Establishing a Network of Agroforestry Research & Demonstration Farms

Progress report for LNC19-429

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $199,893.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2023
Grant Recipient: Savanna Institute
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Kaitie Adams
Savanna Institute
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Project Information


Agroforestry, the integration of trees with crops or livestock, is a transformative solution to the ecological and economic issues of agriculture. A major hurdle to agroforestry adoption in the Midwest is the inadequate demonstration on a scale comparable to typical row-crop farms. Such demonstration in Europe and Canada by universities and NGOs has greatly increased agroforestry adoption. From its inception, the Savanna Institute has worked with private, independent farms across the Midwest to demonstrate agroforestry. The effectiveness of this network has been limited by the fact that most farms are small, use inconsistent management, and often utilize only one of the many agroforestry practices.

To overcome these barriers and catalyze agroforestry adoption across the Midwest, the Institute is launching a network of Institute-operated Agroforestry Research & Demonstration (R&D) Farms. In partnership with public and private landowners, these farms will facilitate a broad range of decentralized education, demonstration, and research functions. The Institute already has funding for an initial group of R&D Farms in Wisconsin, which will be established in 2019.

This project, “Establishing an Illinois Network of Agroforestry Research & Demonstration Farms” will fund planning, establishment, and education at three R&D Farms in Illinois. At their core, each farm will host commercial-scale demonstration plantings of a suite of agroforestry practices. Comprehensive educational signage and on-farm educational workshops will provide multiple modes of engagement throughout the year. Direct oversight by the Institute will ensure robust, science-based management and improve long-term economic and ecological monitoring beyond what is possible with a network of independent farms.

These Agroforestry R&D Farms will serve as invaluable education hubs for farmers, landowners, investors, policy makers, and the public. Increased familiarity of the profitability and ecological benefits of agroforestry will lead to increased adoption of agroforestry by site visitors, trainees, and collaborators, who then become agroforestry advocates in their communities. Ultimately, widespread adoption of agroforestry in the North-Central Region will enhance farm profitability, ecological resilience, carbon storage, water quality, and rural job creation.

Project Objectives:


  • Availability of R&D Farms as an educational asset for sustainable agriculture educators throughout Illinois.
  • Recognition of agroforestry's profitability and ecological benefits by farmers, landowners, agricultural professionals, investors, and policy-makers.
  • Application of agroforestry and perennial agriculture knowledge by beginning farmers


  • Conversion of engaged stakeholders to agroforestry advocates in their communities
  • Adoption of agroforestry by site visitors and trainees


  • Widespread adoption of agroforestry practices, diffusing across the landscape from R&D Farms
  • Enhanced farm profitability, ecological resilience, carbon storage, water quality, and job creation

The third season of Savanna Institute's Agroforestry R&D Farm network brought exciting milestones for on-the-ground work, the addition of a new R&D Farm, the loss of one an original R&D farm, connection to new audiences, and collaboration with new farm partners. 


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Kaitie Adams (Educator and Researcher)


Involves research:
Participation Summary


Educational approach:

In 2022, we hosted 3 in-person field days (2 at Memorial 4H Camp and 1 at Field Restored). These events focused on agroforestry basics, establishment and maintenance best practices, planning and designing agroforestry systems, how trees can boost water quality and sharing what was learned during the 3 seasons of this program. Each of these events highlighted the landowners, farm partners, and other collaborators that contribute work, research, and insight to farm designs, establishment, and maintenance. Multiple Savanna Institute staff (including our Illinois Technical Service Provider Sven Pihl and Ecosystem Scientist Nate Lawrence) were present at events to answer questions, provide insight, and connect attendees to additional resources. One thing that was really deepened this year was networking between participants that scratched far beyond these events. 

Each field day was advertised via personal invitation, social media, newsletters, and word-of-mouth by  Savanna Institute staff and partners in each location. Local agriculture and conservation organizations and agencies were also invited, not only to share information about their work but to engage and learn more about agroforestry.

We also hosted multiple small group tours of practitioners, funders, and clients of Savanna Institute's Technical Service Program, as well as participants in the IL Master Naturalist Conference. We welcomed a total of 179 attendees to the 4 field days and multiple tours hosted in 2021. 

In addition to farm-based events IL Agroforestry R&D Farm Educator Kaitie Adams also presented on the IL Agroforestry R&D Farm network at multiple online events, as well as, invited people to visit the farms during field days and events at other farms, outreach events, and in-person presentations. 

Our main goal with all of these activities is to use the R&D farms as "locations of possibility" where people can see agroforestry as something beautiful, transformational, and practical. 

Project Activities

Memorial 4H Camp Field Day: Lessons from 3 years of Alley Cropping at Memorial 4 H Demonstration Farm
Fields Restored Field Day: Silvopasture and Riparian Buffers for Water Quality & Profit
Memorial 4H Camp Field Event: Agroforestry for Ag Professionals
Memorial 4H Farm Small Group Tours
Memorial 4H Camp: Master Naturalist State Conference Tours
World Agroforestry Conference Virtual Presentation
University of Illinois Winter Webinar:
Perennial Farm Gathering Demonstration Farm Listening Session
Illinois Conservation Cropping Seminar

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations
2 Tours
4 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

281 Farmers participated
255 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Two major changes in the IL R&D Agroforestry Farm Network occurred in 2023 that deepened our demonstration and education efforts. The first was the removal of Sun Dappled Farm in Hanna City, IL and the addition of Hudson Farm in Urbana, IL. 

During the 2022 season, tensions began to arise between Sun Dappled Farm’s landowner and the Savanna Institute related to site goals, in-field maintenance, and lease terms. At the launch of this network, the landowner was living out-of-state and had agreed, via a written MOU, that Savanna Institute has full access and decision making at the site. During 2020, due to pressures from the Covid-19 pandemic, the landowner returned to the area, and Savanna Institute started working with her more closely to better learn the history of the site and incorporating some input on the site’s purpose and vision. In spring 2021, when the R&D Farm Educator shared field plans for 2022, there were disagreements in mowing schedules, pruning regimes, invasive removal, and planning/design work. Over the season, those disagreements became deeper as interns ran into issues successfully implementing plans on the site due to landowner intervention, even though Savanna Institute was given full access and decision making via the MOU. In winter 2022, discussions began to try and negotiate changes to the MOU, site planning and design, and field maintenance plans to better balance Savanna Institute and the landowners wants and needs. After multiple meetings with the landowners and multiple members of Savanna Institute staff, including SI’s Executive Director, it was mutually decided that Sun Dappled would be removed from the R&D network and Savanna Institute would no longer continue work on the site. As a gesture of goodwill, Savanna Institute left tree tubes and other supportive field infrastructure in place at the farm to ensure continued growth and survival of the trees on site. 

While the loss of Sun Dappled Farm was unfortunate, it allowed space for the addition of a new farm into the IL R&D Network. Hudson Farm is a 120-acre agroforestry demonstration farm located in Champaign country featuring a 10-acre windbreak, and 100+ acres of  annual and perennial alley cropping. Working in partnership with a local landholder, local row crop farmer, and USDA NRCS this farm boldly illustrates how transitioning row crop land to agroforestry can sink more carbon, boost soil health, improve water quality, build habitat, and diversify farm income. 

The alley cropping systems at Hudson Farms feature: conventional grains, hazelnut, elderberry, heartnut, pollinator habitat, and cover cropping. The windbreak showcases multiple designs to illustrate the different ways farmers and landowners can use windbreaks to help them reach their business and conversation goals. Hudson Farm is a prime example of how farmers and landowners can utilize historic USDA investment in climate-smart agriculture and innovate how agriculture can be a tool of resilience. 

The second large change to the R&D Farm program was the contracting of Canopy Farm Management for field work at the IL R&D Farms. Canopy Farm Management was launched in early 2022 to support the rapid expansion of agroforestry in the Midwest. Canopy was started as a for-profit arm of the Savanna Institute, and as such, Savanna Institute is part owner of Canopy and will be the recipient of any profits from the business. 

Canopy’s services include precision tree planting, at-scale field maintenance technology, drone imagery for field record keeping and crop analysis, and a trained crew utilizing state of the art technology specifically designed or modified for agroforestry and tree based systems at any scale. 

After 3 seasons of field intern hiring challenges due to low pay, location of work, and seasonality, the expansion of Savanna Institute’s Agroforestry Apprenticeship Program, in which apprentices often chose practitioner farms over SI sites, and  multiple years of establishment and field work challenges due to non-scale appropriate equipment and materials, it was an easy choice to partner with Canopy Farm Management to support work at the R&D sites. 

While Canopy completed fieldwork, R&D Educator Kaitie Adams created detailed maintenance plans and field schedules for each site, helped trained Canopy staff on the background and goals of the R&D farms, conducted on-site inspections, and had Canopy staff present at education events throughout the season to answer any field-level questions. 

This shift freed up capacity for deeper collaboration with partners, a focus on connecting people in the agroforestry planning and design process to the R&D farms via Savanna Institute’s Technical Service Program, better high level decision making, and the opportunity to expand the audiences we reach, including ag and conservation processionals and more general audiences. 

Working with Canopy has also allowed us to demonstrate best practices for agroforestry establishment and management, including the integration of precision ag technology. This has provided us the opportunity to show the full spectrum and scale of work: from laying out designs with tape measures, string, and stakes followed by hand planting trees to laying out designs in GIS, planting via GPS guided planters. 

These two major changes to the R&D program were incorporated into all of our educational events, in-person and on-line during the past year and created fruitful conversation and collaborations. The exciting thing about agroforestry is that, even though it’s a long-term practice, there are an unlimited number of ways for these systems and the way we do this work, to adapt, shift, and change. As farmers, landowners, and those who support them face uncertain futures of weather, markets, and support systems, this adaptability and innovation is key.

Learning Outcomes

64 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
56 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes as a result of their participation
Key areas taught:
  • Perennial groundcover establishment and care
  • Silvopasture
  • Riparian Buffers
  • Windbreaks
  • Alley Cropping
  • Balancing Conversation and Profit in Agroforestry Systems
  • Tree Planting
  • Agroforestry Establishment Best Practices
  • Agroforestry Design
  • Financing for Agroforestry
  • Tree Crop Selection
  • Nutrient Management
  • Pollinator Habitat
  • Integrated Crop and Livestock Systems
  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Habitat Enhancement
  • Plastic Mulch
  • Precision Herbicide Application
  • Networking
  • Partnership Building
  • Water Quality
  • Soil Health
  • Long-term Lease Structures
  • Access of NRCS Programs for Agroforestry
  • Education of Conservation + Ag Professionals

Project Outcomes

8 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Key practices changed:
  • Alley Cropping

  • Silvopasture

  • Riparian Buffer

  • Windbreak

3 Grants applied for that built upon this project
3 Grants received that built upon this project
8 New working collaborations
Success stories:

On a beautiful early October morning, agroforestry farmers Mark and Tammy Allen welcomed over 30 local producers, neighbors, and agroforestry-curious people to their farm in Argenta, IL for a farm tour and perennial potluck. Their 10 acre farm features over a dozen different species of perennial fruits and nuts, high tunnel fruit and vegetable production, mushrooms, bees, and a beginning propagation and value-added production business. As we walked the farm, we tasted late season fruits and vegetables, learned about their innovative multi-species design, and marveled at their solutions to common in-field issues like trunk rub from tree tubes and predation from small mammals. After the walk, participants enjoyed shared dishes on pawpaw cheesecake, apple and honey slaw, roasted chestnuts, fruited drinks, and other dishes featuring perennial produce. 

This event was the direct result of connection and networking at the alley cropping field day at Memorial 4H Camp the September before when Mark and Tammy invited everyone out to visit their farm. After the alley cropping field day, R&D Educator Kaitie Adams followed up with the Allen's, help plan the event, and personally reached out to the folks who attended the September event, as well as, other current or beginning agroforestry producers in the area. It's been exciting to see other farmers take on education and mentor roles within their community and invite Savanna Institute and our R&D Farms to be central hubs of connection. 

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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.