Novice-to-Producer Agroforestry Education: Linking demonstration farms to online learning, apprenticeships, & communities of practice

Progress report for LNC22-473

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $249,597.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Savanna Institute
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Kate Wersan
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 challenges of agriculture. One major hurdle to agroforestry adoption in the Midwest, however, is inadequate demonstration opportunities on a scale comparable to typical row crop farms. Such demonstrations in Europe and Canada have greatly increased agroforestry adoption. To overcome these barriers and catalyze agroforestry adoption across the Midwest, the Savanna Institute (SI) established a network of Agroforestry Research & Demonstration (R&D) Farms thanks to a previous NCR-SARE grant. In partnership with public and private landowners, these farms began to facilitate a broad range of decentralized education, demonstration, and research functions; however much more remains to be done to make these farms accessible to farmers from across the Midwest. 

The seven farms in the SI R&D Farm Network are the only commercial-scale agroforestry demonstration sites in the Midwest, and many farmers still have to drive significant distances to access the sites and may be reluctant to attend field days or workshops because of the high cost of travel. Distance and cost remain barriers we need to overcome to help motivate farmers interested in agroforestry but reluctant to travel to demonstration sites as a first step in exploring agroforestry. Often, they want to know what they will see and learn before they show up. 

To overcome these barriers, Savanna Institute proposes to integrate comprehensive online educational programming and high-quality multimedia outreach and storytelling with on-farm and hands-on education and farmer-led field days on four SI R&D farms. This way, farmers who live hours away can learn about what they will see at each farm, hear stories from farmer collaborators, see the site in other seasons or stages, and then learn about on-farm educational opportunities that would allow them to explore agroforestry in greater depth. This combination will allow SI to intensify and expand the educational impact of the R&D farm network for farmers in the region by helping to make the limited number of agroforestry sites accessible to the largest number of farmers. Increased hands-on knowledge 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:


  • Maintain operational-scale demonstration of agroforestry practices
  • Connect online curriculum with R&D Farms to make on-farm learning more accessible
  • Host educational events in collaboration with partner organizations and farmer collaborators


  • Increased understanding of agroforestry by farmers and educators, including profitability, ecological benefits, and steps to adoption
  • Increased visibility and accessibility of R&D Farms as educational assets for educators via site-specific curricula


  • Applying agroforestry knowledge obtained through online and on-farm education by beginning farmers
  • Adopting agroforestry by site visitors and collaborators 


  • Widespread adoption of agroforestry
  • Enhanced farm profitability and ecological resilience

The 2023 growing season saw the expansion of on-farm and in-person education at Savanna Institute Agroforestry Demonstration Farms and their intentional integration into a diverse suite of on-line, virtual resources. 


Involves research:
Participation Summary


Educational approach:

To make a transformational, systems-level change in agriculture, we must demonstrate how agroforestry works on a commercial scale. This is why Savanna Institute’s world-class Agroforestry Demonstration Farms are a critical part of our work. Located in Illinois and Wisconsin, these farms serve as accessible hubs to educate farmers and the public, provide tree crop germplasm repositories and variety trials, and show how agroforestry can be practiced within different regions. They are developed in partnership with public and private landowners and directly managed by the Savanna Institute to ensure robust, science-based design, fieldwork, and education around agroforestry, and to improve long-term economic and ecological monitoring. These demonstrations serve as the main educational location for both in-person and virtual education through on-farm field days, workshops, tours, and training, as well as, key locations of knowledge for virtual webinars, online courses, and multimedia content. 

On-Farm Education 

In 2023, the Savanna Institute Demonstration Farms hosted a total of seven events and eight tours with 281 total attendees. These events ranged from short and high-level farm tours meant to introduce the basics of agroforestry to diverse audiences to technical deep dives on specific practices. Eapch of these tours and events was tailored to specific audiences with defined outcomes. For example, the Agroforestry Happy Hour at Hudson Farm in May 2023 was designed to provide a space for dedicated networking among farmers, landholders, and agricultural professionals within 2 hours of that demonstration farm. Follow-up conversations with attendees confirmed continued relationships and collaboration among attendees, including new research sites for the University of Illinois professionals in attendance. 

An education curriculum is currently in development for the 2024 event season and will feature a range of educational opportunities on the Savanna Institute Agroforestry Demonstration Farms that allow farmers and landholders to build their skill sets around planning, design, and agroforestry field skills 

On-Line Education 

In 2023, Savanna Institute reached over 6,000 people through YouTube videos, webinars, online course enrollment, and two cohorts of guided, facilitated online education that utilized the Savanna Institute Agroforestry Demonstration Farms. This suite of resources allows farmers, landholders, and agricultural professionals to access information and education at their own pace through their preferred method of virtual learning. This year was a learning year on how the Demonstration Farms can best be integrated into these resources; the next two years will see these resources expand. This includes multiple virtual tours, expansion of farm-specific resources and materials, creation of interactive signage, and online learning cohorts more focused on the farms themselves. 

Project Activities

Agroforestry Happy Hour
4H Memorial Camp Twilight Tailgate
Agroforestry Social for Non-Operating Landowners
Silvopasture and Riparian Buffer Farm Walk
Agroforestry Technical Assistance Gathering
TSP + Client Meet Up
Agroforestry 101 Field Day
Farm Tours
Agroforestry Demonstration Farm Management
Advancing Agroforestry in the Midwest: Hudson Demonstration Farm
Agroforestry Trainings for Natural Resource Professionals.

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 On-farm demonstrations
2 Online trainings
2 Published press articles, newsletters
8 Tours
8 Webinars / talks / presentations
7 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

118 Farmers participated
163 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

 2023 activities included field days, workshops, farm tours, and self-guided walking tours. webinars, videos, online courses, and partnerships with other organizations. In 2023 Savanna Institute focused on activities that would allow for better online contention creation in 2024 and 2025, including updated video farm tours, interactive signage, and online training focused specifically on the Agroforestry Demonstration Farms. 

More information on 2023 activities can be found under each description in the section above. 

Learning Outcomes

118 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
163 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes as a result of their participation
Key areas taught:
  • Agroforestry Planning
  • Alley Cropping
  • Silvopasture
  • Riparian Buffers
  • Windbreaks
  • Farm Design
  • Perennial Crops
  • Cover Cropping
  • Ground Cover
  • Pruning
  • Climate-smart agriculture
  • Multi-party partnerships

Project Outcomes

8 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Key practices changed:
  • Transition from Annual to Perennial Crops

  • Silvopasture

  • Windbreak

  • Alley Cropping

5 Grants applied for that built upon this project
2 Grants received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Success stories:

After years of working with the farmer partners at Fields Restored Agroforestry Demonstration Farm, they are starting to incorporate perennial crops into their farming operation due to the success of the Savanna Institute Agroforestry Demonstration on their farm. This is a major victory as these producers was very resistant to work with Savanna Institute in the beginning and were extremely hands-off during the first years of the project. Over time, Savanna Institute has built a stronger relationship with the family and has begun incorporating them into the decision-making process for the demonstration sites. This has led to deeper trust, understanding, and the recognition that agroforestry can have a positive impact on agriculture. 

In 2024, the family intends to establish new pasture paddocks for their livestock and plant trees as part of that transition! 


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.