An Example of For-Profit Conservation: Propagating Wild American Ginseng

The name ginseng may conjure up many ideas varying from person to person. While most of us have seen the name on energy drinks next to other “energy” supplements such as guarana and B vitamins, few people may realize exactly how much controversy surrounds the plant. Ginseng is thought to give its users a temporary boost or alertness. This effect is questionable, but some things about ginseng can be verified: it often sells for over $300 a pound, and Asian markets have an almost endless demand for it.ginseng

Unfortunately, wild American ginseng, the most profitable variety, has been extensively over-harvested, and cultivated American ginseng is not nearly as treasured by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. Buyers can easily tell the difference between wild and cultivated ginseng, as the wild roots are gnarled and forked, often shaped like a man. The cultivated roots are smooth and fat, almost like carrots.

“The Chinese believe that the slower growing wild roots, which are harvested at an older age, absorb more curative power from the forest floor (Persons, 1994). Scientific laboratory tests are not used to determine the value of ginseng roots in China.”
Virginia Cooperative Extension

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Alternative Forest Enterprises: Wild Gourmet Mushrooms

Forest management for Rural System extends well beyond just logging. With the guidance of prescriptive software, forestry on Rural System properties would seek to stabilize profits in the long term, while using the forest in as many beneficial ways as possible. One possible enterprise would be to cultivate wild mushrooms in favorable natural conditions on the property, which usually include old, shady trees.

The Warren Wilson forestry program has a shiitake mushroom project to help pay for their forest management plans.

The Warren Wilson College forestry program has a shiitake mushroom project for student education, and as additional profit for the program.

Mushrooms can provide many benefits to the land, other species, and property owners. Gourmet mushrooms attract high prices which could potentially be a source of profit for property owners. [Read more…]

Increased Crop System Diversity: an Alternative to Prolific Pesticide Use

While doing the research for the GMO series I stumbled across a fascinating, long-term study closer to the scale of Rural System. The authors hypothesized that diverse, 3 and 4-year crop rotation systems would provide ecosystem services, “that would supplement, and eventually displace, synthetic external inputs used to maintain crop productivity.” Upon examining their results, I would say that not only does this seem to be the case, but such systems would likely create jobs as well. Diverse crop rotations, if effective at suppressing weed populations, would be an attractive alternative to GM crops designed to withstand intensive herbicide application. The results of this study would also be particularly interesting to organic farmers, who are already limited in their selection of pest control methods.

crop rotation diversity

Aerial view of Marsden Farm study, Boone IA. Crop abbreviations: m = maize, sb = soybean, g = small grain, a = alfalfa.
Provided thanks to a Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.

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Anticipating the 2014 Film Farmland

Farmland, a movie premiering this Spring, 2014, gives us a closer look at the young farmers who grow our food today. In our modern age, when most all our food comes from a supermarket, it’s increasingly important to put faces to the food we eat. At Rural System we are all too aware of the plight of farmers and of all rural people.

light through clouds

Farmland: a 2014 film shedding light on the difficulties our young farmers face.

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Expanding on Precision Agriculture

Small farm

Rural System proposes precise, total property management rather than simply precise agriculture.

This morning I discovered a realm of thought and practices that blew me away and made me smile. As a new writer for Rural System, I had mistakenly assumed that the idea of precise land management was unique to the company. Little did I know we live in an age where well over 17,000 on-the-go yield monitors harvest North American crops. [Read more…]