Novice-to-Producer Agroforestry Education: Linking demonstration farms to online learning, apprenticeships, & communities of practice

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $249,597.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Savanna Institute
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Kate Wersan
Savanna Institute


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, alley cropping, intercropping, silvopasture, windbreaks
  • Education and Training: demonstration, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, riparian buffers
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships

    Proposal abstract:

    Agroforestry, the integration of trees with crops or livestock, is a transformative solution to the ecological and economic challenges of agriculture. One major hurdle to agroforestry adoption in the Midwest, however, is inadequate demonstration opportunities on a scale comparable to typical row crop farms. Such demonstrations in Europe and Canada have greatly increased agroforestry adoption. To overcome these barriers and catalyze agroforestry adoption across the Midwest, the Savanna Institute (SI) established a network of Agroforestry Research & Demonstration (R&D) Farms thanks to a previous NCR-SARE grant. In partnership with public and private landowners, these farms began to facilitate a broad range of decentralized education, demonstration, and research functions; however much more remains to be done to make these farms accessible to farmers from across the Midwest. 

    The seven farms in the SI R&D Farm Network are the only commercial-scale agroforestry demonstration sites in the Midwest, and many farmers still have to drive significant distances to access the sites and may be reluctant to attend field days or workshops because of the high cost of travel. Distance and cost remain barriers we need to overcome to help motivate farmers interested in agroforestry but reluctant to travel to demonstration sites as a first step in exploring agroforestry. Often, they want to know what they will see and learn before they show up. 

    To overcome these barriers, Savanna Institute proposes to integrate comprehensive online educational programming and high-quality multimedia outreach and storytelling with on-farm and hands-on education and farmer-led field days on four SI R&D farms. This way, farmers who live hours away can learn about what they will see at each farm, hear stories from farmer collaborators, see the site in other seasons or stages, and then learn about on-farm educational opportunities that would allow them to explore agroforestry in greater depth. This combination will allow SI to intensify and expand the educational impact of the R&D farm network for farmers in the region by helping to make the limited number of agroforestry sites accessible to the largest number of farmers. Increased hands-on knowledge of the profitability and ecological benefits of agroforestry will lead to increased adoption of agroforestry by site visitors, trainees, and collaborators, who then become agroforestry advocates in their communities. Ultimately, widespread adoption of agroforestry in the North­Central Region will enhance farm profitability, ecological resilience, carbon storage, water quality, and rural job creation.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    • Maintain operational-scale demonstration of agroforestry practices
    • Connect online curriculum with R&D Farms to make on-farm learning more accessible
    • Host educational events in collaboration with partner organizations and farmer collaborators


    • Increased understanding of agroforestry by farmers and educators, including profitability, ecological benefits, and steps to adoption
    • Increased visibility and accessibility of R&D Farms as educational assets for educators via site-specific curricula


    • Applying agroforestry knowledge obtained through online and on-farm education by beginning farmers
    • Adopting agroforestry by site visitors and collaborators 


    • Widespread adoption of agroforestry
    • Enhanced farm profitability and ecological resilience
    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.