- Crop Production: agroforestry, alley cropping
Interlace Commons, the Student Farm and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and neighboring Simple Gifts Farm will collaborate to develop two educational demonstration sites focused on alley cropping typologies. Alley cropping, the intentional integration of trees with crops, offers a transformative solution to the ecological and economic challenges facing agriculture.
Currently, single-function monocultures command global agriculture and lead to environmental consequences, including GHG emissions. Despite advances in sustainable agriculture not enough is being done to mitigate the degradation issues caused by annual row cropping systems. Alley cropping addresses the effects of climate change such as increased herbivory-related issues, drought, and wind-related events while preserving ecosystems within agricultural land, reducing land degradation, improving biodiversity, and increasing the economic viability of farm operations; alley cropping is more effective than no-till farming at sequestering carbon. However, despite the current and predicted climate-related challenges and the science-based evidence supporting alley cropping as a shovel-ready climate mitigation and adaptation tool, this practice’s broad adoption is limited in the Northeast.
The goal of this project is to provide demonstration that is essential to alley cropping’s broad adoption as the lack of alley cropping systems in the ground is a significant barrier to broad adoption in the Northeast. This project will allow the academic, agricultural, and broader community to see the ways trees can be combined with crops, and how this practice is used to diversify income, protect or enhance ecosystem function, and respond to the realities of our changing climate.
Project objectives from proposal:
This project seeks to:
- Train two farms to develop agroforestry land-use plans focused on alley cropping. This process will help the farms identify alley cropping’s benefits, risks, yields, and best practices for establishment and management, as well as enterprise planning;
- Utilize land-use plans to establish alley cropping demonstration sites for educational and outreach purposes;
- Share the project’s process and results with farmers, technical service providers, conservation planners, and students to reach a range of stakeholders with information about alley cropping and its adoption in the Northeast. This information will be helpful to stakeholders looking to enhance sustainability, address ecosystem degradation, increase profitability, and prepare for/respond to climate change and its impact on the future of farms, food, and the environment;
- Identify funding opportunities to support farms in designing and implementing alley cropping systems.
If successful, this project will catalyze the adoption of alley cropping in the Northeast as a transformative solution to agriculture’s environmental and economic challenges. We predict in the short-term, there will be increased interest in and an improved understanding of alley cropping; in the mid-and long-term, there will be an uptick in alley-cropping adoption on farms in Massachusetts and surrounding states.