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Fields and Forests

A group of people pose outdoors next to a newly planted tree. One, kneeling on the ground, holds up a handwritten sign that reads EARTH OPTIMISM. Another holds a sign that reads the same in Spanish: Optimismo para La Tierra!
Researchers with the Smithsonian’s Bird Friendly Coffee Program and partners with the Cooperativa La Florida pose with optimistic signs in the Chanchamayo region of Peru.
Photo by Ruth Bennett
Three men in the foreground plant leafy green plants on a green hillside. Others in the background watch.
Agua Salud manager Estrella Yanguas oversees the planting of Dalbergia retusa (cocobolo) and Terminalia amazonia (amarillo) in a thinned teak plantation at the Agua Salud project in Panama, 2015.
Photo by S. Mattson, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Two women smile and pose side by side on a grassy plain, with several brown and white cattle behind them.
Amy Johnson, program director of Virginia Working Landscapes, visits cattle at Oxbow Farm with owner Beatrice von Gontard.
Photo by Amy Johnson
Two people, bent over and kneeling on the ground, harvest red berries into a bowl from short, leafy green plants in a planter bed in a forest.
Ed and Carole Daniels pick the berries off American ginseng plants on their property in West Virginia.
Photo by Emily Hilliard, West Virginia Folklife Program

Woodlands, grasslands, and farmland support many species of animals and plants—as well as many people! These systems produce our food, medicine, and building materials. They store carbon and protect soil from severe flooding, reducing the impacts of climate change. At the 2022 Folklife Festival, we explored how these ecosystems can sustain, nourish, and heal.

How can we harvest food, timber, and other natural resources in a way that benefits both people and nature? How are scientists finding innovative ways to transform materials like mushrooms into sustainable materials? How can we utilize traditional knowledge to conserve plants for a more diverse and resilient ecosystem?

We met scientists and farmers who are working together to enhance farmland from the soil up, refining sustainable agriculture practices like regenerative grazing. We smelled and tasted delicious coffee and chocolate that’s good for birds, biodiversity, and people.

We learned how modern foragers and herbalists are reviving traditions that protect plants like American ginseng while still celebrating wild food, like mushrooms and natural medicine.

Story Circles

Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.