Watershed Forest Farm
Peter Waskiewicz and Michelle Dixon have been students and teachers of permaculture ecological design for over 30 years. Working with nature, they are pioneering an integrated approach to agriculture and community forestry. Their mission is to establish a multi generational food and medicine forest guided by the ethical directives of improving soil and water quality. Watershed Forest Farm operates as a homestead, botanical sanctuary, education center and heirloom seed cooperative in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Through practical research and education, they are working to provide a model of active preservation to inspire sustainable forestry in Southern Appalachian communities and temperate climates around the world.
Watershed Forest Farm rises 1200 feet to the encircling ridge. The land's topography forms a self-contained watershed basin, harvesting an average of 190 million gallons of precipitation each year. This water cascades through the streams, recharging springs on its path to the Laurel, French Broad, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. The area supports one of the most biologically diverse temperate regions on the planet.
Forest regeneration — thinning trees, removing invasives, and adding diversity. The forest was high-graded in the 1990s, resulting in the loss of the oldest, biggest, and most commercially valuable trees except on the steepest slopes. Within the shady forest, Waskiewicz is restoring high-value endangered medicinal plants while fostering a wide diversity of fungi to help restore soil health. The lower 20 acres is a moderately sloped farmstead with gardens, trees, shrubs, and seasonal crops.
Status of Restoration
Waskiewicz is building infrastructure, restoring logging roads, controlling erosion, and building two greenhouses to extend the growing season. The infrastructure will allow for interns/volunteers to join the efforts and allow WFF to accomplish its educational goal of training stewards of the land and being an example of sustainable forestry in Southern Appalachia. Waskiewicz is also in the process of placing WFF in a land trust in order to have it protected in perpetuity.
Of the 160 acres at WFF, only one has power. There are several off-grid campsites and hangout areas that benefit from cooking, power, and lighting. Because the farm is so steep, traveling from bottom to top is time consuming and having the ability to charge devices, boil water, and cook in remote areas of the farm is essential to maintaining an efficient workflow. Off-grid life in the beauty of Southern Appalachia…
Forest Farming Shiitake Mushrooms
During the dormant season (January, February), Peter cuts branches off of hardwoods (white oak, red oak, beach, hornbeam, ironwood) growing on his property and drills holes in them using an angle grinder. Within a month, he plugs the holes with dowels inoculated with shiitake fungus, covering each with food-grade wax in order to seal in the moisture and prevent other fungal species from entering. Peter then waits six months to a year, depending on species, allowing the fungus to feed on the sugar stored in the logs. Once white mycelium forms on the end of the logs, they’re colonized and ready to fruit. Next, Peter soaks the logs overnight in cold, unchlorinated, natural water. Removing the logs from the water, he restacks them. In a matter of days, shiitake mushrooms will begin to fruit from the logs.
Learn more about the Watershed Forest Farm here.
All photos by Joel Caldwell. Words by Joel Caldwell and Peter Waskiewicz.