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Federal Funds Set to Expand Forest Farming in Appalachia

In Appalachia, forest farms, which grow and market botanicals such as ginseng, goldenseal and black cohosh have the potential to boost local economies. (Adobe Stock)
In Appalachia, forest farms, which grow and market botanicals such as ginseng, goldenseal and black cohosh have the potential to boost local economies. (Adobe Stock)
December 11, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Growers of mushrooms, ginseng and other herbs that require forest cover will receive more than $500,000 in federal funding to start or expand production.

Erik Hoffner, editor of the environmental news site Mongabay says the practice of growing and harvesting ginseng and similar herbs has been practiced for thousands of years, but only in recent decades has a lucrative market emerged.

"The difference now is that the nutraceutical industry is a billion dollar industry,” he states. “So what agroforestry or forest farming brings to the table is a known sustainable product where people can get those medicines that they use in their daily lives."

Last month, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats from Virginia, announced nearly $600,000 in federal funding for a university-led project aimed at helping Appalachian residents start forest farms.

Hoffner also points out forest farming could be a tool to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

"Ginseng or black cohosh, other valuable herbs, mushrooms, things like this,” he points out. “It could be cultivated intentionally on the forest floor.

“Sometimes called forest farming, it sequesters a lot of carbon from the atmosphere. It's really good for biodiversity."

Hoffner adds the region is especially well suited to the practice, noting that many plants driving the global nutraceutical industry are native to the Appalachian region.

"Appalachia is home to one of the most biodiverse and extensive temperate forests in the entire world," he states.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, sales of herbal products and dietary supplements reached nearly $7 billion in 2015.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY