The Creation of Two Alley Cropping Demonstration Sites as Cases Studies on Massachusetts Farms

Progress report for ONE21-389

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $29,496.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2024
Grant Recipient: Interlace Commons
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Meghan Giroux
Interlace Commons
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to:

  1. Train two farms to develop agroforestry land-use plans focused on alley cropping. This process will help the farms identify alley cropping’s benefits, risks, yields, and best practices for establishment and management, as well as enterprise planning;
  2. Utilize land-use plans to establish alley cropping demonstration sites for educational and outreach purposes;
  3. Share the project’s process and results with farmers, technical service providers, conservation planners, and students to reach a range of stakeholders with information about alley cropping and its adoption in the Northeast. This information will be helpful to stakeholders looking to enhance sustainability, address ecosystem degradation, increase profitability, and prepare for/respond to climate change and its impact on the future of farms, food, and the environment;
  4. Identify funding opportunities to support farms in designing and implementing alley cropping systems. 

If successful, this project will catalyze the adoption of alley cropping in the Northeast as a transformative solution to agriculture’s environmental and economic challenges.  In the short term, there will be increased interest in and an improved understanding of alley-cropping; in the mid-and long-term, there will be an uptick in alley-cropping adoption on farms in Massachusetts and surrounding states.


Objectives one and two have been met. Both farms (Umass Amherst and Cloud Water farm) have been trained in alley cropping concepts and best practices. Objectives three and four will be met by the end of July 2024. Interlace Commons is under a cooperative agreement with NRCS in Vermont, acting as the service provider for agroforestry in the State of Vermont. These two farms will be made aware that all agroforestry practice codes are turned on, and farms can now access technical and financial assistance. Additionally, Interlace Commons is involved in high-level conversations with the federal government, NRCS specifically to address the ongoing barriers to the broad adoption of agroforestry in the northeastern United States. 


Extraordinarily productive, annual cropping systems command global agriculture. Single-function monocultures rely on externalities that, with their use, lead to environmental consequences, including GHG emissions. Despite incremental advances, including cover cropping practiced on 1.7% of cropland and 0.8% in organic production, the resulting interventions are not likely to mitigate the degradation issues caused by annual row cropping systems. Agroforestry, specifically alley cropping, which intentionally combines trees with crops, can address the following effects of climate change:

  • Increased herbivory-related issues resulting from warming temperatures and shorter winters are occurring and are predicted to increase. Evidence from agroecosystem and forestry practices suggests that herbivore damage is reduced in diverse cropping systems, including tree cropping modalities that provide structural and species diversity;
  • Warmer, drier conditions, including sustained periods of drought. The microclimate conditions created by alley cropping can stabilize air/soil temperature making crops more drought-resistant;
  • Extreme weather will increase the frequency/severity of wind-related events. Alley cropping can create conditions that lessen wind speed, reducing evapotranspiration by 15-30% and increasing water content in the tillage layer by 5-15%.

In terms of climate mitigation, no-till, reduced, or strip-till on irrigated cropland sequesters 5 tons per carbon/acre whereas alley cropping (that replaces 20% of annual cropland with trees) stores 11 tons per carbon/acre. However, despite the current and predicted climate-related challenges and the science-based evidence supporting alley cropping as a shovel-ready climate mitigation and adaptation tool, this practice’s broad adoption is limited in the Northeast. The need for agroforestry education and technical service provision was evidenced through Meghan Giroux’s graduate research that identified barriers to adopting agroforestry. Two barriers are relevant to this project: 1) There are a limited number of technical service providers who can train farms to design and install agroforestry practices, with most trained solely in riparian forest buffers and windbreaks; and 2) The USDA’s "total financial obligations” to agroforestry consist of 71% for riparian buffers, 29% for windbreaks and less than 1% for alley cropping, multi-story cropping, and silvopasture.

The lack of agroforestry adoption in the Northeast matters because there are two imperatives that agroforestry can address: 1) Enhancing food security, and 2) Preserving ecosystems within agricultural lands by growing food in multifunctional landscapes. This project addresses these challenges and the lack of technical service provision to support the adoption of alley cropping. Interlace Commons proposes partnering with The University of Massachusetts/Student Farm and Simple Gifts Farm wherein Meghan Giroux will provide on-farm consultation to support the development and implementation of alley cropping systems on each farm. Our goal is to demonstrate how different alley cropping typologies can act as a climate adaptation tool, reduce land degradation, improve biodiversity, and produce more than one crop on a single land unit. Such demonstration is essential to alley cropping’s broad adoption as farmers need to see the practice used effectively on-farm in order to utilize it. Interest in alley cropping is evidenced by the 162 farms in 4 states that applied to Interlace Common’s Field Consultancy Program in 2020.

No changes to the introduction. 


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Joe Bossen - Producer
  • Lisa Depiano - Producer


Materials and methods:

Umass Amherst and Simple Gifts engaged in a partnership SARE grant with Interlace Commons to plan for and implement an alley-cropping agroforestry intervention. Both farms were guided through the planning process which fulfilled objective #1  developing a farm narrative document, site assessment (materials produced by IC and explained to the farm), a concept, and a planting/implementation plan. *Simple Gifts farm did not complete the concept or planting/implementation plan. The farm communicated with Interalce Commons that their business was struggling, and the farmers were fatigued and struggling to meet the demands of the farm under challenging financial circumstances. It was unclear whether the farm would be under their ownership in the spring of 2023, putting the implementation portion of the project in jeopardy. Interlace Commons pivoted and found another agriculturalist, Cloud Water  Farm, located in Waitsfield, Vermont, to replace Simple Gits as a participant in the partnership grant.   Objective #1 and 3 was executed in the following ways. The following are individual notes from the work that unfolded from February to late August. In addition to fieldwork, plant materials were ordered for spring 2023 delivery.

February 8th, 2022

  • The farms were instructed on how to develop their farm narrative. 

March 17th & 18th, 2022

  • The first site visits happened on both farms with the biophysical assets and constraints mapped.

April 27th and April 28th, 2022

  • Second site visits happened on both farms with two goals achieved:
      • Reviewed the site assessment sheet and maps, highlighting any concerns that might influence the design
      • Both farms were taught about the design principles related broadly to agroforestry, specifically alley cropping: site prep, spatial arrangement, density, interplanting and intercropping, and Land Equivalency Ratio.
        • The teachings help inform the farm's concept planning exercises

June 3rd, 2022

  • Site visits happened on both farms:
      • Redesigned the UMass Amherst plantings to address the farm manager's concerns, who could not dedicate the initial space for the alley cropping design. The planting focuses on a five-row smaller land unit, demonstrating density and typologies.
      • At Simple Gifts Farm, we identified species for each row. The farm indicated concern about the maintenance required once the plantings are installed. Economic modeling needed to happen before the design of the final planting plan. Still, because of a national plant shortage, there continues to be an urgency to get plant materials ordered before the end of June to secure varietals and quantities. This process happens in reverse without this constraint. *This constraint limits both farms to understanding the economic outcomes of their planting. The plan for the fall is to address this using an enterprise planning tool developed for our forthcoming book to help the farms understand how yields change over time based on how the practice is designed.

August 7th, 2022

  • Ian Back, our contracted drone operator, took aerial images of both farms to document the landscape prior to the application of the agroforestry intervention.

August 30th, 2022

  • Site visit happened at Simple Gifts Farm: This visit was to finalize the planting plan. At the end of the visit, I learned that Simple Gifts was in financial trouble and needed to rethink its model of operations, which could include restructuring its entity, renting out parcels of the land to other functions, or selling the farm entirely. This bit of information wasn't mentioned at any point during previous visits.

September 15th, 2022

  • A Site visit happened at Cloud Water Farm program. The program components and shortened timelines were explained to the farmer. The farm was aware that the plant materials originally ordered for Simple Gifts farm would be installed on their farm.

Objective 1 Methods:

Use Interlace Commons' existing Field Consultancy Program curriculum to guide the land-use planning process that includes: 

  1. The creation of a farm narrative identifying challenges, goals, and opportunities, a statement of purpose, and a description of farm enterprises; 
  2. A site assessment identifying the biophysical and economic conditions of each farm. Biophysical conditions relate to soils, water and water quality, climate, and the farm's geographic location (i.e., distance to markets which will influence what type of crops the farmer might grow). Economic conditions include needs, infrastructure, off-farm alternatives, availability of credit and labor, willingness to take risks; and 
  3. An alley cropping field design, including a planting and implementation plan influenced by the farm narrative and site assessment documents. 


In the late fall of 2022, UMASS Amherst and Cloud Water Farm prepared their sites for planting. Plant materials, stakes, mats, and fertilizer are ordered and slated for delivery to each farm in April 2023. Weather-dependent, projects will be implemented between late April and early June of 2023.


Objective 2 Methods:

Install the planting plan (s) outlined in the land-use plan using labor supplied by the two farms:

  1. Pattern the planting site by laying out the planting lanes;
  2. Prepare land for tree planting by removing sod, tilling the soil, and adding amendments; and
  3. Plant trees and/or shrubs and field crops at both sites according to the planting plan in accordance with the land use plan developed specifically for each farm.


UMASS Amherst and Cloud Water Farm have installed their respective alley cropping projects. 2023 was a difficult year for regional farmers. Vermont, in particular, experienced unprecedented precipitation and, in the case of Cloud Water Farm flooding that dispersed soil and removed a bridge. The field where the alley cropping project took place was unaffected. Although weather events were not as disruptive, Umass Amherst lacked the labor to address the ongoing maintenance of the newly established practice. Interlace Commons will check on each project in the spring of 2024, address any mortality issues, fertilize the trees, and install any missing plant materials. 


Objective 3 Methods:

Phase # 1:  A project postcard was developed to announce the dates of the field days being held in 2023. During the summer of 2022, drone images of UMASS Amherst and Simple Gifts Farm were taken. Cloud Water Farm has not yet been documented via drone. We plan to take both aerial photos in the spring and summer of 2023. Case studies for each farm are under development, highlighting parts of the farm narrative, site assessment, concept, and planting plans. Case studies will now be available on the Interlace Commons, UMASS, and Cloud Water Farm websites. The location of year-round educational kiosks will now be Cloud Water Farm instead of Simple Gifts Farm. Phase # 2: Meghan and Joe Bossen will present at the NOFA summer conference if accepted. Two farm field days will happen in September of 2023, one at UMASS Amherst and one at Cloud Water Farm.


To maximize the impact of these two demonstration sites, we will utilize various methods, providing multiple modes of engagement.

Phase # 2: Documentation: 

  1. Develop case studies for each farm, including the design and implementation process and results. For each case study we will collect and share data on 1) the species planted; 2) the rationale for their selection (based on the biophysical properties, economic profile, and goals of each farm); 3) the number of trees/shrubs/plants planted and in what configuration; 4) the process for planting, including the use of any soil amendments and/or mulches and other materials utilized for protection of newly planted trees/shrubs/crops; 5) the total costs of the project, including time, labor, and materials; 6) the land use plan developed as the foundation for these processes; and 7) any resulting questions, successes, and challenges. The documentation will be available on the Interlace Commons, UMASS student farm, and Simple Gifts' websites;
  2. Create a visual depiction of the project using high-resolution before and after drone images (to be included in the case studies and on the sign described below); and
  3. Create permanent educational signage to install in a kiosk format at the UMass site to provide comprehensive, year-round education and engagement.


Project documentation (case studies, images, and permanent educational signage)  is underdeveloped and should be completed by the end of April 2024. Regarding the permanent educational signage, the location has moved from UMASS Amherst to Cloud Water Farm.

Phase # 3: Dissemination: 

  1. The farms will share their process, learning, and field design plans at a community presentation halfway through the project. This helps build momentum, interest, and helps the farmers clarify their plans moving forward. 
  2. Meghan and Lisa will present on process and results at the Summer Northeast Organic Farming Association's conference, which will include a site visit to the UMass farm and Simple Gifts Farm;
  3. Meghan will present on process and results at the Vermont Northeast Organic Farming Association conference; and
  4. Interlace Commons, Simple Gifts Farm, and the Umass farm will host two Field Days in September 2023. As Simple Gifts Farms is within walking distance of the UMass farm, both farms will be toured during each Field Day which will include equal parts classroom instruction and site visits. These Field Days will be promoted via a postcard sent to farms, agricultural conservation organizations, and technical service providers in Massachusetts, as well as through Interlace Common's and the farms' social media networks and word of mouth.


Interlace Commons works intensively with the NRCS field offices throughout the Northeast. Agroforestry policy, associated conservation programs, practice standards, and fee schedules are evolving quickly. It's best to wait until the end of this project to disseminate the latest opportunities for grant funding from the USDA and private funders.


  1. This did not happen largely because Simple Gifts dropped out; UMASS Amherst and Cloud Water Farm experienced difficulties in 2023. 
  2. If our proposal is accepted, Meghan and Lisa will present the process and results at the summer NOFA conference. 
  3. NOFA's winter conference has closed for Winter 2024. 
  4. Interlace Commons, Cloud Water Farm, and the Umass Farm will host two Field Days in the spring or summer of 2024.

Objective 4 Methods: To increase the likelihood of alley cropping's adoption by other farms in the Northeast, we will:

  1. Research available grant opportunities from the USDA and other entities;
  2. Identify the opportunities appropriate for farms interested in implementing alley cropping;
  3. Create a database of funding opportunities; and 
  4. Make a funding database available to farms via Interlace Common's website and promote via the case studies created with this project.


1-4 is done and ongoing. A spreadsheet of funding resources for agroforestry will be posted on the Interlace Commons website by February 29th. 

Research results and discussion:

Results will be outlined in our final report. 

Research conclusions:

Research conclusions will be outlined in the final report. 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

To share the results of this project, we will do the following:

  • Lisa Depiano will share results with the academic community affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture, including other faculty and students; 
  • Each farm will hold a community presentation at the end of year one to share information about the process to that point and their land use plans that will be implemented in year two;
  • Lisa and Meghan will present this project at the NOFA Massachusetts and NOFA Vermont annual conferences;
  • Two Field Days will be held in September 2023, promoted by Interlace Commons, the University of Massachusetts and Simple Gifts Farm via social media, word of mouth, and a postcard mailing (100 pieces) to stakeholders in the region such as farms, agricultural conservation organizations, and technical service providers including The Massachusetts Agency of Agriculture, The Department of Natural Resources, local NRCS field offices, Conservation Districts, Massachusetts Audubon, the Nature Conservancy -  Massachusetts Chapter and the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
  • Create a case study document for each farm that details the process and results, to be shared electronically via the three entities’ websites, and promoted at the Field Days and conference presentations; and
  • The design, production, and installation of permanent educational signage at the UMass site, educating students, faculty, and visitors about the alley cropping demonstration site.


Lisa will share the project's process and final results with her colleagues. These farms did not present their project during year two; as referenced earlier in the document, last year was difficult for both farms. Two field days will be executed this upcoming late summer, including the local farm community and service providers from various organizations.  Lisa and Meghan will submit a proposal to the summer NOFA conference to present the project findings. The case studies will be completed later this spring. The permanent signage will be installed at Cloud Water Farm instead of UMASS Amherst and before the planned Field Day. 

Learning Outcomes

Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Education Learning Outcomes will be reported in the final report. 

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Project Outcomes will be reported in the final report. 

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Assessment of the project approach will be reported in the final report. 

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.