach
Community engagement and public awareness/education including direct engagement with local development district and locality leadership
Region-wide Technical Initiatives
Select partner organizations address specific challenges identified through ongoing work and prepare the cluster to accelerate regional and direct producer impact. Leadership assignments are based on specialized expertise and experience that chosen partner organizations possess and are informed by input from all partner organizations via technical topic committees. Initiative leaders are also responsible for advancing the state of knowledge in their respective technical specialties and distributing information along with documenting findings for distribution to all participants across the region.
It is important to note that all technical leaders receive a high level of support from other organizations. Cooperative relationships exist through past and ongoing ABFFC efforts, allowing for efficient and effective launching of proposed work by virtue of ARISE investments.
Technical activities have been identified as critical needs in order to advance the Appalachian agroforestry economic cluster toward a broadly coordinated and efficient regional NTFP sector: