Agroforestry Transition Hub: Education and On-farm Research to Advance Agroforestry for Climate Resilience for Northeast Farmers

Project Overview

LNE22-441
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $149,831.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Dartmouth College
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Theresa Ong, PhD
Dartmouth College

Commodities

  • Additional Plants: trees

Practices

  • Crop Production: agroforestry
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, hedges - woody, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control, competition
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, permaculture
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community development, community services, food hubs, leadership development, local and regional food systems, partnerships, quality of life, social capital, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem or Opportunity and Justification

    An emergent body of research suggests that agroforestry practices provide a wide range of benefits to remediate ramifications of the intensifying sustainability and climate crisis including the loss of soil carbon and fertility, threats to water supply, biodiversity losses, and the viability of small farms under changing climatic and environmental conditions.  However, even as recent national and regional afforestation proposals to mitigate climate change have gained traction, meaningful promotion, uptake, and transitions to agroforestry systems have been slow in the United States. From the perspective of commercial farmers in the Northeast, particularly diversified operations with tight economic margins,  investments in long-lived and expensive trees must be demonstrated to reliably benefit their operations to be worth up front costs.  To attract and ease transitions for early adopters, technical and educational support are also requisite and must be transmitted both horizontally (farmer to farmer) and vertically (across institutions). 

    Solution and Approach

    Here we propose to use both horizontal and vertical methods to grow the current understandings of and best practices for agroforestry, how these systems enhance ecological function, and to train farmers how to establish and maintain agroforestry systems that support their management objectives. To achieve this goal and bolster a durable network of agroforestry practitioners, we have a 3 year plan to establish an Agroforestry Transition Hub that will serve as a local nursery provisioning tree seedlings, a school offering training and networking for 25 farmers interested in newly adopting or expanding agroforestry, an online platform to track and publicize farmer progress and monitoring, and a body of research that will use an interdisciplinary mixed method approach to enhance the relevance, agroecological benefits, and success of agroforestry systems. 

    We will use social science methodologies to explore current perspectives on tree planting and long-term care across the dominant types of agriculture in the Northeast, stratifying by operational size and farm sector. This work will expand options for agroforestry for practitioners and ensure that future implementation for our projects and others will successfully incorporate farmer attitudes. Additionally, we will use aerial photography and vegetative surveys to determine the spatial extent, composition, and health of tree resources and model their contribution to landscape resilience. Our work will investigate the role of trees on farms, and point to ways that farmers, foresters, and other stakeholders can work together to bolster forest health and agricultural productivity.

    In year one, we will focus on farms within the Upper Valley, in years two and three, we will expand our programming to include Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachussets, Maine, and eastern New York. 

    Performance targets from proposal:

    As a direct result of our work, agroforestry will be adopted by 25 farmers on a minimum of 25 acres resulting in the development of an agroforestry hub in the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire, a four county region. The hub will act as a source of resources for catalyzing further agroforestry uptake.  Farmers will receive seedlings and support to bolster on-farm climate resilience measured programmatically by soil health indicators. Our target is 200 farmers reached through peer-peer networking and measurable improvements in soil water infiltration for 75% of the 25 farms participating in the training program.

     

    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.