The Conservation Exchange
at Warren Wilson College
Sharing Ideas, Passion and Resources for Innovative Land Stewardship
Winter 2022:v25
A Note from the Dean of Land Resources
During these odd and turbulent times I am so thankful and fortunate to be surrounded everyday by young people brimming with incredible passion and energy for creating a better world. We were lucky enough to have over 180 of these students contributing to our land operations this past fall. Covid has put a bit of a damper on our public outreach activities over the last 18 months, but I am hopeful that we'll be able to at least begin outdoor hikes, workshops and activities in the late spring and through summer, with our lecture series resuming in the fall. Fingers crossed! As you can see, Covid has not slowed down our continued efforts to serve as a model for sustainable and innovative land stewardship while providing our students with hands on experiential learning opportunities and solutions-based leadership development. Stay safe and thank you for your engagement with Warren Wilson College. I hope to see you all sooner rather than later!
No-till Farming and Carbon Sequestration
Conventional agriculture can be a major emitter of atmospheric CO2 when operated at industrial scales. However, if protected and managed properly, agricultural soils can be one of the most important pieces of the carbon sequestration puzzle and climate change mitigation. As part of our focus on Climate Forward Agriculture, the WWC Farm and Garden have begun acquiring the equipment needed to transition to no-till farming methods for our cropping and produce fields. Typical tilling practices disturb the soil, speed decomposition and in turn release CO2 into the atmosphere. No-till methods build soil organic matter and reduce CO2 emmisions and require less tractor passes which also reduces fossil fuel use for our operations. Combining no-till management with the Ferguson Soil Carbon Study, the College is able to monitor our soil carbon stocks and demonstrate methods that can mitigate climate change while producing healthy local food. While no-till systems are gaining traction nationally, they are not common yet in this region, providing our students with the opportunity to be leaders at the forefront of sustainable agriculture practices for Western North Carolina.
"Guaranteed from Seed" Makes First Major Landowner Distributions
In October, the GFS Program made its first major distribution of planting stock through direct marketing, the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmers Coalition and the North Carolina New Crops and Organics Woodlands Stewards Program. Solomon’s seal, goldenseal, black cohosh, wild yam and wild ginger were distributed to 14 landowners in NC and VA. Landowners ranged from beginning forest farmers using this planting stock to initiate their operations to well established forest farmers interested in diversifying their current populations. The GFS Program sustainably propagates and distributes economically important forest medicinal plants to landowners to reduce overharvesting pressure on wild populations and provide diversified revenue streams for landowners. Recent grants from the Clabough Foundation and USDA NIFA have allowed the program to expand in scope and provide more experiential learning opportunities for our students. Planting stock will be available again in Fall 2022.
WWC Sustainable Agriculture Students Research Cattle Genetics
The WWC Farm is conducting genetic testing through Zoetis on three generations of replacement heifers in our commercial cross cattle herd. This testing provides an empirical inventory of the current genetic makeup of our herd, allowing us to be targeted and selective when choosing animals to guide our breeding program in the direction that most closely fits with the needs of our landscape and market. In addition to operational outcomes, this research exposes students to a cutting edge mananement tool that is fairly new to the beef industry. Students are provided insight into how genetic performance markers play an important role in decisions to bring a replacement heifer into a breeding herd and allows them to see how these decisions come to affect economic outcomes for a working farm or ranch. By working with our own set of criteria, incorporating this new data, and interfacing directly with Zoetis to identify desirable traits our students are using multiple criteria to help shape a positive future for the WWC Farm cattle herd. 
Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love
WWC professor Dr. Mallory McDuff has written a book about her one-year journey to revise her final wishes with climate change and community in mind. During her research, she volunteered at a conservation burial ground, observed at a body farm, explored aquamation and body composting, attended home funerals, and even advocated for the Warren Wilson cemetery to allow green burial without vaults. It's a story rooted in the land at Warren Wilson College and Western North Carolina with implications across the country. Endorsed by Terry Tempest Williams, Janisse Ray, and Bill McKibben, Our Last Best ActPlanning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love (Broadleaf Books) is available at independent bookstores like Malaprop's and online as well. Mallory's essays about the book have appeared in The Washington PostWIRED, The IndependentNext Avenue, and Newsweek.
Rivercane Restoration
Rivercane has always been an important plant to the Cherokee for uses such as arrow shafts, blowguns, and especially basket making. Due to the clearing of streamside land for agriculture, the amount of rivercane left in the southeast is a very small fraction of what it was in the past. The Cherokee people continue to make traditional baskets, but the supply of good quality large cane stems is not enough to keep up with the demand. Fortunately, WWC has a considerable amount of rivercane growing along the Swannanoa River that can be sustainably harvested. Students in Dr. Mark Brenner's Applied Ecology class collaborated on the project with Adam Griffith, director of Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources (RTCAR). Students spent an afternoon digging rivercane rhizomes and transporting them to land near Lake Logan that is part of Camp Henry. The next day WWC students and camp staff members transplanted the rivercane along the West Fork of the Pigeon River in habitat that is suitable for their proliferation. Once established and reaching a large enough population size, the camp will make the cane available for Cherokee artisans to harvest and use.
It's That Time of Year Again!
The Forestry Crew and Land Stewards Supervisors were busy over winter break setting up the black walnut sugaring operation. So far it is looking like temperatures are cooperating and we'll have a bumper crop of sap to boil down for syrup. Our data is showing that it takes about 50 gallons of black walnut sap to make one gallon of syrup - compared to about 40 gallons for sugar maple. We are also finding that sap flow for black walnut is extremely variable across years, tree diameter and position on the landscape. However, no data is needed to know how tasty this non-timber forest product really is! Look for our black walnut syrup later in the season at our markets and on-line store.
Winter Tree ID Tip
Oaks (Quercus spp.) as a group are easy to identify by the arrangement of buds at the tips of branches. Called "terminal buds" they are arranged in clusters unlike other species you'll find in this area. I like to think of them as looking like a "stegosaurus tail". This tip will get your tree to the oak genus, but a little more work will have to be done regarding bark and branch structure to identify it to species. You can also look to see what leaves are on the ground below it! In our region we have eight major species broken down into the white oak group (post, white and chestnut) and the red oak group (northern red, southern red, scarlet, black and shingle). Acorns from the white oak group are favored by wildlife as they contain less bitter tannins than acorns of the red oak group. You history buffs might enjoy Oak: The Frame of Civilization while the more ecologically minded might want to tuck into The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees.
Interested in Giving to The Conservation Exchange?
Your generous gift will go towards helping us maintain and improve the research, education and recreation infrastructures of our land and will support continued outreach opportunities for the Warren Wilson College Conservation Community. To give, go to the link below, choose "Other" and designate "Conservation Exchange" on the form. Thank you for being part of our Community!
Contact: Dave Ellum