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© Allison Usavage

Farming the Woods

Farming the Woods is a new book by local authors Ken Mudge & Steve Gabriel about Forest Farming. We talked with Ken and Steve about the book and photographed their book signing at the Tompkins County Public Library. (Hope you’re not hungry… we couldn’t help but put the picture of the book-inspired cake first.)


What is the book?

Ken Mudge: The book is about one type of agroforestry called forest farming. Forest farming has to do with cultivating all sorts of products beneath the canopy of an established forest. Here in the temperate zone we’re dealing with non-timber forest crops.
Steve Gabriel: We’ve got mushrooms, nuts, fruits, ramps in the spring, ginseng, medicinals, animals… agroforestry is really characterized by stacking. The idea is that we have a healthy forest stacked with a whole bunch of other crops underneath it.

Who is the book good for?

KM: Mostly people who own woodlots and have some opportunity to use it. Lots of woodlots are unmanaged and we talk about opportunities where you can manage your woods and bring in some income.
SG: Also farmers who also own woodlots. There’s farmers who maybe see their woodlots as a place to get firewood or take a hike, but they may not see a lot of value. Especially with mushroom cultivation and other crops, there’s actually an economic potential to value the woods and raise some crops in there.


What change are you trying to make?

SG: I guess I’d like people to recultivate what was more of our original relationship to forest, which was more of a working relationship, one where our sustenance is coming from the woods.
KM: There’s a lot of people who consider the woods as sort of this patch of weeds and know very little about it. With forest farming as an entry point it really becomes a classroom, not only to grow these foods and medicinals but to learn about the forest itself. Forest farming is all about integrating the forest ecosystem with the manmade use of that ecosystem.


© Allison Usavage
How did you decide to write the book?

KM: We’ve been teaching a course together called Practicum in Forest Farming at Cornell for… I’ve been teaching it for about 12 years and Steve’s been with me about half that time. He impressed the hell outta me with his ability to use permaculture design as a way to develop a forest farm, so I said “Steve, why don’t we write a book together?” And we did.

How does this impact our community?

SG: All of the topic matter is very specific to the temperate climate. In the Northeast we have this trend of land that has been abandoned by farming and is now heading back into forest and trees. The forests are coming back, and rather than cutting them down again when we decide we want to grow food, let’s figure out how to grow more food within those systems. Hopefully we can get people interested in the details and interested in learning the intricacies of the forest that they’re in and around.


How has the community supported you?

KM: We have gotten a lot from the opportunities at places where we work. We have this place called MacDaniels Nut Grove, and that’s kind of what inspired this whole thing. And we’ve not only taught Cornell students there, but we’ve also had workshops where people from the community can come through… that in itself is a kind of support. People have so much interest and so much enthusiasm, it really motivated us to take it to a higher level and write the book.

What struggles have you encountered?

SG: We could talk about so many different aspects of agroforestry, so really staying within forest farming was a challenge.
KM: I’m pretty sure it’s more complicated and difficult for two people to write a book than just one person to write a book. It takes a lot of coordinating.

What should we be celebrating?

KM: Celebrating the forest!
SG: I think we should just celebrate all of the amazing products that are coming out of the forest. It’s cool to see all these crops that take a lot of patience, a lot of time. The forest absolutely makes you slow down and check things out. We can enjoy that process because it takes us out of the rush of everything else.


© Allison Usavage
How can we participate?

KM: Buy the book! But also, there are opportunities to go to workshops and McDaniels Nut Grove, for example. There’s also an event called Camp Mushroom at the Arnot Forest… you hear that name and you want to go see what it’s all about. And there’s a maple festival there in the spring. There’s lots of opportunities for people to get their feet wet as far as forest farming is concerned.
SG: And with Cornell Small Farms, we’re going to have an an agroforestry hub. There’s a whole bunch of free resources and videos.


Learn more about forest farming with the resources from the Cornell Small Farms Program, or check out more info on the book at


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