The Agroforestry Apprenticeship Program: On-farm and online training for the next generation of agroforestry farmers

Final report for ONC20-081

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 04/14/2022
Grant Recipient: Savanna Institute
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Kevin Wolz, PhD
Savanna Institute
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Project Information


Agroforestry, or the use of trees for agricultural purposes, is increasingly recognized as a key to mitigating climate change while providing environmental and socioeconomic benefits.  However, a critical barrier to successful agroforestry adoption and implementation is a lack of intensive training opportunities in agroforestry.

The Savanna Institute's Agroforestry Apprenticeship provides experiential and technical education for aspiring agroforestry farmers through on-farm training, online agroforestry coursework, and field trips to other agroforestry farms throughout the Midwest. The apprenticeship program seeks to serve socially disadvantaged and limited resource beginner farmers with little experience in agroforestry by addressing the socioeconomic barriers that prevent historically marginalized groups from engaging in educational agriculture programs.

The intended outcomes of this training program include: (1) training the next generation of agroforestry farmers by connecting them to practicing agroforesters through an on-farm apprenticeship, (2) providing community-building opportunities for farmers, apprentices, and those interested in agroforestry, (3) ensuring program accessibility and support to historically marginalized and low income groups through diversity, equity, and inclusion training to mentor farmers and through paid apprentice employment, and (4) making the training days and online coursework developed for the apprenticeship program available to broader audiences.

In the 2020 season, ten apprentices worked were paired with five mentor farmers and managed to complete their apprenticeships in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, 22 apprentices worked with 13 agroforestry mentor farmers to complete the apprenticeship program, despite ongoing uncertainty regarding COVID-19. Based on the growing interest in the Agroforestry Apprenticeship program, we are offering the program again in 2022 and plan to continue expanding and supporting this program in years to come.

Project Objectives:
  • Connect 10 apprentices with experienced agroforestry farmers (mentors) who will provide season-long, on-farm training throughout the Midwest. Target reach: 10 apprentices 
    • ACHIEVED: 10 apprentices in 2020, 22 in 2021
  • Increase accessibility and engagement for socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers in the apprenticeship program. Target reach: 5 apprentices.
    • ACHIEVED: eight apprentices in 2020, over 50% in 2021
  • Build community and train apprentices in agroforestry practices and techniques by organizing 10 public field days at host farms. Target reach: 200 attendees.
    • MODIFIED: Held 5 remote field days in 2020 with over 500 attendees; held one remote field day, three in-person workshops, and offered 14 public events in 2021 with over 500 total participants
  • Create multimedia agroforestry educational materials via online course materials and podcasts. Target reach: 2000 views/listens.
    • ACHIEVED: Online agroforestry course, videos, and podcasts have over 2,000 views/downloads


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Kathy Dice (Educator)
  • Darren Bender (Educator)
  • Elle Sullivan (Educator)
  • Rachel Henderson (Educator)


Involves research:
Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Online trainings
6 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

500 Farmers participated
150 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

The Agroforestry Apprenticeship hosted 5 remote field days in 2020, including a hands-on grafting workshop for the apprentices, and offered one remote field day and three in-person workshops specifically for apprentices in 2021. The program also dramatically expanding its online course offerings, publicly launch a series of six online courses in December of 2020 . Apprentices were able to network during the 2020 Online Perennial Farm Gathering and the 2021 online National Agroforestry Conference (NAC), which each brought together over 400 agroforestry researchers, farmers, and enthusiasts. Full scholarships and reduced ticket prices were available for apprenticeship participants, so cost was not a barrier to participation in the gathering. Education and outreach associated with this program has already exceeded our expectations. Over 500 people joined us live for the remote field days in 2020 and 2021, and publicly available recordings have garnered over 2,000 views.

Learning Outcomes

500 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

500 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
5 Grants received that built upon this project
10 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

2020 Apprentice Season

We safely matched 10 apprentices with agroforestry mentor farmers in the Midwest in the face of a raging pandemic. One of our goals was to diversify the apprentice cohort. Last year year, our cohort included one latinx person, one transgender person, and six women. 

The apprentices received valuable lessons on daily, seasonal, and annual aspects of the agroforestry operation from their mentors. In addition to hands-on training with crop management (including, weed management, pruning, and harvesting), apprentices also learned about farm finances and business operations. We have a great group of people in the apprentice cohort, who all participated in monthly cohort calls and a private Facebook group to foster community building within the cohort. 

All our 2020 field days were converted to remote field days and workshops, 10 of which are public events scheduled this summer and one is a grafting workshop exclusively for the apprentice cohort. Each apprentice received grafting supplies so they will be able to gain hands-on practice under the expertise of Tom Wahl, remotely. While we are disappointed in the loss of in-person field days, we are thrilled to greatly expand the reach and community networking of these events beyond the typical driving-distance. 

Apprentices had access to high-quality online course materials. In these online course modules, they continued to learn from professional resources, experienced agroforestry practitioners, and business professionals on topics including land access, core agroforestry practices, design and layout, integrating livestock, marketing, and more. Some of the online course content is recorded and is publicly available on our YouTube channel. The introductory module, which will always be free is linked here.

2021 Apprentice Season

During our second pandemic season, we exceeded expectations and matched 22 apprentices with 13 agroforestry mentor farmers in the Midwest. We also hosted one remote field day, three in-person workshops, and offered 14 public events for apprentices to attend. Apprentices were able to network during our monthly cohort calls, including one that featured a Savanna Institute technical service provider to answer any specific agroforestry related questions. Scholarships were given out to any interested apprentice to attend the North American Agroforestry Conference we hosted during the first week of July, where 500 professionals in the agriculture field joined together for discussions surrounding scaling up agroforestry for carbon drawdown.

Although mentors and apprentices remain predominantly white, we are actively seeking to engage with new and diverse communities of aspiring agroforesters. Having the opportunity to complete JEDI training prior to hiring and application review has increased the diversity of our matched appendices. Out of the cohort of 22 apprentices for the 2020-2021 season, 25% identify as Black or African American, Asian, and American Indian; 9% are over 30; and 62% identify as women or nonbinary, of which one identifies as transfemme. This year’s mentor cohort includes 15% identifying as Black and/or Hispanic or Latino.

Expanded and improved mentor and apprentice resources

Prior to hosting apprentices, mentors again received over seven hours of mentorship training via participation in and access to resources through the Quivira Coalition New Agrarian Program and mentorship resources created by Savanna Institute.

They also received resources and training from Farm Commons, a nonprofit providing legal education to farmers--as well as a membership subscription to Farm Commons exclusive content.

This cohort of mentors also participated in an interactive online justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) training as well as a follow up call with a facilitator from inQuest Consulting who conducted a question-and-answer session prior to mentors reviewing applications.

In addition, we created an Apprentice Best Practices resource to help apprentices understand their roles better as mentees.


  • Mentors received over seven hours of mentorship training and resources
  • 32 apprentices received at least 10 weeks of intensive on-farm training
    • Hands-on training with crop management (including, weed management, pruning, and harvesting), apprentices also learned about farm finances and business operations
  • Apprentices could participate in monthly cohort calls and a private Facebook group to foster community building within the cohort
  • Conducted periodic check-ins with each of the apprentices and mentors separately

2020 Metrics

  • 10 apprentices, 5 mentor farms
    • One apprentice identifies as latinx, one as transgender, and six women
  • 5 remote field days, over 500 total attendees

2021 Metrics

  • 22 apprentices with 13 agroforestry mentor farmers
    • 25% identifying as Black or African American, Asian, and American Indian; 9% are over 30; and 62% identify as women or nonbinary, one of whom identifies as trans female
  • 1 remote field day
  • 3 in-person workshops
  • 14 public events for apprentices to attend

Full Report

Success stories:

Apprentice Success Stories

Some apprentices have gone on to use their new agroforestry skills on their own farms, or in one case as a farm manager.

Others have found other ways to become involved in the agroforestry industry.  For example, Connor Dunn was an apprentice who began his on-farm experience on Red Fern Farm, and after his 10 weeks were up, he felt a calling to continue his agroforestry training. He continued his learning at the local co-op to learn more about the business and markets side of the industry. Six months after that, transitioned to conducting hazelnut research with a professor in Wisconsin.

“He’s been moving across the entire supply chain, and we consider that a success story as well. Sometimes apprentices may learn a valuable less during their on-farm experiences—that they want to support agroforestry in a way that does not involve becoming a farmer. We are a growing community and need all aspects of the industry to grow along with us.” - Kate Wersan, associate director at Savanna Institute.

Selected Apprentice and Mentor Quotes

The Best part of the experience was literally enjoying the fruits of labor, by eating right off the tree. and cooking food she helped to raise. She learned the whole process of food production from roasting a chicken she helped to slaughter, and this was very impactful. Being fully immersed in the daily rhythms of farm life was life changing. - Avery (Apprentice 2020)

I learned how to establish and maintain a wide range of native tree species used in agroforestry plantings such as chestnuts, service berries, hazelnuts, willows, and a wide variety of timber trees. The breadth of knowledge my mentor shared with me was priceless. - Anonymous (Apprentice 2021)

Just that I really love your organization and how well it seems to be run.  I keep telling people that SI seems to be the best-organized non-profit that I’ve ever interacted with!  I love your emphasis on learning the stories of indigenous and minority farming old and new.  Keep up the good work!  You all give me great hope in creating larger-scale change in our agricultural landscapes. - Linda Hezel (Mentor)


We have learned that DEI training should be done prior to mentors reviewing and hiring applicants. The pandemic has also helped us branch out and reach more people by forcing us to lean more heavily on remote field days, webinars, and workshops. We so value in-person experiences and yet will be keeping the remote events as a part of our intentional strategy going forward. 

Overall, we are extremely happy with our participation in the apprenticeship program as well as resulting educational materials. We have reached more people than we anticipated and are on track to continue growing and supporting the Agroforestry Apprenticeship in years to come!


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.