The Perennial Report

by | Jul 6, 2022 | Reports

Early in the summer of 2021, Savanna Institute’s Farm Director Erik Hagan found something special at our new farm in Sauk County, Wisconsin. When poking around in a patch of prairie beside one of the crop fields, Erik came across a large prickly pear cactus. The prickly pear is a threatened species in Wisconsin, and discovering one flourishing in a corner of the farm was a perfect reminder to us at the Savanna Institute about the necessity of learning from the land, watching closely, and listening carefully. It is exactly this careful listening, we believe, that prepares us to respond to the urgency of the moment for agriculture and the climate.

Across our work in 2021, we spent the year listening, learning and building the Savanna Institute into a vehicle that drives a change we need in the world: more trees on farms—trees that provide abundant harvests, draw carbon out of the atmosphere, improve the welfare of livestock, filter water, build soil, and offer refuge for wildlife and people alike.

In a year filled with milestones, one that stands out was our privilege to host the biennial North American Agroforestry Conference (NAAC). This was a once in a generation opportunity for us to convene agroforestry researchers with other leading voices from across the continent to work together on the key question that drives us: how will we scale-up agroforestry for carbon drawdown? Savanna Institute staff put their many years of experience running the Perennial Farm Gatherings to work organizing NAAC. Five days, fifty speakers and nearly 500 attendees later, NAAC succeeded in the task that’s always been at the heart of Savanna Institute’s work: bringing together practitioners and researchers to learn from each other and make each other more successful in agroforestry.

Savanna Institute’s target may be simple—more trees on farms—but our efforts to accomplish this goal are as diverse as the needs and aims of the people with whom we share this important work. In 2021, our efforts included creating more educational resources, conducting groundbreaking research, and building a team equipped to support farmers and landholders in agroforestry. Our Perennial Report is an introduction to our efforts, as well as an invitation for you to learn more about the work of the Savanna Institute and to consider partnering with us in it.


We work collaboratively to heal the climate, repair the land, and strengthen communities by advancing agroforestry—a time-tested system of farming with trees and building resilience through deep-rooted diversity.

– Keefe Keeley, Executive Director of the Savanna Institute

Some highlights of our work in 2021 

• Our Apprenticeship Program paired 14 apprentices with 12 mentor farms for collaborative, on-farm learning experiences. (See more on Page 11)

• We released new online courses and multimedia resources about agroforestry in action in the US Midwest, which reached people worldwide in three languages. (See more on Pages 13 and 24)

• Our Demonstration Farm Network grew with new partner farms — including visionary generosity that enabled us to expand our Spring Green Campus along the Wisconsin Riverway to include almost 800 beautiful acres of land in a community of innovative farmers and welcoming neighbors. (See more on Pages 15-18)

• For the first time ever, the Savanna Institute, together with the UW-Madison Department of Horticulture and the UW Biotechnology Center, sequenced the genome of the American hazelnut. (See more on Page 22)

• Savanna Institute’s leadership team grew, including Administrative Director Brandi Brandes, Development Director Alison Long, and Director of Research and Commercialization Fred Iutzi. (See more on Page 4)

• We published new research on how to overcome bottlenecks and expand chestnut value chains. (See more on Page 8)

• New grant funders invested in our mission, including US Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes Protection Fund, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Chicago Community Trust. (See more on Pages 6 and 10)

• We set the stage for the launch of Canopy Farm Management, a business with a mission to increase the supply of tree planting and perennial management services in the region. (See more on Page 19)

• Building on this foundation, in September we launched an Agroforestry Adoption Program. It took several years of learning from farmers and landowners about what they need to successfully adopt agroforestry, as well as fundraising to hire experienced agroforesters to staff the program. In just the last four months of 2021, this Program started work with 56 farmers and landowners, who were actively transitioning 916 acres to agroforestry, with further plans for agroforestry involving more than 3,370 acres. (See more on Page 20)

At the heart of the Savanna Institute is a community of people who care deeply about our mission. My colleague and friend Dr. Kevin Wolz has now stepped away from his role as co-Executive Director of the Savanna Institute in order to lead Canopy Farm Management in its sister mission: to provide professional agroforestry services for farms of all types. Kevin was a co-founder of the Savanna Institute, and thankfully the organization will continue to benefit from his vision and talents in his role as a Savanna Institute Lead Scientist on our growing research team.

We are deeply grateful for the extraordinary support from partners and friends who have made this year of growth and care possible, and who give us the courage to lean into the future. (See more on Pages 5-8) We have a long way to go, but I know we’re headed in the right direction. One day, when trees are an integral part of Midwest farms, I imagine we won’t even call it agroforestry any longer. We’ll simply call it farming. It’s an incredible honor—and it gives me a foundation of hope for what lies ahead—to be a part of a community working to hasten that day.

We can only do this together. Thank you for being part of this community.

We are thinking about time differently. Read our 2021 Perennial Report for more on how we are laying the groundwork for widespread agroforestry that will benefit generations to come.