First, decide what you expect from your forest-farming effort. Are you interested in forest farming to increase the diversity of plant life in your forest, improve wildlife habitat, make some money, or all of the above? If you want to generate income, do you want to make a little extra money, or do you want forest farming to provide substantial income?
Once you understand your motives, decide what kind of non-timber forest products you want to produce, e.g., medicinal herbs, berries, or mushrooms. Then spend some time learning all you can about how to grow the products of interest. In addition to the information available on this Forest Farming Community of Practice website, there are many good magazine articles, books, and websites on how to produce non-timber forest products. Try to find ones that include economic information, if that is important to you. Also, watch for relevant workshops, conferences, and webinars being offered on the topic.
Questions you should ask yourself during this learning process include these:
- Will the species I've chosen grow in my environment? Consider soil type, moisture, nutrients, level of shade, and potential animal browse damage.
- How long will it be before I can harvest this crop?
- Where will I get the planting stock from, and what will it cost?
- How much labor will be required to plant, weed, and maintain the crop? How much will it cost to harvest, clean, and prepare the crop for market?
- Do I have the equipment necessary to prepare this product for market, e.g., washers and dryers? If not, where will I obtain them, and what will they cost?
Some species may be state and/or federally regulated. Check with your state Department of Agriculture or Forestry to ensure that you will be in compliance with the law if you grow this species. Also, do some market research and find out how much of a demand there is for your product on a local and national scale and what the current prices are.
Once you are fairly knowledgeable on the topic, try to find people in your area already engaged in forest farming and arrange to spend a few hours with them learning about their experiences (offering to pay a fee for a consultation shows respect for their time and expertise). Next, draw up a plan with a timeline for your forest-farming venture. At this point, you should seriously consider your circumstances with respect to your dedication to the project and the long-term investment that must be made in terms of labor and financial costs.
Finally, consider starting on a small scale to give yourself a chance to learn how to grow your crop and prepare the final products. Then, if you decide that you want to proceed, you can scale up your operation, develop your markets, and improve your methods.