2020 Folklife Apprenticeship Feature: Ed Daniels & Clara Haizlett, Agroforestry/ Forest Farming

The West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program offers up to a $3,000 stipend to West Virginia master traditional artists or tradition bearers working with qualified apprentices on a year-long in-depth apprenticeship in their cultural expression or traditional art form. These apprenticeships aim to facilitate the transmission of techniques and artistry of the forms, as well as their histories and traditions.

Ed Daniels of Mill Creek is leading a forest farming apprenticeship with Clara Haizlett of Wellsburg. Photo by Carole Daniels.

Ed Daniels of Mill Creek is leading an apprenticeship in agroforestry/forest farming with Clara Haizlett of Wellsburg. A ginseng digger and cultivator since he was young, Daniels and his wife Carole own and operate Shady Grove Farm in Randolph County where they grow ginseng, goldenseal, ramps, cohosh, and industrial hemp, among other plants. Haizlett, who was an intern in The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s “American Ginseng: Local Knowledge, Global Roots” project, plans to start a forest farm on her family’s land in Brooke County.

Ed Daniels and Clara Haizlett sort ginseng seeds. Photo by Carole Daniels

Ed Daniels – Master Practitioner


I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia and was raised to appreciate the outdoors. I’ve always had a passion for hunting, fishing, and foraging. As a young man, my father and grandfather taught me the value of money by doing chores, helping others, and working odd jobs. I saved my money and bought my own shoes and clothes for school. At the age of 15, I bought my first car, a Volkswagon Beetle, with my hard-earned money from digging and selling ginseng.  After graduating from high school, I moved to Virginia for approximately eight years where my love for the outdoors was put on the back burner due to long workdays. I realized it wasn’t “home”, so I packed up my family and moved back to West Virginia. 

Realizing that being in the outdoors was a life-long passion, I enrolled in the West Virginia Master Naturalist Program to learn more. Finding it enjoyable to grow and share my knowledge with others, my wife, Carole, and I formed a business called Shady Grove Botanicals. Together, we forest farm medicinal herbs, grow industrial hemp and vegetables and are working to create a wild medicinal seed bank.  I have done multiple presentations on forest farming before school groups, herb conferences, workshops and youth groups.  Our hope is that more people will want to learn how to forest farm at-risk medicinal plants.

Noticing that while planting seeds and transplanting rootlets sparked the interest of our young grandson, I soon realized that he was so fascinated by watching something we planted grow from a seed to a plant.  I then realized that this was my calling – to teach the youth to “plant the seed”.  In the fall of 2018, I was invited by a teacher at Marlinton Middle School in Pocahontas County to do a presentation for her students on forest farming.  I spoke of the importance of being responsible stewards, ethical harvesting practices and the sustainability of American ginseng, black cohosh, ramps, and goldenseal.  I donated seeds and rhizomes to the class to begin their forest farming project.  In the days that followed, the students planted patches of ginseng, goldenseal and black cohosh on the school campus as a combined science and West Virginia history project. After leaving that afternoon, I realized how intrigued the students were in growing at-risk medicinal plants. Every student is just like a seed, they just need planted. Plant the Seed! 

Daniels and Haizlett study forest plants. Photo by Carole Daniels

Art Form/Tradition:

I first learned how to harvest ginseng and other roots from my great-grandfather when I was a young boy.  As a young teenager growing up in the mountains of West Virginia, money was hard to come by and jobs were scarce.  Most young teens that could obtain summer jobs came from wealthy families. Those of us who wanted new school clothes and didn’t have jobs went to the woods to earn money by digging roots and herbs and selling them to the local dealer.  My great-grandfather, who I was named after, said I was silly for selling the roots.  He said, “You need to plant it – it will be worth more one day.” I continued ‘senging into adulthood and it wasn’t until the mid-1990’s that I began planting the roots on our property. It was much later before I ever heard of the term “forest farming” and since then, have expanded our crops to include other medicinal herbs, industrial hemp and vegetables. I’ve learned so much throughout the years from personal interaction, readings, conferences and workshops, as well as trial and error.

As to any project, there are many approaches. In agricultural farming, many farmers choose to till their soil.  This creates a disturbance of the earth’s ecosystem. With ginseng, for instance, the roots will not grow stress rings in which to identify it as an old Appalachian root. Some ginseng farmers choose raised beds to do root planting and this also allows for rapid growth. Others choose to plant the seed in a wooded lot to simulate woods grown.  Our method of harvesting wild roots and replanting them on our farm with the use of a dibble bar maintains the wild characteristics and the root growth as close to that of being in the wild.  The purpose of the dibble bar is to keep the soil compressed so the root does not grow rapidly and change its wild characteristics. Our method allows for the growth of seeds to repropagate and to continue replenishing our farm with wild Appalachian ginseng. We also mulch leaves, make our own compost teas and nutrients to maintain a sustainable, organically grown, no-till farm. 

We at Shady Grove tend to go against the grain. We plant the roots to grow the seed to promote new growth to ensure the future of the plants. 

Clara Haizlett collects ginseng seeds. Photo by Carole Daniels.

Clara Haizlett – Apprentice

Artist Statement:

Decades have passed since coal companies stripped and mined my family’s farm in Brooke County, but aftershocks still pulse through the land and the creek that runs through it. The ponds are orange and the soil depleted. Invasives crowd the land, choking out the native plants. The land is sick.

I spent my childhood in those woods, building forts and exploring the forest. As I grow older, I worry that future generations will not be able to access the medicinal, provisional, and cultural potential that our woods offer. I worry about the health of the forest, the survival of native plants, and the demise of land-based traditions. As a West Virginian, beneficiary of tradition, and student of the natural world, I feel a responsibility to reinvest in the land and community that I call home.

I studied International Relations at WVU with an emphasis on Environmental Studies. My courses covered topics like forestry, ecology, and sustainable agriculture. I delved further into my studies as a Smithsonian intern by focusing on the cultivation, conservation and cultural importance of American ginseng. Through this internship, I acquired a deeper understanding of both the mechanics of forest farming and its traditional relevance to the region. Forest farming offers a promising path towards the realization of our cultural and environmental potential. I believe that, through collective awareness and communal action, we can revive our forests and traditions and restore a healthy relationship to our land in West Virginia.

Haizlett and Daniels plant ginseng plants. Photo by Carole Daniels.

Art Form/Tradition:

Forest farming involves both the conservation of land and preservation of land-based traditions integral to the survival of community. The practice emphasizes sustainable harvesting and restoration of native plants. Beyond its ecological impacts, forest farming holds cultural relevance in Appalachian traditions of foraging, plant medicine, and self-provisioning.

The apprenticeship program grants are administered by the West Virginia Folklife Program at the West Virginia Humanities Council in Charleston and are supported in part by an Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. West Virginia Folklife is dedicated to the documentation, preservation, presentation, and support of West Virginia’s vibrant cultural heritage and living traditions.