Farming the Forest: Empowering youth to nourish our community through hands-on agroforestry

Final report for YENC22-185

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2022: $5,996.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Elder Tree
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Manager:
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Project Information


The Elder Tree Forest School is an experiential education program that will inspire children and youth to explore the agricultural possibilities within the understory of our forest ecosystem. We will be collaborating with the American Chestnut Foundation, Rural Action, United Plant Savers, Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice, The Narrow Way Farm and The Farm on Central to enable our students to experiment with new methods for cultivating edible and medicinal forest crops such as chestnut, elderberry, mushrooms and ginseng. We are committed to offering forest farm programs that intentionally include and engage neurologically diverse children, youth and adults.

Project Objectives:
  1. Introduce youth to the concept of forest farming by delivering programs based on the National Agroforestry Center’s “Inside Agroforestry” publications and the Agroforestry Curriculum from the University of Missouri.
  2. Create an agroforestry demonstration site where youth will build practical skills that enable them to cultivate edible and medicinal forest crops in the understory of the nine acre woodlot owned by St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church.
  3. Create mentorship opportunities for youth and young adults by connecting them with local farmers, permaculturists and agroforestry experts.
  4. Share project results through field-trips and presentations at local schools, churches, conferences and through social media.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Michael Kilpatrick
  • Andrea Miller (Educator)
  • Mark Caldwell
  • Kat Christen (Educator)
  • Gregory Muhammad (Educator)

Educational & Outreach Activities

8 Consultations
18 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 On-farm demonstrations
1 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Tours
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
8 Workshop field days
12 Other educational activities: "Exploring the Forest of Food" agroforestry classes for children and parents

Participation Summary:

3 Farmers/ranchers
72 Youth
18 Parents
5 Educators
12 Other adults
1 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:


February 26, 2022- Chestnut workshop and planting day with Dr. Carolyn Kieffer, American Chestnut Foundation, Miami University Department of Dendroloty, Professor Emeritus. 12 Participants (Ages 5 years through college)


March 26, 2022- Field Trip to Boulder Berry Farm - Farmer Owner Taylor Clark taught us about his methods for cultivating Elderberry, Aronia Berry and Haskap Berries and toured his farm and gave us an elderberry processing demonstration.  7 Participants (College and young adult)


Saturday, April 2, 2022 Elderberry Planting Day, cuttings from the Farm on Central were planted by youth and adult volunteers through out St. Paul's Forest. 15 participants  (Youth and families)


Saturday, May 7, 2022 Persimmon & Pawpaw Planting and Oak woodland Restoration. 20 participants (Youth and families)  Arborist and Urban Forestry Mentor, Mark Caldwell organized tree planting day for the community with help from Suzanne Slavens.  Mark taught community members about proper tree planting techniques and the importance of native woodland species.


Saturday, May 14, 2022 Mushroom Spawning: Community Workshop with agriculture extension educator, Mark Amante, Central State Extension.  10 participants


Saturdays May 21- June 18 from 9am-12noon volunteers continued to work to open the understory of the forest by removing invasive species in order to prepare the land for fall plantings.  Each event was attended by 5-12 volunteers.


June 24-26 Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmers Conference - Suzanne Slavens and Maya Chen attended and networked with other agroforestry professionals and shared information about the Elder Tree Youth Agroforestry Program.  At this event we met with Andrea Miller and Karam Sheban with Rural Action and both gained incredibly valuable skills that were then used to strengthen  the agroforestry program.


Exploring the Forest of Food Summer Program at St. Paul's Forest 

Saturday, July 2 10am -12noon - Welcome to the Forest - Introduction to forest farming for children ages 3-9 and their families

Saturday, July 9 10am -12noon - Berry Bonanza

Saturday, July 16 10am -12noon - Black Cherry Bliss

Saturday, July 23 10am -12noon - Fun with Fungi

Saturday, July 30 10am -12noon - Forest Feast 

Summer Agroforestry Program Participant Overview

Number Youth Participants: 29

College and Young Adult Volunteers: 8

Senior Citizen Volunteers: 2

Parents: 9

Continued  Young Adult Volunteer Engagement

Saturdays in  August through September (9 am - 12 noon) - a core team of 3-5 volunteers continue to steward the land in the forest by caring for the newly planted trees and managing invasive species.


Youth Agriculture Volunteer Program at the Farm on Central

In an effort to build partnerships with local farmer mentors who are doing perennial crop production, Suzanne developed a partnership with Michael Kilpatrick at the Farm on Central.  Suzanne coordinated a 6 week youth volunteer program at the Farm on Central.  Three high school students met with Suzanne at the farm every Wednesday from 9am-12 noon.  Students assisted with farm tasks such as weeding and harvesting.  Educational topics covered included discussions on soil health, invasive species management and sustainable pest management.  

Families who participated in the Elder Tree Forest school attended u-pick strawberry days at the Farm on Central.


Exploring the Forest of Food at Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice

At the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association Conference Suzanne Perry Slavens shared information about the Elder Tree Agroforestry Program with the education team at the Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice. She was hired on at Agraria to help lead youth education programs and integrate agroforestry education into existing programs.

Exploring the Forest of Food Curriculum was implemented at the Agraria center for Regenerative Practice in their Forest Families Program on Wednesdays 9-11am from August 31-November 9. 

12 Children enrolled in this 10 week program that was facilitated by Suzanne Perry Slavens using the curriculum developed through the SARE grant for Elder Tree.

08/31 Extraordinary Elderberry
09/07 Persimmon Power
09/14 Service Berry
09/21 Paw Paw Party
09/28 Hazelnut
10/12 Nuts for Walnut
10/19 Osage Orange
10/26 Ginseng Growers
11/02 Oyster Mushrooms
11/09 Forest Feast


Agroforestry Experiment at Agraria 

Suzanne Slavens has initiated a field trip program at Agraria to introduce middle school students to the concept of forest farming.  This program was piloted with students from Enon Montesorri School.

October 14, 2022 - Intro to Forest Farming and Site Assessment.  Students will be introduced to crops that are grown in a forested environment and investigate the site requirements for cultivating two forest crops in Ohio - ginseng and goldenseal.

October 28, 2022 - Students return to Agraria to prepare the land and plant ginseng and goldenseal in the understory of Agraria's woodland.


Exploring the Forest of Food - Fall Forest School at St. Paul's Forest

Saturday, September 17 - 9am - 12 noon - Persimmon Power

Saturday, September 24  - 9am - 12 noon - Paw Paw Party

Saturday, October 8 - 9am - 12 noon - Planting Party  

Saturday, October 15 - 9am - 12 noon - Forest Feast

Fall Participant Overview

High School Volunteers: 7

Children: 13

College and Young Adult Volunteers: 6

Senior Volunteer: 1 

Newsletter Article

Children learn about agroforestry at Elder Tree Forest School - Farm and Dairy

Outreach Material

Forest Farming Workshops

Volunteer Tree Planting Flyer (10822)

Curricular Material

Forest School Kid Council - Agenda: a small group of student participants would meet weekly to help us plan the songs, activities, and crafts for that weeks lessons. Their input helped shape the lessons taught and gave them an opportunity to practice leadership, teamwork, communication, and responsibility.

Lesson Sequences - Summer 2022

Song Lyrics: Forest School programs started and ended with original music written by the Elder Tree students with help from Suzanne Slavens about ecology and agroforestry. Lyrics for the songs are available here.


Conference/Presentation Material

SAEA - Round Table: a conversation on Elderhood and traditional ways of farming in conjunction with the forest. This round table discussion was introduced by this slide deck before asking attendees what elderhood meant to them. 

Copy of SAEA 22 Conference Program - Final draft Online

Learning Outcomes

12 Youth reporting change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness
Key changes:
  • Participants developed an interest in ecology and forest farming through interactive experiences with hands-on agroforestry programs.

  • Participants developed practical skills and knowledge that enable them to identify edible and medicinal forest crops in the understory of temperate forests.

  • Participants developed a deep connection to place and a strong bond with the natural world through participant-led exploration, play, and investigation.

Results and discussion:

Qualitative Feedback from Parents:

"The program was so well planned. It had many different parts that would draw the interest and hold the attention of all the children. Suzanne and Garrett's joy and enthusiasm was contagious not only to the children but the adults as well. It was nice to have a waiting/play area for the parents and non participating children to wait."
"Thank you for your talent, Suzanne. It's such a blessing!"
"Laurel was singing the first line to the worm song over and over when we got home, but I didn't remember all the lyrics to help her. It would be nice to have those lyrics online or on the take home educational materials. I didn't expect there to be singing but it makes sense since it is helps cement concepts in your brain. We also have really enjoyed singing the bug body parts song."
"You were very patient and did make sure that everyone could participate both at berry picking and looking for the cherry tree. I like how you plan to build knowledge over time (with the leaf collecting portfolio) and reinforce what the kids learned in the Thursday class. I was slightly uncomfortable in the fort, and I hope in the future I could come without the baby, but I think the fort was magical for the kids and made it super fun. Thank you again for a great class."
"I was very happy to have our children participate in both classes. I would be happy to help get the word out to our neighboring community about Elder Tree and its classes on the church's property."
"Elder Tree Forest School has a little bit for everyone! From singing to crafts, hiking to eating they are creative at making sure the students enjoy themselves and that the lesson of the day is reinforced through different learning modalities. A welcoming, child-centered, discovery enviroment, my child always asked to go back once we were headed home.
Liam (10), Logan (7), Elias (5), Annalise (2): Forest school was a blast for my kids! They have always loved nature but now they can identify more things than before and they love telling people they've learned which weeds and mushrooms you can eat. Thanks Elder Tree!!"
"This is how school should be. Kids council was also an incredible opportunity for the kids to make decisions, learn as leaders and create community. More of this, please!"
"My children are more interested in pointing out the natural world including bugs, berries and plants. They are more excited to explore the natural world around them. It feels more familiar for them and they look to be more at home in a creek than on playgroup equipment if we go to our neighboring park."
"She finds things outside that we learned about at Forest School, she has knowledge she is proud to share with other kids who weren't there.
My kids have always loved nature but now they can identify more things than before and they love telling people they've learned which weeds and mushrooms you can eat."
"My daughter loves music and sings the songs at home (without even remembering all the lyrics)."
"It was literally perfect! We all had an absolute great time!"
"Both kids said they LOVED everything!!"

Project Outcomes

2 Number of youth considering a career in sustainable agriculture
4 New working collaborations
Increased organizational support to explore and teach sustainable ag:
Parents adopting sustainable agriculture practices:

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.