Friday, November 20, 2015


The amazing ability of shiitake mushrooms to accumulate Vitamin D

There is a certain satisfaction in putting food by, a simple task that one never truly appreciates until the deep and dark days of winter, when through stored food one can reconnect to the vibrancy life takes on in the summer months. It feels deeply human to sense the comfort a stored harvest brings.

Our farm shelves are stocked with canned soups, tomatoes, salsa, and the freezer jammed full of lamb, pawpaw pulp, and berries. And perhaps most abundant of all are the jars of mushrooms from the season, both specimens of lions mane, oyster, and shiitake we grew this year, as well as hunks of wild-harvested chaga and dried reishi, waiting for hot winter tea brews on the wood stove to awaken their potent medicinal compounds.

While the stored harvest brings a sense of security and abundance, in many cases processing foods means a drop in nutritional or medicinal value. As we dehydrate, can, and freeze, we can do our best to preserve the potential of food, but inevitably some of the value with fresh and live foods is lost. Curiously, with mushrooms, one could argue that dried product is not nutritionally inferior compared to the fresh, but simply different.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is hard to find in food, yet it plays a critical role in overall health. Specifically, the vitamin is converted in the liver and kidneys and in its active form supports maintaining blood levels of phosphorus and calcium while also promoting bone mineralization and absorption of calcium. It is also linked to supporting a healthy immune system and regulation of cell differentiation and growth. Common sources of vitamin D include sunlight, oil-rich fish, and some dairy products, through many are fortified with D. Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet. Almost all of the U.S. milk supply is voluntarily fortified with 100 IU/cup.

Deficiency in Vitamin D is linked to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Those at risk for deficiency include infants who are exclusively breast fed, seniors, and people with limited sun exposure.[i] Vitamin D deficiency is a very common occurrence among cancer patients.[ii] There are varying perspectives on the relationship of depression and vitamin D, a topic that needs more investigation.[iii]

Vitamin D & Mushrooms

Despite popular assumption that mushroom want to be grown in dark, dank caves underground, they actually need light to fully develop fruiting bodies. Mushrooms starved of the necessary UV light frequencies will appear shrunken or pale in color. Even more remarkable is that mushrooms can actually synthesize Vitamin D when exposed to UV light, whether natural or synthetic. Vitamin D is actually not really a vitamin, it’s a hormone that the sun stimulates organisms (i.e. your body and mushrooms) to produce.

One study from Penn State[iv] looked at the use of pulsed UV light to increase vitamin D content in button, crimini, oyster, and shiitake. The results of this study demonstrated that, "after a very short exposure time of about 1 sec (system generates 3 pulses per second) the Vitamin D2 content of these mushroom varieties can be increased from very little to upwards of 800% DV/serving."

Paul Stamets further explored this relationship and also compared synthetic UV with natural sunlight.[v] While UV lamps result in more overall Vitamin D conversation in mushrooms, natural light, as he notes, is "a convenient source…whereas setting up a UVB light chamber is not." Natural sunlight still results more than a 400% increase in D; Stamets found that sun dried shiitake went from 100 IU/100 grams to nearly 46,000 IU/100 grams.  This rate is plenty for normal consumption, as recommendations from the Institute of Medicine encourage a dose of 600 IU per day for people up to age 70, and 800 IU for those over 70.[vi]

Storing sunlight

With winter coming, sunlight is at a premium. In many parts of the US, especially the northeast, its impossible to naturally produce vitamin D from the sun during winter because the sun does not get high enough in the sky for ultraviolet B (UVB) rays to penetrate earth’s atmosphere. This phenonemom is known as the “Vitamin D” Winter.[vii] People living higher than the latitude of 37 degrees are at a greater risk of developing a deficiency, which essentially equates to half of the continental US.[viii]

During this time, we rely on the stores of vitamin D in our system to meet this need. Vitamin D can last in fat tissue for approximately two months, and when consumed via supplement (including mushrooms) circulates in the blood for about 24 hours, According to a 2010 journal article published by Pediatric Nephrology[ix]. Another study, published in a 2008 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition[x], found that patients given a single dose of 100,000 international units of cholecalciferol, a form of vitamin D, had elevated levels of calcidiol in their blood for 84 days on average. This suggests that vitamin D can stay in the blood longer than 84 days, though the exact maximum length of time is not known.

Is reasonable, then, to calculate that one might be able to enjoy the Vitamin D from sunlight for a few months into winter, but as we enter the new year, our bodies are starved for more.  During this time, the consumption of just 1 oz of mushrooms could potentially feed us with 12,880 IU, or 21 days worth of Vitamin D.

Sun dried mushrooms are one of the more readily available forms of Vitamin D that we can easily cultivate in the forests of the United States. Stamet’s measurements further indicate that the Vitamin D in sun-exposed mushrooms lasts up to a year. Stocking up on sun-dried shiitake

In the end, we can currently piece together this story, drawing from studies that look at Vitamin D, mushroom accumulation, and the effects of Vitamin D supplements in the body. (see references below) More research is needed to better understand this process. But one thing is clear, Vitamin D is rare in foods and a critical part of our diet, and UVB-exposed mushrooms like shiitake can offer a significant quantity of D naturally.

How we dry

Our farm is part of a growing agricultural sector producing log-grown mushrooms. While we also grow oysters and some others indoors, it is out in the woods where we marvel in the process where inoculated logs utilize the natural conditions of the forest to grow and produce mushrooms. Log-grown mushrooms offer this advantage over their indoor counterparts; once logs are inoculated they require no energy inputs other than human labor to manage. Indoor cultivation requires constant monitoring and often inputs to regulate ideal temperature and humidity patterns.

It’s with this natural, low-energy production system that we first learned about solar dehydration. It’s remarkable simple – mushrooms are place “gills up” on stainless screens with holes in them and the covered with a screen to keep them sanitary. We then leave them in sunlight for at least 5 hours, where the sun dries them out while engaging the vitamin D conversion in the caps.

Other benefits of this product include an intensification of the shiitake flavor, known as “umami” [xi], which in Japanese means a, "pleasant savory taste." For many years, there were only four tastes widely recognized to be detected by the human tongue; sweet, sour, salty, bitter. This fifth flavor has become all the rage in recent years by chefs, fueled by a renaissance in the good food movement.

All types of mushrooms contain gluatmates[xii], the compounds which produce this flavor, but shiitake are notable as having especially high concentrations of these amino acids.  Another compound, known as nucleotides[xiii], are also highly present in shiitake and the two together produce a powerful version of the flavor.

Using dried shittake

Wellspring Forest Farm sells both sun-dried shiitake and sun-dried shiitake powder, both of which are easy to use in a wide variety of recipes.

For the dried mushroom caps, simple rehydrate for 20 – 30 minutes in water (or even red wine) and then dice and add to noodle dishes, stir-fry, or any recipe calling for mushrooms. You can also add directly to soups, as they will rehydrate in the pot!
The dried power can be used base for a soup or as a breading agent for meats or vegetable tempura batter.

Order Anytime! online for mail-order, or join us locally:

·       Monday November 23 - Thanksgiving Market at the Good Life Farm. Join multiple farmers from the Finger Lakes region to get all your Thanksgiving needs! Finger Lakes Cider house, 4017 Hickok Rd, Interlaken.

·       Tuesday December 22, CCE Holiday Market at Pressbay Alley, Ithaca.  Stay tuned for details.


[i] "Vitamin D Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes, and Health Risks." WebMD. Ed. Elaine Magee. WebMD. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

[ii] "Vitamin D Deficiency Common in Cancer Patients." ScienceDaily. American Society for Radiation Oncology, 3 Oct. 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

[iii] Penckofer, Sue, Joanne Kouba, Mary Byrn, and Carol Ferrans. "Vitamin D and Depression: Where Is All the Sunshine?" Issues in Mental Health Nursing. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <>.

[iv] Beelman, R.B. and Kalaras, M.D. (2008). Vitamin D2 Enrichment In Fresh Mushrooms Using Pulsed UV Light

[v] Stamets, Paul. "Place Mushrooms in Sunlight to Get Your Vitamin D." 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <>

[vi] "Vitamin D." Health Professional Fact Sheet. National Institute of Health, 11 Nov. 2004. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <>.
[vii] Tavera-Mendoza, Luz E., and John H. White. "Cell defenses and the sunshine vitamin." Scientific American 297.5 (2007): 62-72.

[viii] Johnson, Lana R. "Vitamin D insufficiency due to insufficient exposure to sunlight and related pathology." Student Pulse 2.12 (2010).

[ix] Shroff, Rukshana, Craig Knott, and Lesley Rees. "The virtues of vitamin D—but how much is too much?." Pediatric Nephrology 25.9 (2010): 1607-1620.

[x] Holick, Michael F., and Tai C. Chen. "Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences." The American journal of clinical nutrition 87.4 (2008): 1080S-1086S.

[xi] Kristin, Ohlson. "Umami: The Secret Flavor." Experience Life Magazine, 1 May 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <>.
[xii] Kurihara, Kenzo. "Glutamate: from discovery as a food flavor to role as a basic taste (umami)." The American journal of clinical nutrition 90.3 (2009): 719S-722S.

[xiii] Sugahara, T., et al. "Contents of 5'-nucleotides and free amino acids in different varieties of dried Shiitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes Sing.)." Journal (1975).

Friday, November 13, 2015

Shiitake and Syrups just in time for Holiday Cooking

We have SHIITAKES and SYRUPS available for sale, just in time for Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season. 

Sun Dried Shiitake Mushrooms : Our mushrooms are dehydrated in the sun, which naturally increases the Vitamin D content of the mushrooms and concentrates their delicious flavor. $6 for 1 oz (about 1/2 pound when rehydrated). 
Elderberry Syrup: Perfect for glazing the turkey and building your immune system as the weather gets cooler.  We recommend taking 1-2 teaspoons a day to keep the doctor away! Available in 4oz ($8) and 8oz ($15) bottles.

Maple Syrup: The perfect sweet treat to add to your menu. Glaze your turkey with maple prior to cooking or dribble a bit on your locally grown roasted root vegetables just a few minutes before they come out of the oven and you'll release the delicate flavors of our dark maple syrup. Available in 2oz ($5) and 8oz bottles ($12).

Order Anytime! online for home drop off in the Trumansburg area. Or join us:
  • Thursday November 19th, @ the Westy - Plowbreak CSA Thanksgiving Share Pick-up, 5-7pm. Sign-up for a bushel box packed with roots (potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, assorted radishes) as well as frost-sweetened greens from Plowbreak and also pick up Wellspring Shiitakes, Wide Awake Bakery Bread and apples from West Haven Farm.
  • Monday November 23 - Thanksgiving Market at the Good Life Farm. Join multiple farmers from the Finger Lakes region to get all your Thanksgiving needs! Finger Lakes Cider house, 4017 Hickok Rd, Interlaken. 
  • Tuesday December 22, CCE Holiday Market at Pressbay Alley, Ithaca.  Stay tuned for details.
Also - Stay tuned for upcoming classes and events at the Farm - Sap boiling party, Maple Production Class and Hide Tanning Workshop!

Monday, October 5, 2015

On seasonal cycles, paw paws, and one year of Farming the Woods

(by Steve Gabriel. Reposted from our sister site, Farming the Woods. If some links don't work properly, please visit the original post at that site)

It’s been a while since a post here, late May to be precise when we discussed the importance of learning from our forest elders. This post is a bit more personal than previous ones, except perhaps the one where we honored the memory of student Chris Dennis and his support of our book’s early efforts, back in 2013.
Within the context of the forest we experience a different sense of time. The decisions of people before us for hundreds of years play themselves out in the forests we experience today. In the same vein, we have the opportunity to set the future course of how forests are stewarded (or not), and what abundance is found there (or not).
What I find today, walking in most woods, are the stories of past neglect and abuse of this precious resource. For the past several hundred years, the name of the game has been take the best, and leave the rest. The forest is a genetic library, where the evolution of species in their quest to adapt to site and climactic conditions has been working for thousands of years to adapt. We have basically spent the last two hundred years checking out all the best “books.” The forests we see today are only a glimpse of what could be.
This is one side of the story. Yet, in small patches of woods all over the eastern forest, a vision for something different is present. I see it in the MacDaniels Nut Grove, where I get to walk students through 90 year old nut forest, planted by a passionate professor in the 1920s. I visit the woods Mike Demunn has managed for decades, where tall towering trees remind me that taking the best is a choice, not a mandate. And each year I visit the Cornell Paw Paw orchard, where researchers planted hundreds of trees in 1999 and so we can enjoy this ironically exotic native fruit it all its glory.
04-03_PawPawfruit_SteveYesterday I ate my first paw paw of 2015. The sensation was first one of childlike wonder and excitement, not like what I feel when I taste the first run of maple sap or pluck the first shiitake mushroom from a log on our farm. Following this moment of pure joy are memories of the past years, and the connection to a seasonal cycle, where I connect to the larger part of nature, marking moments in time with plants, animals, and fungi as they emerge from dormancy, grow, store energy, and reproduce.
These seasonal cycles are incredible powerful in grounding me to time and place. And each season it gets deeper. I’ve now consciously witnessed the leaves turn color and fall to the ground for 20+ years. I’ve now tapped trees and welcomed the slow thaw of the forest for over 10 years. I’ve now inoculated and harvested mushrooms from the woods for 6 years. And I’ve gleefully plucked and gorged myself on paw paws for the last 4 years.
And while these things offer me a sense of place, and some sense of consistency as a member of the natural world, each year is also, of course, different and unique. Last year at this time as I cut the first paw paw fruit,Farming the Woods had just been released into the public eye. The year before that, Ken and I were spending every spare moment writing away and visiting case study sites. And this year, I am reviewing the big picture of my life, and what it all means, amidst supporting my wife, who was diagnosed with Colon cancer in July.
The fear, grief, and uncertainty of the future has put me in a completely new frame of mind. For one, the important things in life – family, friends, and place – have been dramatically sharpened into focus. I’ve also had to adapt in news ways to be ready and willing to change plans and change course at a moments notice. And I witness in awe of the lady I love, and her ability and strength to fight and process her experience of such a terrible disease.
The good news is that the cancer appears very treatable at this point. All of this will be far behind us by the next paw paw harvest. It should even be past us by the 2016 sugaring season. And, as I continue to build my relationship to my partner, my world, and these amazing forest cycles, I also am finding that i have some incredible friends in the forest who are along for the ride.
mushroom-chart-LARGEI knew that mushrooms are not just food but medicine – powerful medicine. Various compounds in shiitake, oyster, lions mane, maitake, reishi and turkey tail all support immune system health, critical in the wake of chemotherapy. Maitake in particular helps with keeping white blood cells healthywhile lions mane keeps the nervous system active and strong. Since chemo is a treatment which attacks the body, killing short lived cells and thus messing with normal function, it’s critical for mushrooms to be part of the healing process. Not just any mushrooms, but specific ones, in specific forms. To be more precise, both modern medicine research and traditional chances medicine use hot water extracts of mushrooms as the delivery method for the medicinal benefits. This process extracts the powerful polysaccharides and other compounds which do much of the critical work of healing.
I was surprised to find out that most mushroom medicines out on the market are simply made from the mycelium of the mushroom that is dehydrated and then powered. This is not the form that research and traditional medicine sees value in. In fact, the general consensus is that one needs to both harvest a fruiting body, and use a hot water extract, in order to access the medicine. Simply eating fresh mushrooms won’t do it. Of course, eating fresh mushrooms and even the mycelium is beneficial for host of other reasons. There are various effects of the various methods of consuming mushrooms and their compounds. But in the case of treatment for an extreme condition such as cancer, its important to do it the right way. We were surprised at how buried this concept is in the information out there, and that only one company, MushroomScience, offers pills and tincture that is both harvest from the fruiting bodies of log-grown mushrooms, but also does the heat extraction in their preparations.
natures-sunshine-paw-paw-cell-reg-nsppThe paw paw, too, has some absolutely remarkable cancer medicine. Paw paw contains acetogenins, which modulate the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in cancer cells. This essentially reduces the growth of blood vessel which can nourish the growth of these cells. The compound also slows the growth of certain cancer cells that are resistant to some common chemotherapy drugs. An extract from the twigs is mostly commonly used in medicine.
My wife has cancer, and the very forest friends I’ve been getting to know over the past few years are stepping up to help.
Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to spend as much time in the woods as possible. Now, as a farmer and educator, I aim to share what I know and get as many people as possible growing these powerful allies in their woods and gardens. The potential of partnering with the forest, being both steward, producer, and consumer while supporting an abundance and diversity of forest products for future generations is what gets me up in the morning. And I am confident that as long as I partner with the forest in this way, the benefits will continue stacking up.
As I think back on our one year anniversary of publishing Farming the Woods, I am reminded that we are all continually learning. As we walk down the road of seeing the forest for more than just the trees, the good news keeps piling up. And I know that there is even more to the story, more to learn and glean from the gifts of the forest. Some of these offerings are basic, from the incredible nutrition and sustenance of the foods to the healing properties they unleash, while some are more far-flung, such as the potential to use fungi in the production of cheaper, biodegradable batteries to their ability decompose plastic and clean up toxic waterways.
This one year anniversary marks the re-start of regular blog posts to theFarming the Woods website. Read, enjoy, and share. Be in touch if you want us to cover a certain topic. And stay tuned for more exciting developments from the woods.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Agroforestry & Forestry Short Course 9/11 - 9/15

Learn forest ecology and management techniques for eastern woodlands from Farming the Woods co-author Steve Gabriel and renowned forester Mike Demunn along with guests for this five-day course.

The Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute ( and Wellspring Forest Farm ( are offering a Forestry and Agroforestry Short Course from Sept 11 - 15.

Begin each day at Wellspring Forest Farm ( learning basic concepts in ecology and management and spend each afternoon traveling to many local sites with some of the most remarkable trees and forest ecosystems in the Finger Lakes Region of New York.

As we visit local old growth and heritage forests and farms we will practice tree ID, stand assessment, marking, and felling techniques. We will also visit Angus Glen Farm where Brett Chedzoy manages cows, sheep, and goats who graze amidst the trees (silvopasture) and inoculate and harvest woodland mushrooms at Wellspring Forest Farm.

The course will be co-taught by co-author of Farming the Woods, Steve Gabriel and renowned Finger Lakes forester Mike Demunn.

The experience is designed for woodland owners, famers, extension professionals, permaculture practitioners and homesteaders who seek a better understanding of the intricacies of management in northeastern woodlands. Come build your skills in forest mapping, stand assessment, tree selection, and low-impact tree removal.

 Video and Audio

 LISTEN to STEVE talking about Forestry and Farming the Woods on the Permaculture Voices Podcast:

WATCH STEVE talking about Farming Mushrooms and Permaculture:
INHABIT: "Farming the Woods" with Steve Gabriel from Costa on Vimeo.

 LISTEN to MIKE talking about Forest Ecology and Management:

About the Instructors

mushroomlogharvest600x300Steve Gabriel is an ecologist, educator, author, and forest farmer who has lived most of his life in the Finger Lakes region of New York. His work reconnects people of all ages to the natural world while offering strategies for sound management and restoration of productive landscapes. With over a decade of experience in environmental education, forest management, and farming, he co-founded the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute and currently works for the Cornell Small Farms Program on agroforestry research and education. Along with wife Elizabeth, he operates Wellspring Forest Farm in Mecklenburg NY, where they produce shiitake mushrooms, duck eggs, and maple syrup. He has co-authored a book called “Farming the Woods” with Cornell University professor Ken Mudge.

Michael DeMunn is a widely recognized forester and conservationist in the Finger Lakes region. He has been practicing ecological forestry for three decades and has worked for the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and the Soil and Water District, and for industry as head forester for a large lumber company. Michael is also a founding member of the Finger Lakes Land Trust and is their forestry adviser. He has been involved with establishing numerous nature preserves and has done forest improvement through timber management on thousands of acres and with countless landowners in the area. He was given the name Da’ Ha’ da’ nyah meaning “he protects the forest” by his Seneca Hawk Clan mother when she adopted him as her son.

Register for the course

The base tuition for the course is $450, which includes instruction, materials, and local, organic lunch for each day of the workshop. You can stay in a local hotel or B&B (look for accommodations in Watkins Glen, Trumansburg, or Ithaca) or camp onsite for $10/night ($50 for the course). Camping facilities at Wellspring Forest Farm include a simple camp kitchen, compost toilet, outdoor shower, and pond for swimming.

 To register, please email name, phone, and number attending to

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Finger Lakes Site Tour Aug 21 & 22!

We are excited to be a part of the 2nd Annual Finger Lakes Permaculture Tours on August 22!

Our farm will be open to visitors from 1 - 4pm. Here is the full run-down of events:

Movie: Friday, August 21st

6:00 p.m.
Viewing of the film “INHABIT” followed by discussion with filmmaker Costa Boutsikaris (our farm is featured in the film!)

Inhabit is a feature length documentary introducing permaculture. The film presents a vast array of projects, concepts, and people, and translates the diversity of permaculture into something that can be understood by an equally diverse audience. It is a call to action and a glimpse into what’s possible and what kind of projects and solutions are already underway. See the trailer at

Schuyler County Cooperative Extension
323 Owego St., Montour Falls, NY 14865

Tour: Saturday, August 22nd 

Wellspring Forest Farm (Mecklenburg, NY)

10-acre permaculture and agroforestry inspired farm and homestead producing shiitake, oyster, stropharia mushrooms, maple syrup, duck eggs, pastured lamb, and establishing elderberry & paw paw plantings. Off-grid solar, rainwater catchment, yurt, cob oven. Open 1 - 4pm.


Monday, May 11, 2015

5-day Intensive Teaches New Paradigms in Forestry & Agroforestry

The Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute is offering a Forestry and Agroforestry Short Course from July 24 – 28.

We will begin each day at Wellspring Forest Farm and spend afternoons traveling to many local sites with some of the most remarkable trees and forest ecosystems in the region. As we visit local old growth and heritage forests and farms we will practice tree ID, stand assessment, marking, and felling techniques. We will visit Angus Glen Farm where cows, sheep, and goats graze amidst the trees (silvopasture) and inoculate and harvest woodland mushrooms at Wellspring.

The course will be co-taught by co-author of Farming the Woods, Steve Gabriel and renowned Finger Lakes forester Mike Demunn. Read more about the course and sign up here:

  Around the world, traditional and modern cultures have long valued systems that either make productive use of existing forests or grow new ones with a mixture of beneficial tree crops, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. In other words, agroforestry, forest farming, and forest gardening are not new concepts, but in many senses the way people grew and gathered food and other materials for much of the time humans have spent on earth. In the eastern forests, for example, much of the assumption is that Native American tribes roamed the woods, mostly foraging from the bounty that primeval forests offered them. In actuality, while the native populations certainly wild crafted and hunted for some of their needs, there is ampleevidence that they also both cleared forest entirely, as well as cultivated amosaic of woodland areas, orchards, and forest gardens.
  As settlers arrived in North America in the 15th century and began to dominate the landscape, a new cultural context and attitude began to infiltrate the land, perpetuated largely by the notion that land could be owned, and that to own one must “improve” the landscape, defined by Europeans largely as clearing trees off of the land entirely. This approach, coupled with a general fear of the wild-forested landscape began a cycle of rapid forest decline and with it the viewpoint that the most valuable land was that which could be tilled or grazed. This further expanded as settlements grew and forests were harvested en masse for building new towns and as a key export to Europe, which had long ago deforested its landscape.
             When the larger patterns of forest use over the past several hundred years are examined, the state of American forest use can best be described as devastating. Comparing the US censuses of 1810 and 1880, it’s easy to see a dramatic shift in attitude. The earlier census talked of the almost burdensome nature of the forests, which were viewed as obstructing the ability to cultivate land in traditional fashion, with the plow. By 1880, the tone had changed significantly, as the author noted that forests in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana were depleted beyond much marketable value. Another report from the same timeframe claimed “the states of Ohio and Indiana…so recently a part of the great East American forest, have even now a greater percentage of treeless area than Austria…which have been settled and cultivated for upward of one thousand years.”

      Another study, which looked specifically at land use in Tompkins County, NY from the years 1790 to 1980 using land survey records, aerial photographs, and field work noted that “Forest cover dropped from almost 100% in 1790 to 19% by 1900 then increased to 28% by 1938 and over 50% by 1980”. While the percentage of forest cover has indeed increased across much of the cool temperate US, due largely to the abandonment of farmland, this isn’t to say that a recovering forest has any degree of the same value and integrity of the ancient forests, most of which are long gone.  
            The perception that has pervaded each new generation since the arrival of European settlers is that forests appear resilient and can handle the type of harvesting that “takes the best and leaves the rest.” (high-grading) Little effort is made on the ground to define and create limits for what a sustainable harvest looks like. Make no mistake, this is a choice, not a necessity of management. Timber, firewood, and other forest products can be harvested sustainably, with benefits to the forest ecosystem. As one example, the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin has been harvesting their forests sustainably for hundreds of years. The tribe harvests, mills, and sells wood, and their forests actually increase in the board feet of wood in their forests; that is, the amount of wood that can is grown per acre.

 LISTEN to STEVE talking about Forestry and Farming the Woods on the Permaculture Voices Podcast:
       We need to greatly expand out relationship to the forest, and see the wide array of benefits from stewarding them. In addition to sustainably harvested timber and firewood, forests can be managed for an incredible array of foods, medicines, and functional products. Some of these include forest grown mushrooms, fruits like elderberry, paw paw, and aronia, nuts including hickory, walnut, acorn, and chestnut, and medicinal plants like ginseng, cohosh, bloodroot, and trillium.

      Species like black locust, alder, willow and many others can be used for a variety of construction and craft products. Animals can enjoy respite from the hot summer months and be managed in woodlands, too. The possibilities are endless, one just needs to see the forest for more than just the trees.

      The Forestry & Agroforestry Short Course has been years in the making. Participants will benefit from seeing a wide array of eastern forest types in the Finger Lakes and touring farms that are integrating forestry practices with cropping systems. Participants will walk away with new understanding and appreciation for the woods, as well as a plethora of practical skills and approaches they can immediate implement back home on their sites and projects.  

WATCH Brett Chedzoy of Angus Glen Farm and Steve Gabriel talk about Silvopasture:


Register for the course

The base tuition for the course is $450, which includes instruction, materials, and local, organic lunch for each day of the workshop. You can stay in a local hotel or B&B (look for accommodations in Watkins Glen, Trumansburg, or Ithaca) or camp onsite for $10/night ($50 for the course). Camping facilities at Wellspring Forest Farm include a simple camp kitchen, compost toilet, outdoor shower, and pond for swimming.

In addition to tuition and camping, if you are able please consider making a $50 donation to support reduced tuition for other students who may have less means to attend.  

 To register, please email name, phone, and number attending to

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Upcoming Class Teaches Water Harvesting Techniques (May 2 & 3) (VIDEO)

Come learn how at our Water as a Resource in the Landscape workshop that will be held on May 2 & 3. Steve & Elizabeth Gabriel of Wellspring Forest Farm will share what they have learned as we develop our farm and homestead so that others can better utilize water on their sites. The class will cover the basics of mapping and design, teach you how to use a-frames and laser levels to mark out beds, paths, swales, and ponds, and engage hands-on finishing a swale and riparian buffer on the farm. An excavator will also be on site and we will talk about appropriate use of this machine for long term benefit to the land. See the video below for a mini-tour of some of our current systems in place.

More information and registration through the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute website:

earthworks for water harvesting at the farm
Spring equals water flow in the northeastern US. Snow melt and increased rainfall bring a flush of life back into the landscape, and along with it gives immediate feedback as flows and catchments are tested to their limits. Pooling, flooding, and rapidly flowing waterways, along with saturated soils aka "mud season" make it seem like problems are inveitable. Farmers wait to plow their fields, builders anxiously anticipate the ground drying so new projects can start, and municipal managers worry about overflowing storm water drains and clogged culverts. 

Meanwhile, in the forest, water is being harvested. Trees are intelligently funneling rainwater to their leaves, trunks, and roots. The deep mulch laid down the previous fall reduces the impact of heavy rainfall and keeps the soil in place. Plants and animals come alive with the abundance of this life giving force. Vernal pools catch and hold water, providing breeding ground for amphibians. Water is slowly accepted into the landscape, a precious gift that is life for all of us.

As farmers and homesteaders, water is one of our first yields of the season. The first indications come as sap, sweet water that flows up from roots to the very tips of our maple trees as the woods first begin to thaw. At Wellspring Forest Farm, we eagerly drink the refreshing sap and feel rejuvenated and awakened. As temperatures continue to warm, we hang our gutters and hook up our rainwater system, which we use domestically as well as for our animals. We can learn a lot from these examples.

After a long winter, the prospect of an always full 1,000 gallon tank offers a feeling of wealth; no longer are we rationing water between our needs for cooking and showering, and for the animals. Water doesn't freeze anymore and so pipes, hoses, roofs and gutters can replace hauling buckets.

We've contoured our landscape to further catch water, which further increases our storage and also creates living habitats. Rainfall soaks into terraced planting beds, and runoff flows into our ponds. Swales take the excess and gently distribute it across dry ridges, feeding trees so we don't have to irrigate. Our ducks splash with joy and this feeling translates to smiles on our faces.

Check out this video tour of some of these systems:

Anyone with a farm or land base is able to make choices about how water moves and how it can feed productive systems. All it takes is some understanding of the patterns and process of flows, the use of simple design tools, and moderate changes to gutters, downspouts, and shapes in the landform.

As we hear stories of increased and prolonged drought out West, we feel lucky to be blessed with ample water here. And, we are reminded that water is precious, and should not be taken for granted in any part of the world. As we learn to catch and store water in natural ways, we celebrate its arrival every spring. Flooding and erosion challenges can become opportunities, if only we apply good thinking and design to our specific situations.