Green Horizons Newsletter - AgEBB

Green Horizons

Volume 9, Number 4
Fall 2005

Landowner Spotlight - Wild Crops Farm hosts educational native plants field day; explores value-added opportunities
Rachel McCoy, MU Center for Agroforestry

Echoing the resilient qualities of Missouriís native plants, one of summerís hottest days couldnít keep several land and forest owners, natural resources professionals, hobbyists and researchers from gathering in Licking, Mo., in late July to do something good for the land.

George and Penny Frazier, owners of Goods from the Woods, an on-farm pine nut and wild craft herbal business, together with local farmers and other interested organizations collaborated to host an enlightening field day on native plant systems and the market opportunities they present. The Fraziers work with neighbors to preserve the fragile Ozark ecosystem through the cultivation of native forest plants and outreach activities to educate fellow landowners, and the public, about the medicinal and household properties found in many native species.

The Frazier familyís work with wild plant species began in 1993 with the intent to promote land conservation through creating economic incentives based on native plant systems. Their 12-acre farm (called Wild Crops Farm) holds two USDA certificates - Certi.ed Wild Crops and Certi.ed Organic. Wild Crops Certification is similar to Organic Certification, in that the land must be kept free of prohibitive substances and a sustainable harvest plan must be utilized.

The Fraziers, working with groups from across Missouri, created the July field day - called "Central Ozarks Natives: History and Future" - as an opportunity for knowledge exchange about the regionís native plant systems. "We explored ways of protecting native plant systems, our rural communities, our forests and our farms," Penny said, "because you canít know the land by sitting in an office or in the house. You need to get out on the land to know the land."

The day began with open dialogue led by Katie Auman of Yellville, Ark., focusing on the stories and experiences of what Penny Frazier calls our "elders who have lived in this region for generations." J.D. Vankirk, a local farmer whose mother lived on the land that is now Wild Crops Farm, addressed changes in land use. He remembered learning about goldenseal and ginseng, valuable medicinal herbs, from watching his great uncle harvest and cultivate them.

"People are in danger of forgetting the original intention of a farm - for mixed use that benefits the crops, the trees and the wildlife both now and in years to come," said Vankirk. "We may not be using the land to its full potential if we approach it with only one or two crops in mind. Thereís generational knowledge out there to be shared if we will seek it out."

Penny and George Frazier agree, citing the importance of the economic value of mixed use that includes native plant species. Wild Crops Farm has identified 78 different native species with the potential for value-added, distilled hydrosols and other botanical values. A hydrosol consists of the plant waters and plant essences remaining after the essential oils have been removed during a distillation process. Hydrosols are ten to 15 times stronger in medicinal properties than herbal teas, and can be used for any purpose herbs would be used for. While the Fraziersí "Goods from the Woods" product line is not sold as a food or beverage, a thimble full of hydrosol offers health benefits equal to an entire cup of herbal tea.

"Some say hydrosols are the real aromatherapy," says Penny. "They contain the water-soluble volatile components of the plant and are therapeutic and extremely mild. Unlike essential oils, they can be applied directly to the skin as spray mists, splashes, compresses or soaks."

Participants at the July field day learn about the Fraziersí cultivation of ecotyped Echinacea for its seed, medicinal and ornamental values.

Following distillation, the hydrosols are conveniently packaged into hand-held pump spray bottles. An emerging market cited by the Fraziers is the pet industry, with certain hydrosols effective for flea and tick protection and control without the potentially harmful properties of some essential oils when applied directly to the skin.

Wild Crops Farm demonstrates what the Fraziers and Vankirk believe from experience, that valuable native plants donít just require harvesting from the wild - they can be equally as valuable, both economically and from a health perspective, when transplanted and cultivated to a well-managed farm setting.

"We have to start showing people economic reasons why these species with food and medicinal value are important," says George. "As people look to restore their lands, why not restore with native plants with the potential to help provide livelihood benefits? While people restore for wildlife, they can also restore for non-timber forest product values."

When choosing a species to cultivate, Penny and George seek plants with a multitude of uses. Some of the most popular and economically viable natives the Fraziers cultivate are elderberry and native mints, including wild bergamont, skullcap, white leaf mountain mint and wild spearmint.

They are cultivating ecotyped Echinacea for its seed, medicinal and ornamental values, together with potential hydrosol values. Through the process of collecting seeds from the wild, then restoring the plants to their native habitat, the Fraziers market plant products that have been produced through the use of either wild or organic plants. The products themselves are not certified, but the plants used to produce them are.

George and Penny Frazier demonstrate the distillation process for native plants. The distillation unit was purchased in part with a SARE grant the landowners received.

"We choose ecotypical plants that suit the land well," says Penny, "and use local soil, which offers a range of ecological as well as financial benefits. This way, producers need to supply little to no inputs, and the plants are disease resistant and well-suited for this climate and growing region. The native floral plants also bring plenty of pollinators to the land."

Participants at the field day learned these benefits hands-on from the Fraziers through tours of their acreage, which included a wild plum, mulberry and persimmon orchard, goldenseal, yarrow, spice bush and witch hazel.

Additional tours from other native plant growers in the region included a farm harvesting pine and yarrow for distillation and cultivating passion flower; and Bobís Garden, a local nursery focused on the importance of ecotypes.

A variety of value-added products can be marketed from native plant production, including hydrosol sprays, soaps, teas and fresh pine nuts.

A distillation demonstration for producing herbal hydrosols hosted by the Fraziers introduced the group to additional cottage- industry opportunities in the medicinal plants market. The distillation unit was purchased in part with a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant the native plant growers received. The SARE grant also helped George and Penny create "seed beds" to ensure an easily harvestable supply of native plant seeds and a growing environment to ease root harvest and root division. The day concluded with a group discussion about ways to encourage landowners, consumers and resource professionals to consider both the long- and short-term impacts of their practices.

"Our livelihood is connected in wanting to keep the land and keep on it," says Penny.

For more information on Wild Crops Farm and their native plant products, visit www.pinenut.com.


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