Topographical Contour Measurement and Water Management Earthworks for Ecologically Restorative Edible Silvopasture Planting

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $7,403.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Cultivating Community Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:


  • Agronomic: hops
  • Fruits: berries (blueberries), berries (cranberries), berries (other), cherries, figs, grapes, paw-paws, peaches, persimmon, plums, kiwi, passionfruit
  • Nuts: chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans
  • Additional Plants: tea
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Animal Production: pasture renovation
  • Crop Production: contour farming, drainage systems, drought tolerance, intercropping, multiple cropping, silvopasture, water management
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems, permaculture
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:


    Most of the agriculture in our area involves conventional corn and soybeans, grown in ways that require a great deal of input, both external (seed, fertilizer, water) and from the farmer (labor).  After all of the work, prices for these crops are so low, families must find other work to support themselves.

    At the same time, this sort of agriculture depletes soil by stripping away nutrients and allowing erosion.  It is decreasing habitat for native plants and animals, leading to less biodiversity.  This can lead to greater pest and disease pressure, and then even less economic resistance for the farmer.

    On top of that, there's a great disconnect between producers and consumers, such that there are people eating food that have no idea who grew it, how it was raised, where it's from, or even how old it is.  Consumers are generally so far disconnected from the source of their food that they're blind to work conditions of the people that brought it to them and the living conditions of the animals they eat.

    We'd like our farm to make a profit.  We're new farmers and would like to consult with more experienced farmers as we begin, but cost is a barrier.  Without this learning, our farm would fail or would take too long (in the case of just reading and tria-and-error) to begin generating profit.  It's recommended that we plant trees as soon as possible, but time is a constraint as we're raising young children.


    We would like to demonstrate that in carefully designing a system modeled off of nature:

    • Soil can be improved and increased through leaf litter, manure, and edible mushrooms cultivated in the understory.
    • Mimicking the region's native oak savanna ecosystem with wide rows of edible plants layered much like a forest edge will lead to greater productivity per acre than a single crop would.
    • Simple earthworks can capture and store rainfall in the soil, even on a (dry) hill, increasing available water between rains and potentially even filling small ponds to water livestock.
    • Rotational grazing can provide the disturbance necessary to suppress weeds without eradicating grasses and forage plants.
    • Diverse plantings will provide greater resilience to weather, pests, and market changes.  Relatively uncommon but native edibles like hickory, chestnut, hardy pecan, persimmon, pawpaw, hardy peach, hazelnut, cherry, lingonberry, raspberry, hardy kiwi, grape, and edible mushrooms can be produced locally to supply the Madison market.
    • Letting the animals and plants do the successive planting, fertilizing, and pruning saves us work.  Shaping the land before planting should store rainwater so we don't need to irrigate.  Inviting community members to work in exchange for produce will bridge the divide between consumers and producers while saving us time on larger tasks like planting and harvesting.
    • Inviting consumers to help with all parts of the process (including education on permaculture design, preparing the land, planting, tending, and harvesting) helps bridge the gap between consumers and producers.
    • The earthworks, planting, inoculating, and outreach will take place during the grant period, with the pasturing and fruit yield occurring after the grant period.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1.  Demonstrate that designing a biomimetic system on a farm can improve ecological health, economic yields, and overall efficiency.

    2.  Test and share results of biomimetic silvopasture planting on the environment including soil health, water capturing and distribution, and plant health.

    3.  Estimate results of biomimetic silvopasture planting on the farm's financial health including market price and potential customers.

    4.  Track results of biomimetic silvopasture planting on the social factors including time spent compared to traditional orchard planting and maintenance.

    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.