2024 Forest Farming Conference
Gather to Grow: A Conference to Honor the Past
and Shape the Future of Forest Farming
March 22 - 24th, 2024
Conference update - November 2023:
December deadlines for submissions, see below.
Sponsorships and exhibitor packages available!
Open call for submissions for Thematic Topic Sessions
Open call for Forest Farmer Share Stories!
Open call for Conference Theme Art!
2024 Gather to Grow Conference Summary
Who: Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition
What: 2024 Gather to Grow: A Conference to Honor the Past and Shape the Future of Forest Farming
Where: Hotel Roanoke, Roanoke, VA, USA
When: March 22-24, 2024
The Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition's (ABFFC) Gather to Grow multi day Forest Farming Conference will be held in Roanoke, Virginia from March 22-24, 2024 and feature learning, networking, and strategic planning programs that will shape the future of forest farming of woodland crops such as botanicals, mushrooms, and decorative products in Appalachia and beyond.
Keynote speakers, working group meetings and panels, field tours, expo, exhibitors, breakout presentations, flash talks, a youth program, poster presenters, great food, socials, and a classic hotel in Appalachia are included. Reasonable prices and access by trains, planes, and automobiles make for a highly accessible event.
Olivia Watkins, Black Farmer Fund & Oliver's Agroforest
Olivia Watkins is a social entrepreneur and impact investor. For the past eight years, she has financed, developed, and operated environmental and social impact projects across the US. She currently serves as a co-founder and President of Black Farmer Fund. She also serves as a board member for a Real Estate Investment Trust, Iroquois Valley, that has invested $100M into transitioning conventional farmland to organic farmland. Prior to founding Black Farmer Fund in 2017, Olivia worked in several farm production roles at Soul Fire Farm Institute and Kahumana Organic Farms and financial research analysis positions at Croatan Institute and NC Idea, leveraging her environmental biology background to manage and grow environmentally regenerative and socially impactful business operations.
Olivia has an MBA from North Carolina State University in Financial Management, and a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University in Environmental Biology. She was also recognized on the 2021 Forbes 30 under 30 Social Impact list and The Grist 50.
Jeanine Davis, NC State University
Dr. Jeanine Davis is an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Horticultural Science at NC State University. She is located at a research and extension center in western NC near Asheville. For over 30 years, she has researched medicinal herbs, forest farming, new crops, vegetables, and organic agriculture and shared her knowledge on these topics with farmers and gardeners across the country. Her current efforts are focused on native woodland botanicals, hops, truffles, organic vegetables, and hemp. She is the lead author of the book “Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals”. Jeanine and her family operate Our Tiny Farm where they raise and board mini-donkeys.
Friday Extravaganza and Reception
Forest Farming Field Extravaganza
Field tours, demonstrations, storytelling, discussions, as well as music, food, mural paintings, and more will take place on Friday March 22, 2024 to kick off the Gather to Grow Forest Farming Conference weekend! Field tours will be led by experts in areas such as woodland botanical farming, mushroom cultivation, site selection, product handling and preparation. This Forest Farming Extravaganza will take place at Virginia Tech’s 377-acre Catawba Sustainability Center, nestled in Virginia’s beautiful Catawba Valley.
*The pre conference Forest Farming Field Extravaganza is an optional add on to the weekend conference registration. Lunch and music are provided with your registration. Transportation from the Hotel Roanoke will be provided free of charge, and ample parking is available on site at the Catawba Sustainability Center. $40 per person. Attendance is capped at 80 participants.
Gather to Grow Forest Farming Reception at Hotel Roanoke
Friday evening, join us to kick off the Gather to Grow Conference at Hotel Roanoke. There will be hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, light music and plenty of conversations to be had with forest farmers from around the region.
* The forest farming reception is included with conference registration.
Catawba Sustainability Center, Catawba, VA
Saturday Conference and Youth Program
Gather to Grow Conference Program
Keynotes by Olivia Watkins of the Black Farmer Fund, and Dr. Jeanine Davis of North Carolina State University, will share the theme of “Our Roots, our Shoots, and our Growth” to the 2024 Gather to Grow Forest Farming Conference audience! We look forward to welcoming speakers and visionaries from diverse regions and backgrounds of the forest farming tapestry including John Munsell from VA Tech, Erica Marks of the Yew Mountain Center, Eric Burkhart of Penn State, and Robin Suggs of Appalachian Sustainable Development. In addition to thematic presentations, the Forest Farming Expo, and local entertainment, there will be networking and strategic planning sessions that will shape the future of forest farming.
*A Call for Submissions for both Thematic Topic Sessions and a special conference track for Forest
Farmer Share Stories are forthcoming.
Gather to Grow Youth Program
An amazing youth program is taking form for the Gather to Grow Conference at the Hotel Roanoke on Saturday March 23, 2024! The target youth age is 8 - 14 years old and the program is limited to 20 participants. Regular Youth Registration includes this program as well as meals and all other conference events Sat and Sun.
*Parents/Guardians will Sign youth in and out for meals and other conference activities (no youth supervision will be provided outside of the Saturday Youth Program).
Sunday Conference and AFFA Announcement
Gather to Grow Conference Sunday Program
Bonus Track Sessions, Regional Planning Sessions, Youth Presentation, AFFA (American Forest Farming Association) Announcement.
Hotel Roanoke Conference Center, Roanoke, VA
Gather to Grow Conference Registration
Friday Forest Farming Field Extravaganza March 22, 2024
Optional Pre-Conference add-on field day at the Virginia Tech (VT) Catawba Sustainability Center (transportation available from Hotel Roanoke).
$40* - VT Catawba Sustainability Center Tour
*add on to Registration or may be purchased separately
Saturday and Sunday Conference at the Hotel Roanoke March 23 - 24, 2024
Includes all meals, sessions, keynotes, and entertainment Friday evening through Sunday morning. Please designate on the registration link if you plan to attend the Friday evening reception so we know how much food to prepare!
$160 - Early Bird Adult Registration - Through January 15, 2024 (Fri Reception, Sat and Sun)
$210 - Regular Adult Registration (Fri Reception, Sat and Sun)
$135 - Regular Student Registration (Fri Reception, Sat and Sun)
$110 - Regular Youth Registration (Fri Reception, Sat and Sun, Includes Saturday Youth Program)
Saturday Youth Program at the Hotel Roanoke March 23, 2024
Regular Youth Registration includes this program as well as meals and all other conference events Sat and Sun. Parents/Guardians will Sign youth in and out for meals and other conference activities (no youth supervision will be provided outside of the Saturday Youth Program).
Registration and Accomodation are purchased separately. By clicking the registration button you will be redirected to the Virginia Tech QuickPay system. Once there, you will be required to request a code that will be sent to your email. Once you receive the code in your email (be sure to check spam if a code does not arrive in your main inbox), enter it in the Virginia Tech QuickPay system and you will be able to proceed to registration options and payment.
*When registering, please use the appropriate drop down menu to designate if you plan to attend the Friday evening reception to help conference organizers determine a head count.
Hotel Roanoke Accommodations
For lodging, use Hotel Roanoke’s accommodation button to make your reservation at the Gather to Grow group hotel rate*. For other accommodations, see the Location and Travel section of this page.
*Please note that your reduced room rate reservation discount will be applied upon hotel check in when payment is rendered.
Sponsorship, Exhibitors and Calls for Submissions
Sponsorship of the Gather to Grow Forest Farming Conference directly supports the conference and its goal to grow productive and vibrant forest farming communities in Appalachia and beyond. All sponsors will be recognized and benefit from digital and in-person opportunities to connect with attendees and the larger stakeholder community. Please see our sponsorship information below and be in touch today to choose specific areas of sponsorship for your organization or business at the conference!
The Hotel Roanoke ballroom will showcase exhibitor booths highlighted Saturday March 23, 2024 at the Gather to Grow conference. Booth spaces are 6 foot long x 30 inches undraped rectangular tables (provided by Hotel Roanoke) and available for set up Friday evening, and should be taken down following Saturday evening events. Limited to 30 exhibitors, fees are $200 per table, and are included in Sponsorship packages at the IV. Slippery Elm ($2,500) and higher levels. Sales are permitted on site at the Forest Farming Expo at the Hotel Roanoke. Register for your exhibitor/vendor space using the button below.
For conference questions and inquiries, contact Margaret Bloomquist.
Calls for Submissions
Please find the calls for submissions for each category below. Each call for submission has more information contained in a printable pdf document, as well as an online form. If you would like to submit in another format, please contact the conference organizers.
Farm Share Stories
Forest farmers, stewards, and wild harvesters are invited to submit a proposal to provide a 25-minute presentation on their forest farming operation during a session dedicated to farm share stories. Proposals should be no more than 200 words and clearly describe the history, scope, and scale of their operation, establishment and production practices, contributions to the health and well-being of their forest, homestead, and/or community, and personal benefits and/or market-based strategies. Individual farmers or farmer teams are welcome to submit. Proposals will be evaluated against a rubric that balances proposal quality, farm characteristics, and product and farmer diversity. Regular Conference Registration and two nights Accommodation at the Hotel Roanoke are offered for selected Forest Farm Share Stories presenters. Proposals are accepted through December 1, 2023.
Forest farming stakeholders are invited to submit a proposal to lead a one-hour strategic session focused on a timely topic that is highly relevant for advancing forest farm opportunities and competitiveness. Proposals should be no more than 250 words. Topics include but are not limited to planting stock supply, business planning and workforce development, industry partnerships and policies, tourism and community development, marketing and sales, product processing, value addition, and distribution, forest farming policy and advocacy, education, research, and communication. Individual stakeholders or stakeholder teams are welcome to submit. Proposals will be evaluated against a rubric that balances proposal quality, topic timeliness and impact need, and vision for future initiatives based on strategic session results. Regular Conference Registration and two nights Accommodation at the Hotel Roanoke are offered for selected Strategic Session presenters. Proposals are accepted through December 1, 2023.
Theme Art Submissions
The 2024 ABFFC Gather to Grow Conference has an open art submission for the printed program cover art and more. The deadline for submissions to be received by is December 15, 2023. Artists of selected artwork will be notified and featured in promotions beginning January 2024.
The theme for the Gather to Grow Conference is to Honor the Past and Shape the Future of Forest Farming. We welcome submissions for the program cover that reflect this theme. We are seeking to explore forest farming through cultural and artist lenses that celebrate the diversity and creativity of the forest farming community. All ages are welcome to submit, minors may require an adult to claim awards. Suggested topics include: agroforestry, forest farming, conservation, forest ecology, traditional knowledge, and stewardship.
The Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition’s 2024 Gather to Grow Conference has 10 full scholarships available to beginning forest farmers, stewards, and stakeholders. Please fill out the following google form to be considered for a scholarship. Deadline for scholarship requests are December 15th. Scholarship recipients will be notified in by end of December, 2023, and receive one regular conference registration and two nights accommodation at the Hotel Roanoke over the March 22-24 event.
Scholarship recipients will be notified in January 2024 and receive one regular conference registration and two nights accommodation at the Hotel Roanoke over the March 22-24 events.
Location and Accommodation
The Forest Farming Field Extravaganza will be held on Friday March 22, 2024 at Virginia Tech’s Catawba Sustainability Center. The main conference events will begin with a Friday evening reception and continue Saturday and Sunday March 23-24, 2024 at the Hotel Roanoke.
Please note that Registration and Accomodation are purchased separately. A block of hotel rooms at the Hotel Roanoke are available to conference registrants at a discounted rate. Other hotel, motel, short-term rental, and camping accommodations are available local to the Hotel Roanoke and surrounding areas.
For lodging reservations, follow the accommodation link below to be connected to the Hotel Roanoke reservation page for the Gather to Grow group hotel rate*.
*Please note that your reduced room rate reservation discount will be applied upon hotel check in when payment is rendered.
Travel and Directions
Reasonable prices and access by trains, planes, and automobiles make for a highly accessible event!
The Forest Farming Field Extravaganza will be held on Friday March 22, 2024 at the Catawba Sustainability Center. The main conference events will begin with the Friday evening reception at the Hotel Roanoke and continue through Sunday March 24, 2024 at 12:00pm. For more information please visit Hotel Roanoke’s Directions and Parking Information.
Driving Directions to Catawba Sustainability Center
From Interstate 81, take Exit 141 north toward Catawba. At the first stoplight turn right onto Route 311. Proceed over the mountain for 6.7 miles. Turn right onto Catawba Valley Road. The Catawba Sustainability Center is on the right.
Driving Directions to Hotel Roanoke
From North or South: I-81 Exit 143 (I-581 South) to Exit 5. Cross Wells Avenue and continue to the main entrance of the hotel.
FROM 220N (MARTINSVILLE): 220N becomes I-581N. Take exit 4E (Orange Avenue). Take first right at traffic light onto Williamson Road. After the third traffic light, turn right on Shenandoah Avenue. Take the first right to main entrance of the hotel.
From 460W (LYNCHBURG): 460 becomes Orange Avenue. Turn left at the traffic light at Williamson Road and Orange Avenue. After the third traffic light, turn right on Shenandoah Avenue. Take the first right to main entrance of the hotel.