Organic Production and Marketing of Forest Medi...

Organic Production and Marketing of Forest Medicinals

Organic Production and Marketing of Forest Medicinals

The scope of this NCR-SARE Research and Education project was designed to assist the Roots of Appalachia Growers Association (RAGA) develop a learning network among growers, to close the gap between growers and current research activities, and support RAGA entering the marketplace. Below is an excerpt of the final project report from Rural Action.


The Appalachian region of Ohio has experienced severe economic distress up to the present day. In the hilly terrain there are very few full-time farmers left, and the land has experienced fragmentation due to development. At the same time reverting tree cover and hills provide prime microclimates for cultivation of high value medicinal plants native to the region.

With prime growing sites and interest in the region from purchasers of herbal products, sound opportunities exist for ecologically and economically sustainable production of these plants. Properly grown wild-simulated ginseng brings at least $500/pound and is very ecologically sound, whereas improperly grown ginseng can bring only $20/pound and requires constant applications of fungicides. Already ginseng sales generate nearly $2 million per year in Ohio.

The project team’s focus on ginseng and goldenseal is drawn from the literature on the economics of ginseng and goldenseal production which shows that ginseng produced using wild-simulated methods is more profitable than conventionally cultivated ginseng given the scale of production and availability of natural shaded microclimates (Beyfuss 1998, 1999, Hankins 1998, Persons 1994). Our emphasis with goldenseal will be on organic production, processing and marketing of certified organic goldenseal to companies that are willing to pay a premium as goldenseal can only be profitably grown on a small scale if it is sold for organic prices (OSU, Strategic Reports). RAGA’s focus on ginseng and goldenseal is a result of producer interest.

Materials and Methods

A variety of educational approaches and methods were used during the course of this project in order to maximize grower learning and increase grower interaction. Peer-to-peer networking during meetings and field days were used to facilitate interaction with knowledgeable “experts” in an informal setting. These events were conducted at the Rural Action Research and Education (RARE) center, a 68-acre research farm located in rural Meigs County, OH.

Written and web materials were also produced to help facilitate the dissemination and retention of information regarding production practices. Annual conferences and a series of educational workshops were used to provide formal structured information with opportunities for networking and interaction amongst participants. Landowners conference activities were conducted at Camp Oty’okwa, a 300-acre facility near Logan, OH.

Impact of Results/Outcomes

Several positive outcomes have resulted from this project. By conducting on-farm field days, workshops, presentations, outreach, festivals, and events, more than 440 growers and potential growers have been reached. By networking at events and through Rural Action’s Planting Stock Program it is clear that most growers are pursuing more sustainable and ecological methods of ginseng cultivation, specifically the wild-simulated method. One local root buyer recently stated that he is seeing more wild-simulated roots sold on the market.

Since the beginning of this project RAGA has recruited many new members, but has also maintained a paid membership of 86 growers. RAGA members have continued to promote forest farming and ecological cultivation methods around the state, urging interested landowners and farmers diversify their farm operations by cultivating woodland medicinals. This project has also had important impacts on local extension services and the general public. By partnering with OSU Extension to produce the “Ginseng” series of fact-sheets, RAGA and Rural Action have helped increase the capacity of service providers to disseminate information to forested landowners. These fact-sheets have also helped reach the general public. Many new and existing growers who have participated in the Rural Action Planting Stock Program, or who have called to inquire about additional Non-Timber Forest Products literature.

Farmer Adoption

In total over 440 growers and potential growers have participated in project activities. Based on evidence and data collected from growers, it is clear that growers are pursuing sustainable and ecological production methods for American ginseng, and goldenseal. Traditional growers who have been involved with forest farming for many years have begun to, or already have, transitioned to these practices. It is also apparent that most new growers are almost exclusively pursuing sustainable wild-simulated production. For traditional growers to complete this transition it is necessary for them to eliminate the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Instead of purchasing these chemicals growers can use the money they have saved to purchase 1-2 pounds of extra seed. It is recommended to plant at least this amount of seed every season if growers wish to fully maximize the earning potential of their woodlands.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) LNC05-256, Organic Production and Marketing of Forest Medicinals: Building and Supporting a Learning Community Among Growers .

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Location: North Central
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This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.