Building Community Capacity to Increase Agroforestry Tree Planting through Participatory Listening Sessions, Training, and Peer-to-Peer Networks

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $248,180.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Wellspring Forest Farm LLC
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Steve and Elizabeth Gabriel
Wellspring Forest Farm LLC

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, alley cropping, forestry, silvopasture
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: social capital

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem or Opportunity and Justification:

    Tree planting in agroforestry systems offers well documented solutions to farms from moderating microclimates to increasing soil health and carbon storage. Tree planting is more complex than it might at first seem. Large scale tree planting efforts are frequently unsuccessful due to institutional ineffectiveness, a uniform view of the landscape, and the lack of inclusion of diverse stakeholders. For agroforestry efforts to sustain and thrive in the region, peer networks of tree planting farmers need to be built so that there is a support system for knowledge and cross-cultural exchange. What is needed is a shift away from just tree planting alone, and toward planting as social action.


    The Project team's personal encounters with dozens of farmers and a recent survey of 120 demonstrates that farmers in the Northeast, notably NY, PA, and MA, want to and are planting trees and are interested in planting more. Survey respondents are engaged in a diverse set of enterprises: livestock (over 50%), vegetables (41%), wood products (25.1%). They produce at all scales, with 52.2% under $10k annually, 19.1% at $10,001 - $25k, and 28.4% over $25k. There is clearly interest amongst a range of scales, enterprise type, and location. 75.2% want to plant more trees but only 29.9% feel confident about how. Of proposed activities, farmers rated as “somewhat or very helpful” all of the following: Expert support with mapping and planning (86%), hands on training and skill building (81%), video and print resources/online courses (79.1%). 


    Solution and Approach:

    Solutions to the challenges of tree planting need to be grounded and arise from the communities and individuals tending the land in a given bioregion. This project is fundamentally grounded in people and place, developing materials and training in response to the expressed needs of farmers and developing a peer-to-peer network of farmers committed to tree planting. 


    Activities include a series of eight facilitated listening sessions to identify farmer perceptions of trees and needs for trees, species of interest, and the support needed to be successful. A public report will share findings and provide guidance for policymakers and others in the agroforestry field. Findings will inform the development of a new curriculum based in the practice of popular education. Over 100 farmers will convene online, in-person, and at the demonstration nursery to learn skills and connect with peers. 20 farms will receive expert feedback on planting plans and receive cost-share support for planting. A demonstration nursery will be built and documented with video and print resources so others can replicate elements to increase tree planting capacity on farms. 

    Performance targets from proposal:

    20 diversified production farms (veggie, livestock, other) develop a robust planting plan and plant 5,000 trees on 100 acres. 15 report reduced tree planting costs of $1,000 or more as a result of increased knowledge and acquired skills.

    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.