Cultivation of Native Productive Plants in Urban Agroforestry Systems in the U.S. Northeast: Perceptions and Barriers

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,990.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Rhode Island
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. John Taylor
University of Rhode Island


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: agroforestry
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Urban agroforestry (UAF) systems are multifunctional landscapes that improve urban environments and provide diverse ecosystem services and benefits to humans and other species. The inclusion of native productive plants, grown for food, medicine, or other uses, in UAF systems can increase the ecological quality of the landscape and ecosystem services provided, as well as prevent harm caused by non-native species; however, many urban agriculturalists engaging in annual crop production may be unfamiliar with UAF alternatives, and even UAF practitioners may be unaware of the benefits provided by native plants, or willing to accept ecological tradeoffs associated with non-native plants for their high productivity value. UAF systems are complex social-ecological systems, and as such, both social and ecological methods must be employed in studies of these systems. Quantitative online surveys, qualitative on site interviews, and ecological surveys will be used to answer four main research questions:

    1. What are current perceptions and knowledge of UAF systems and native productive plants among stakeholder groups? 
    2. What are barriers to the cultivation of agroforestry systems and native productive plants in urban environments? 
    3. How do agroforestry practitioners adjudicate the tradeoffs between the productive, ecological, and social functions of these landscapes?  
    4. How does the proportion of native vs. non-native plants correlate to the overall ecological quality of UAF sites? 

    Answers to these questions will benefit farmers and others in the green industries by identifying new crops for nursery and commercial production and will contribute to academic publications and educational resources for gardeners, agroforesters, and green industry professionals.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Through a quantitative survey, broadly characterize urban agriculturalists’ and green industry professionals’ use, knowledge, and perceptions of urban agroforestry and native productive plants in those systems and identify possible barriers to the more widespread use of both UAF practices and native productive plants in the landscape.
    2. Through qualitative interviews, explore with urban agriculturists topics covered in the quantitative survey but at greater depth. Pertinent information collected will include knowledge of native productive plants and their uses, motivations for plant selections, and potential trade-offs related to the inclusion of higher proportions of native plants in urban agroforestry systems.
    3. Identify overlooked native species with economic potential for the green industries, such as those that have productive value in the form of food, medicine, materials, or have other cultural significance. Develop strategies for promoting adoption of UAF practices and use of native plants within urban landscapes, including marketing strategies based on evidence collected, such as motivations for growing fruit crops.
    4. Analyze correlations between proportion of native plant species in an urban agroforestry system and other indicators of ecological integrity and sustainability, such as complexity of vegetation structure and soil health. Compare ecological quality between annual urban agriculture systems, urban agroforestry systems, and urban agroforestry systems with high proportions of native plants included.  
    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.