Online Agroforestry Course for Professionals

Progress report for ENC20-191

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $79,619.76
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Savanna Institute
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Keefe Keeley
Savanna Institute
Expand All

Project Information


Increasingly, agroforestry is recognized as a key to climate resiliency, healthy ecosystems, and thriving farms in the Midwest. The intentional integration of tree, crop, and livestock provides habitat, conserves water and soil resources, diversifies farm income, and sequesters carbon. Despite increasing interest in adopting agroforestry, studies have shown that though 90% of respondents were interested in agroforestry, most lacked adequate information about implementation, management, and marketing to adopt it (Strong and Jacobson, 2005). Farmers interested in agroforestry adoption face a knowledge bottleneck in the Midwest: their existing support networks don’t include knowledge or for support for agroforestry. 

By developing an online agroforestry education course for professionals, the Savanna Institute will address this barrier to adoption. Our course will focus on agency and nonprofit personnel, educators, independent consultants and technical service providers, and provide a flexible set of online modules that can be taken for CEUs. The course will include an online resource library of educational materials, practicums, case-studies, and multimedia material that participants can draw upon to design or enhance their own training programs or agency educational materials. It will also produce case-study videos and facilitate an online community of practice for professionals. 

The course will increase the total number of agricultural professionals with knowledge of agroforestry, provide accessible educational materials for trainers to employ in their own work, and, ultimately, make agroforestry education more accessible for farmers and landowners interested in adopting it on their land.

Project Objectives:


  • Agroforestry Course Curriculum for Professionals: five tracks of four modules each providing an adaptable format for professional participation.
    • Target audience: agency and nonprofit personnel, educators, independent consultants and technical service providers, farmers
  • Educational materials on topics like: farm business planning for agroforestry, alley cropping, conservation and agroforestry, and agroforestry supply chains.
    • Products will be a mix of pdfs and multimedia material
    • To facilitate participant adoption educational material for their own training programs, course curricula will include easily downloadable content compiled in a resource library and suggested workshop outlines and practicums.



  • 10 30-minutes videos created
    • Videos will feature at least 10 farmer collaborators who have adopted commercially viable agroforestry on their farms.
    • Videos will be integrated into course curriculum
  • Videos offer updated models for experiential learning when in-person visits may not be possible. 
    • When adapting course content for use in their own trainings, trainers can use the videos as accessible examples of agroforestry in action when in-person examples are not available for their region.
  • Education for wider, nonprofessional audiences. 
    • Target: Posted online, videos will reach an audience of 100,000 views by 2023.



  • Target: total program participants: 500 = 150 in Year 1 and 350 in Year 2. Of whom:
      • 400 complete at least 1 track (or 4 modules)
      • 100 will complete more than 2 tracks (8 modules)
      • 100 participants will begin but not complete a full track (4 modules).
      • Of those, 50 participants will complete at least 2 modules, but not a full track.



  • Online resource library of educational material and resources
  • Online library of scientific articles 
  • Downloadable so trainers can adopt content in their own work.
  • Target outcomes: 200 participants incorporate agroforestry-related content in existing programs within five years.
    • 20 new agroforestry-focused programs will be designed and delivered
    • 50 participants will create new educational materials for their agencies or nonprofits.



  • Participants will earn 1 credit for each module they complete.
      • Target outcome: 400 participants will earn at least 4 credits
      • 100 participants will earn at least 8 CEUs within five years
  • Participant surveys and assessments to improve course and evaluate progress through modules
    • Target: 450 surveys will be completed



  • Partnerships with agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, professional associations, agricultural businesses and existing communities of practice (e.g. IL IDEA farm network, MN Silvopasture Learning Network, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Wallace Centers Regenerative Agriculture Innovation Network, WI Grazing Networks), as well as expanded opportunities for trainers to connect with each other across the region.
    • Target: 4 new partnerships focused on agroforestry education for professionals
  • Community of practice developed through periodic emails, shared resource library, online discussions, and networking opportunities
    • Target: 500 participants in community of practice emails, of whom:
    • 400 will access the shared resource library at least once to download relevant material
    • 200 will participate in at least 1 online discussion 
    • 100 will qualify for online directory reflecting substantial professional education in agroforestry.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Nathan Ayers
  • Erin Meier
  • Zoe Hastings


Educational approach:

The first stage of the process (Y1) included conducting a more thorough needs-assessment of technical service gaps specific to perennial crops and cover crops, which was done in collaboration with Green Lands Blue Waters. Once those results were complete, we worked with a collaborator, Nate Ayers of Chiwara Permaculture 3LC, to develop a track for K-12 educators. The goal of this track is to train K-12 educators to integrate STEM agroforestry curriculum and projects into their classrooms and communities. This is done by developing interdisciplinary curriculum that answers six driving questions, accounting for diverse learning styles, is culturally and socially relevant, and based on content from agroforestry leaders.

The remaining 4 tracks of online courses are in varying stages of development, to be completed and published in Y2, and will be tailored to the needs of 1) Land Conservationists, 2) Water Quality professionals, 3) Technical Service Providers, and 4) Foresters. We have learned through feedback that focusing the courses on topics will increase participation. For this reason, the courses we will publish are: Climate Change and Agroforestry; Soil Health and Agroforestry; Water Quality and Agroforestry; and a final course focused on Working with People. Each of these tracks will include an introductory module that includes the historical, cultural, and social context for agroforestry. The remaining modules will cover the environmental and social benefits for specific agroforestry crops and practices as they relate to the specific concerns for the professionals per track, best practices, case studies, and design templates. These courses are being developed through the framework of backwards design--making sure to scaffold the information, activities, and support needed to achieve the track objectives.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Track 1: K-12 Educator Module

The goal of the first track of our online course module for K-12 educators is to train K12 classroom teachers to create and integrate 21st Century STEM agroforestry curriculum & projects into their classroom and community.


Driving Questions:

  • What does climate change look like?
  • How can agroforestry practices help tackle climate change?
  • How can soil help sequester carbon?
  • How can trees and forests help clean polluted rivers, lakes and streams?
  • What kinds of jobs and careers focus on climate change solutions?
  • What role can local farms play in climate change?

Learning Objectives and Content 

  1. Engage and connect students to the science of land and Nature-based solutions for climate change. 
  2. Blend the science of Agroforestry with the curricular delivery methods found in Problem, Place and Project-based learning. 
  3. Transfer 21st Century STEM skills. 21st Century STEM education curriculum is marked by: 1) Interdisciplinary curriculum, 2) Accommodates for diverse learning styles, 3) Culturally & socially relevant, and 4) Lessons from industry experts and leaders in related STEM fields.
  4. Assist classroom teachers in developing educational content aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Repeating themes of connection and continuity are the NGSS cross-cutting concepts of Pattern Recognition and Systems Thinking.
  • Pattern Recognition is a process in which we use multiple senses in order to make decisions. Pattern recognition is important because it is a need that appears in many practical problems. Pattern recognition is at the heart of scientific inquiry - making observations and categorizing phenomena.
  • Systems Thinking provides a way of looking at how the world works through interconnection and causal loops. Systems thinking is important because understanding how systems work – and how we play a role in them – lets us function more effectively and proactively within them. Systems thinking is at the core of 21st century STEM education - interdisciplinary and holistic by nature.
Outcomes and impacts:

The goal of this track is to train educators to integrate STEM agroforestry curriculum and projects into their classrooms and communities. This is done by developing interdisciplinary curriculum that answers six driving questions, accounting for diverse learning styles, is culturally and socially relevant, and based on content from agroforestry leaders.

Through the development of this module, we were able to assess the full landscape of resources available to educate farmers, landowners, and professionals about agroforestry and identify gaps in that landscape. 


Track 2: Climate Change and Agroforestry

This track provides grounding for agricultural professionals on how climate change is affecting our region and what that will mean for long-lived tree crops and agroforestry practices.


In this course, we’ll dive into the drivers and solutions of climate change, with a focus on agriculture, particularly in the context of agroforestry—the intentional, intensive integration of tree and perennial crops in agriculture. The course is formatted into a series of modules, each with their own set of lessons, questions, supplemental resources, and references. Some topics include “Nerd Corner” boxes, that are for overachievers who are interested in learning more about certain topics. 

    • Module 1: What do you mean by climate? 
      • Let’s get on the same page by going over how climate is different from weather, what drives Earth’s climate, and how climate is affected by geography. This module will set the stage for the rest of the course.
    • Module 2: Earth’s climates past to present. 
      • This module will introduce the natural drivers of climate change, how the Earth’s climate has changed in the past, and how we know that the recent changes to Earth’s climate and weather patterns are a result of human activities.
    • Module 3: New Expectations: Our Changing Climate
      • We will specifically discuss how the climate of the last couple decades is different from the climate that much of modern society has learned to expect and base financial, agricultural, and personal decisions upon. 
    • Module 4 : Agriculture and Climate Solutions
      • We will dive into agriculture’s role in climate change—both as a driver and a solution. We’ll also start to focus on how agroforestry practices can specifically help not only pull carbon out of the atmosphere, reducing the potential for more severe and extreme climate change than we are already experiencing, but also how agroforestry can help us cope with the effects of climate extremes.
    • Module 5: Agroforestry Adoption in a Changing Climate 
      • This module will describe some of the agroforestry practices that are recognized by the USDA, introduce best practices for adopting each practice, and climate change considerations necessary to adapt perennial crops to changing climates and extreme weather.
Outcomes and impacts:

Learning Outcomes - By the end of the course, participants will learn to:

  • Recognize the differences and similarities between weather and climate
  • Identify the major characteristics of your climate zones and the subzones immediately north and south.
  • Identify climate and microclimate components that are important to consider when planting tree crops
  • Identify three benefits of agroforestry towards climate change mitigation.
  • Recognize challenges to tree crops in the face of current and future climate shifts.
  • Identify adaptation strategies for tree crops (and agriculture in general) to foster resilient farms, food production, and communities.

Action Outcomes - Through this course, participants will:

  • Be able to help those adopting agroforestry make more informed decisions about the crops and practices they adopt on their land.
  • Known and be able to use planning tools like the tree crops suitability mapping to support farmers and landowner’s adoption of agroforestry.

Project Outcomes

5 Grants received that built upon this project
5 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

SHORT-TERM OUTCOMES: we anticipate that the online program, supplemental videos, and community of practice will lead to three significant and measurable short-term changes in the knowledge and behavior of participating trainers. All participants who complete at least two modules will be able to provide general education on agroforestry, including practices, benefits to farm, common challenges, and principles for planning and implementation. Additionally, participants will gain understanding of sources of information for more detailed and technical questions about applying agroforestry on farms in the North Central Region. 

INTERMEDIATE OUTCOMES: we anticipate that the online program, supplemental video, online resource library, searchable directory, and community of practice will lead to three measurable intermediate changes in knowledge and behavior among the participants who complete at least two modules of the online course.

LONG-TERM: We anticipate that this online professional development program will lead to a larger number of agricultural professionals who have knowledge of agroforestry and the ability to support farmers and landowners interested in adopting agroforestry practices.

20 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers

Information Products

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.