In a changing world
Forest Farming of Maple & Other
An Economic Boost for Appalachia
Sustainable forest farming allows landowners to harvest herbs, medicinal plants, syrup, timber, and a variety of products responsibly and economically. Future Generations University supports evidence-based decision making in partnerships with local institutions and conducts research, provides training, and facilitates action to grow this sector. Farmers and families prosper without destroying local ecosystems.
This program grows from local Appalachian culture and priorities, connecting this rural region to shared Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Future Generations pioneers research and training programs to help West Virginians economically through sustainable land-use enterprises and create economic incentives for responsible ecology Faculty-led research carried out in partnership with farmers and producers in the field is discovering best practices in forest farming. The larger world receives strengthened ecosystems in water and soil conservation and a positive impact on carbon emission reduction in the modern climate change era.
In much of Appalachia, the maple syrup industry is a prime example of how landowners can earn sustainable, supplemental income from their standing woodlots. This mostly passive, seasonal activity is easy to start with the market for local syrups growing.
Since 2017, this program has brought the following to life:
Conducted research to evolve the industry. These include three studies beyond maple, specifically walnut, sycamore, and birch syrup tapping, plus two projects to develop more efficient processing technologies
Hosted the first ever Southern Syrup Research Symposium, bringing together 125 landowners, producers, policy makers, and researchers.
Created a Professional Certificate “Maple Sap Processing and Syrup Production.” So far, twenty-seven individuals have participated. Fourteen of the sixteen previous graduates are now making syrup, resulting in five new registered syrup businesses.
Coordinated a Professional Mentoring Network, matching existing forest farmers with 24 neighboring landowners who want to operate their own nature-based enterprise.
Delivered technical coaching to 12 new and existing nature-based business owners on equipment cost-share programs, training opportunities, financial planning, and marketing assistance.
Prototyped a cooperatively-held syrup branding package as well as a mobile sugar shack to process maple syrup.
West Virginia has the potential for very significant future growth. It has more maple trees than Vermont. Vermont taps 100-times more of its maple resources than West Virginia, even though it has 20% fewer maple trees. The US Forest Service estimates that more than 76 million West Virginian maple trees are viable for commercial syrup production. If West Virginia’s tap rate could increase to a similar rate as Vermont’s, the sugar industry could boost the local economy by $24,000,000.
Maple Sap Collection & Syrup Processing certificate participants in West Virginia.
The Big Picture:
From Forests to Inclusive & Sustainable Futures
Forests can be managed holistically to nurture their agricultural potential, while bolstering their resilience as a sustainable ecosystem. This Future Generations program promotes applied research on forest farming practices to grow harmony between human livelihoods and the natural world.
While centered now in Appalachia, Future Generations affiliated opportunities also grow in other countries. Landowners around the world are advancing cultivation of healthy and resilient forests that also support nature-based enterprises. Growing the non-timber forest sector helps build an enduring future for both earth and humanity:
Maple syrup production in West Virginia
Cacao to Chocolate in South & Central America
Eco Lodge in Arunachal Pradesh, India
Wider value comes beyond the delectables of chocolate, honey, mushrooms, tea, and spices. A nature-based approach to economic advancement allows people and land productivity to both rise, tying to the university’s mission to promote research, learning, and action for inclusive, sustainable change worldwide right here in our backyard.
Next Steps for This Project
Future Generations University is working to establish production hubs comprised of syrup producers and sap collectors. Family farms with accessible maples receive the technical training and coaching needed to effectively collect sap. We encourage and help establish partnerships between those without the capability to evaporate and process the sap themselves and the larger sugar shacks in the region who have high-capacity evaporating equipment. Other potential areas for sustainable economic growth:
Expanding focus of syrup-making research to include tree species such as Walnut, Sycamore, Black Birch, as well as tree uses perhaps yet not known.
Raising productivity through equipment prototyping and experiments that fit not to alternative trees but also fit to habitat related use of trees (for example, maple syrup in West Virginia vs Vermont).
Assessing economic options for nature-based enterprises and land-use planning to determine how these fit within broader regional planning for new businesses and tourism development
Collaborating with West Virginia’s Non-timber Forest Products Steering Committee to advance working groups and research on economic development through non-timber forestry.
Stand Up for Sustainable Land-use
West Virginia is home to 20,900 farms totaling over 3.6 million acres—98% of which are “small farms.” This landscape lends itself well to landowners who can cultivate a maple operation that earns additional agricultural income, or other nature-based enterprises.
Strategic growth of this industry depends on the preservation of West Virginia’s cultural heritage of the family farm. It will allow landowners whose properties were once home to family farms that have since shut down or lie mostly idle to reopen or renew the farm with a nature-based business.
Ways to advance sustainable land-use:
Learn how to start your own nature-based sustainable enterprise – visit maple.future.edu to explore certificates and resources available
Donate to the project – Grants and gifts can support scholarships for training courses, technical assistance for small family farmers and landowners interested in sustainable land-use, and research related to economic development in Appalachia
Buy local goods and products – support your local food economy by buying from family farmers and small businesses. You can also attend local festivals and events like the annual West Virginia Maple Days