Getting Started

Are you ready to change the way we grow food?

We all have a part to play in making our food and farming systems more sustainable. At the Savanna Institute, our goal is to make sure everyone has access to the research, education, and technical assistance needed to add agroforestry to their sustainable farming practices.

People who practice agroforestry integrate trees with crops or livestock on farms, enabling them to grow food and other profitable agricultural products while meeting conservation goals. Trees regenerate soil, filter water, and remove more carbon from the atmosphere than annual crops – even on farms that use cover crops or no-till agriculture. If farmers, landowners, and communities planted more trees and perennial crops, we could transform US agriculture into a climate solution and improve water quality across the region. To achieve this ambitious vision, we’re here to help you navigate the challenges of establishing an agroforestry system.

Let’s get started!

Agroforestry is the integration of trees, crops and livestock into farming systems. In a nutshell, it means farming with trees.

What is agroforestry? 

Sustainable farming practices that incorporate trees

There are many ways to farm with trees. Practices common in agroforestry—such as adding trees on field edges as windbreaks or planting buffers along waterways to reduce erosion—are more familiar than we may think. Five common agroforestry practices supported by the US Department of Agriculture include:

  1. Alley cropping is the cultivation of crops in the alleys between regularly spaced rows of trees or shrubs.
  2. Silvopasture is the intentional integration of trees, pasture and livestock managed in a single system.
  3. Riparian buffers are trees planted as strips of permanent vegetation alongside a stream, lake or wetland.
  4. Windbreaks are strips of trees and shrubs designed to enhance crop or livestock production while providing conservation benefits.
  5. Forest Farming is the cultivation of specialty crops under existing forest canopies.

Download the factsheets to learn more.

Do you have access to land?

Long-term land access is a key requirement of getting started in any type of perennial agriculture. Tree crops take time to mature, and it may be years before farmers turn a profit off their harvests. We know that accessing land is not easy. Our resources help beginning farmers navigate long-term lease options.

Coming in Fall 2023, we are also creating resources to guide landowners in making more long-term leases available to perennial farmers.

Learn more about perennial farm finances.

Become an apprentice

If you do not yet have access to land, we recommend our Agroforestry Apprenticeship program where you can gain on-farm experience on an established perennial farm in the Midwest. For ten weeks over the summer (any ten weeks that fits your schedule), apprentices work on farms and take courses with a cohort of other aspiring farmers. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

Learn more about becoming an apprentice.

Want to learn more?

Agroforestry Foundations

The Agroforestry Foundations course is designed to introduce you to a diversity of agroforestry practices, financial arrangements, farm designs and business models while helping you reflect on your own personal values and goals.

Perennial Pathways: Planting Tree Crops

  • A comprehensive, 110-page guidebook to designing and installing farm-scale edible agroforestry
  • Indispensable for new agroforestry farmers throughout the stages of farm startup
  • Available as a free PDF download and also as a book shipped directly to you for $26

Deep-rooted long-lived tree crops improve the soil, help retain water, improve biodiversity, sequester carbon, and mitigate the effects of floods. Tree crops help us heal our climate, regenerate our communities, and share stories and values across generations. It is time to transform American agriculture through tree crops.

“I trust Savanna Institute to be careful stewards of land that’s important to me and my family, and to develop and spread farming practices that will increase biodiversity and fight climate change.”


                                                                  – Jack L.