Forest Farming

Forest Farming

Forest farming or multi-story cropping is the cultivation of desirable, non-timber products in the understory of an existing forest canopy. This means the intentional management and maintenance of forest resources to cultivate non-timber products which could include thinning or pruning to adjust light levels, preparing sites with soil amendments to increase seedling success rate or discourage sapling growth, controlling pest and invasive species populations.

This method of farming combines small and large-scale farming to attain an environmentally and economically sustainable land-use system. Benefits from forest farming include providing the landowner with both short-term and long-term income sources, increasing the productivity of the resource area, maintaining the integrity of the forest for wildlife habitat and forage, air and water quality improvement and carbon sequestering. Due to its flexibility, many landowners may pursue forest farming land use systems for reasons other than income; the enjoyment of collecting and cultivating varied products, for recreational purposes or as part of a cultural or family tradition.

Some non-timber products being farmed in this way include mushrooms, medicinal herbs and decorative plants. Fruits from paw-paw, elderberry, serviceberry, blackberry and huckleberry can be cultivated in a multi-story fashion. Other food products such as various syrups, honey, mushrooms, wild leeks and other root vegetables thrive in this management scheme. Ginseng, black cohosh, goldenseal, bloodroot and mayapple make up some of the medicinal herbs that can be farmed in the understory. And decorative products are also able to be produced in this manner, including; willow twigs, beargrass, ferns moss and vines.

Some things to consider prior to embarking on forest farming venture are:

Development-A forest management plan must be developed which includes a resource inventory, the landowner’s desires and objectives, a market analysis and a business plan.

Start-up costs- The costs of producing non-timber products can vary greatly dependent on what the products are and where they are being produced. Some products may require specialty equipment to be purchased which could be costly, while craft materials or native products which are already growing on-site may not require any initial out-of-pocket costs and harvesting can also be energy and cost-effective.

Market- As with any crop, knowing the current climate of the market and how it operates will aid in successfully marketing new or speciality items. In many cases, markets may not exist for your product or data may be unavailable. Consult your local agricultural extension, state forestry agency or agricultural department for more information.

Regulations- Make certain products that you want to cultivate, sell or export are either not endangered or that you are capable of complying the regulations maintained by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Legal export or trade requires endangered species to be harvested and records kept according to CITES rules and regulations. Many states may also have their own rules and regulations in addition to their own lists of endangered species.

For more information on forest farming, visit:

USDA National Agroforestry Center
The Center for Agroforestry
Association for Temperate Agroforestry