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Shiitake Mushrooms: A Commercial Forest Farming Enterprise

Helping landowners care for their forests and strengthen local economies is an important goal of the U.S. Forest Service, USDA National Agroforestry Center and their partnering organizations.

According to Ken Mudge of Cornell University, any farmer with a woodlot and the drive to diversify should consider forest-cultivated shiitake mushrooms. They are well suited to the increasing demand for locally produced, healthy foods.

With a retail price of $12 to $20 per pound, the demand for shiitakes is considerable throughout the Northeast. As an added benefit, growing mushrooms encourages landowners to learn more about managing their forests.

Exploring New Options for Agroforestry

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The language on the 1930s poster for the Prairie States Forestry Project was downright plaintive: “Trees Prevent Soil Erosion/Save Moisture/Protect Crops/Contribute to Human Comfort and Happiness.”

The mission of the project, initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt, was to encourage landowners to plant tree windbreaks on cropland ravaged by dust storms and drought. As a result, more than 210 million trees from North Dakota to Texas were planted in 18,500 miles of windbreaks, some of which still remain.

South Carolina Conservation Partnership Buzzing About Pollinators

Eighty-five percent of all flowering plants depend on pollinators, like bees and bats, to reproduce.

But these critical pollinators are in trouble as habitat loss, disease, parasites and environmental contaminants are causing a decline of many species, including some of the more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America.

That’s why USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in South Carolina and the Xerces Society, with the support of a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant, are promoting the benefits of pollinators through hands-on workshops targeted to employees of NRCS, soil and water conservation districts, cooperative extension agents and many others involved in agricultural production.

With Apologies to the Teacher, Local Apples Head Straight for the Cafeteria

An apple for the teacher? Yes, and the cafeteria too.

Classic images of eager children handing perfect apples to their teacher abound. In the idealized imagery, the apples are often shiny, red, and round. And if you are angling for a good grade, or really like your teacher, the apples are big. But in New Hampshire it was “school boy” apples, the small ones 2 – 3 inches in diameter, which launched an impressive farm to school program.

The New Hampshire Farm to School Program (NHFTS) was established in 2003 as a pilot program funded by the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program to introduce local apples and cider into New Hampshire K-12 schools.

“We really saw the small apples as an entry point for our farm to school program. Not many supermarkets or other vendors are interested in the smaller fruit, but they are the perfect size for schools,” said Elisabeth Farrell, Sustainability Program Manager of the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

Small Investments, Great Results

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Working in science can be a real pleasure, especially when your research translates into a life changing experience. The following note from Arion Thiboumery, Vice President of Lorentz Meats and one of the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education’s (SARE) early Graduate Student grants, submitted a very modest proposal to establish a small-meat processors working group and publish a guide of useful resources. He accomplished that and much more. Read on...

Dakota Farmer’s Success Catches On

Dan Forgey has always had an abiding respect for the land that he’s farmed for more than 40 years, which is why, as manager of the 8,500-acre Cronin Farms in Gettysburg, South Dakota, he strives to build soil health—and yields—sustainably. First, he shifted the farm to 100 percent no-till in 1993. Then in 2006, after spending years developing diverse crop rotations, he received a grant from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a USDA-funded grants and outreach program, to test the introduction of cover crops into his system. This move has given him higher yields with fewer inputs, and therefore better profits.

Feed Grain with a Name and a Story

Donn Teske, farmer and President of the Kansas Farmers’ Union, is optimistic.  He believes that small and mid-sized farms are making successful inroads to improve their market power and these efforts have great potential.  Donn himself operates a fifth generation, 2,000 acre organic farm and ranch in northeastern Kansas, and, in spite of increasing difficulties, he has not been deterred from continuing to improve the marketing opportunities for mid-sized farmers.

One of these opportunities has come from the Kansas Organic Producers (KOP), a group of nearly sixty farmers that provides crucial marketing services for its members.  Established in 1974 as an education association to help promote the production and marketing of organic products, the group restructured in 1992 to focus on marketing organic grain.  One-third of Donn’s farm is dedicated to alfalfa hay, red clover, milo (grain sorghum), corn, soybeans and wheat.  With nearly his entire crop production servicing the livestock industry, KOP is his primary marketing channel.  His harvest alone would be far more difficult to market effectively, but the services of KOP give growers a shared clout.