Virginia Tech is leading the effort to use the new online research-based learning network eXtension to promote forest farming — the cultivation of high-value specialty crops under a forest canopy. Launched in 2008, eXtension was created as a virtual space for the exchange of ideas and information as well as the production of new educational resources on a wide range of topics organized as “resource areas.”

The college, with support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service, and numerous partners, launched eXtension’s forest farming resource area, which includes FAQs, articles, a newsletter, webinars, and a video series that covers a wide range of forest crops as well as topics like agroforestry and seed collection. More than 50 professionals contribute to the resource area, and over 100 content projects are either complete or in development.

“In the past, forest farming experts have been somewhat isolated,” said John Munsell, associate professor and forestry management Extension specialist. “This whole idea is to build a collective identity and better define forest farming.”

Site content is targeted to producers and stakeholders who want information that has been developed through a network of forest farming professionals.

Under forest farming practices, products are cultivated and managed in farm-like woodland settings that have been modified to provide the correct shade and microenvironment so growth can be sustained and the output secured year after year.

“One benefit of forest farming is income for landowners while their timber matures or other longer term objectives are pursued,” Munsell said. “In addition, there’s the added benefit of the conservation of economically and culturally important forest products.”

Munsell and forestry doctoral student Catherine Bukowski are lead coordinators of the project. Key partners include Jim Chamberlain of the U.S. Forest Service and Mike Jacobson of Penn State, as well as the USDA National Agroforestry Center and Cornell University.