Building Agroforestry Through Community in Illinois

by | Jun 13, 2023 | Policy, Reports

Agroforestry is a viable natural climate solution that landowners can adopt right now to increase climate-smart agriculture in the region. Planting trees in pasture, along waterways, and in alley cropping systems resonates with many that want to diversify their farm income while addressing climate change and protecting water. The demand has exposed crucial gaps in educational opportunities, state and local agricultural policy, and staff capacity to provide one-on-one support to farmers and landowners seeking to establish agroforestry projects in this region. The Savanna Institute is working to fill those gaps in Illinois and across the Midwestern US.


Savanna Institute’s alley cropping demonstration at 4-H Memorial Camp in Monticello, IL was first established in 2020 on land owned by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

From 2020 – 2022, Savanna Institute’s Illinois Agroforestry Team conducted participatory research, education, and outreach in a four-county region in East-Central Illinois with funding support from the Lumpkin Family Foundation. Led by the Illinois Community Agroforester, the Team reached the stewards of 1000 acres of agricultural land in Champaign, Douglas, Piatt, and Vermilion Counties. The goal? To help land stewards plant tree crops in agroforestry systems that will draw down carbon, protect water, grow food, and beautify Illinois for generations to come.

Download the PDF

Illinois Agroforester’s Report

This report by Savanna Institute’s Kaitie Adams gathers research and results from two years of agroforestry outreach to public and private landholders in Central Illinois. Our Adoption Program is creating a model for agroforestry outreach that could be used in other states.


At the same time, the Savanna Institute built its outreach capacity based on community feedback from the project — creating a Community Agroforester position to lead outreach, adding a demonstration site at 4-H Memorial Camp in Allerton Park, and a Technical Service Program to help landowners with farm planning. The Savanna Institute is now accepting applications to enroll landowners in the program. Apply here.

Savanna Institute’s alley cropping demonstration site at 4-H Memorial Camp in 2023. PHOTO: Canopy

In 2022, the US made significant investments in climate-smart agriculture, and agroforestry is a key strategy for transforming US agriculture into a climate solution. This report serves as one possible blueprint for community-based outreach programs to people that want to take part. Policymakers can also use this report as a guide to introducing policies that ease barriers and promote adoption of profitable conservation practices. Without supportive local, state, and federal policy change to reflect and support carbon-smart, soil health-focused, and diversified production models, larger-scale practice change is not possible. 

The alley cropping demonstration at 4-H Memorial Camp has 3 rows in each tree block, with 10 ft spacing between trees and rows, and a 5 ft buffer between rows 1 and 3 and row crops. PHOTO: Canopy

For agroforestry to thrive, it must be a supported polyculture. In the field, that looks like the right combination of plants, trees, and livestock suited to the existing ecosystem and able to access all needed nutrients and resources. Among people, that looks like a network establishing regenerative practices through farming, economic development, social justice, resource allocation, and conservation. The Savanna Institute partners with people and organizations to grow both in Illinois, where it got its start ten years ago this year.

One of the greatest opportunities of the Community Agroforester position has been the ability to create and deepen relationships and partnerships across East-Central Illinois and beyond. Relationships are at the heart of farming, and strong ones take time to develop, often taking years to bear fruit.


The Savanna Institute
Illinois Community Agroforester 2020 – 2022

Partnering for Agroforestry at Delight Flower Farm in Champaign, IL

Delight Flower Farm is a commercial cut flower farm just west of Champaign, IL that includes a cut-flower CSA, farmers market sales, and on-farm workshops serving the Champaign-Urbana area. Owner Maggie Taylor worked with Savanna Institute to apply for NRCS funding for her farm to establish alley cropping and windbreaks.

More from Perennial AF

Savanna Institute’s podcast and blog about agroforestry.

Our 10-Year Perennial Report

Our 10-Year Perennial Report

When the Savanna Institute started in earnest in 2013 by a small volunteer group in Illinois, few supports existed for perennial farmers. Ten years later, a network of demonstration farms, technical service providers, and social enterprises now serve Midwest farmers that want to plant trees. This year’s Perennial Report is a retrospective on the Savanna Institute and our last decade’s worth of work to lay the groundwork for widespread agroforestry. Thank you to everyone who helped us grow along the way!