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John Munsell, Virginia Tech, jfmunsel@vt.edu
Catherine Bukowski, , catherine.j.bukowski@gmail.com (Presenter)
James Chamberlain, USDA Forest Service, jchamberlain@fs.fed.us
Michael Jacobson, Penn State University, mgj2@psu.edu

 

Informal farming of non-timber crops that grow in forests has occurred for generations. More recently, interest in forest farming has increased, along with the refinement of formal forest farming practices through agroforestry production- and market-side initiatives. Forest farming is defined as the practice of cultivating specialty crops – or non-timber forest products – under an existing or emerging forest. Landowners often are most interested in forest farming when compared to other potential agroforestry practices. Opportunities for forest farmers include tapping into long-standing, value-added non-timber forest products markets. Yet stakeholders are dispersed and critical information is fragmented. Aggregating and then providing critical information via virtual Internet communities could improve the situation. Stakeholders increasingly use online multimedia and technology transfer programs have taken note. Both the development of online delivery systems and incorporation of virtual shared-learning represent their response. In this vein, eXtension is an online development and delivery mechanism created by the US Department of Agriculture and Land Grant Extension System and other key stakeholders (www.extension.org). This project uses eXtension to create a nationwide virtual community to synthesize and deliver synchronous and asynchronous forest farming education, encourage and inform farming initiatives, compile comprehensive data, incorporate cutting-edge delivery, and equitably address the diversity of forest farmers. eXtension’s optimization metrics are designed to capture a virtual community’s characteristics, resources, behaviors, and activities. The objective is to assess a community's formative and summative status. The project makes additional efforts to study internal progress. Optimization and accomplishments to date will be covered and results of introspective and user-oriented surveys presented. Emphasis will be placed on lessons learned and transferability to other forest-based initiatives.