Our most recent podcast episode is produced in collaboration with another great podcast, The Climate Conversation, which is produced by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). A few weeks ago, hosts Dan Bresette and Emma Johnson interviewed Keefe Keeley, our Executive Director, and Tucker Gretebeck, an organic dairy farmer who is working with our agroforestry adoption team. They kindly agreed to share the recording with us, which you can now hear on the Perennial AF podcast. 

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC that works to provide credible, non-partisan information to policy makers on energy and environmental solutions. So we were pleased that they wanted to learn more about agroforestry and how it relates to a very important piece of legislation coming up: the Farm Bill. As Dan explains at the start of the episode, the Farm Bill is “a massive, must-pass piece of legislation that is reauthorized every five years and covers a wide range of topics from conservation to rural development to food and nutrition. And 2023 is the next year of the Farm Bill.” 

If you’d like to become more fluent in the Farm Bill, EESI’s website is a great place to start!

Excerpts from the interview are shared below:

Emma Johnson: So Keefe, I want to start with you by getting a little bit deeper into why agroforestry can be such a transformational practice. Can you go into a bit more detail about what agroforestry is? And how can its successful implementation bring benefits to people, to farms, and to the climate?

Keefe Keeley: Absolutely. Well, agroforestry is just a fancy, $5 word for trees on farms, but trees on farms on purpose. So not just trees that happen to be growing here or there. But trees that are really a part of the working farming system. And this is not something that we just invented recently either. This is land use that’s rooted in Traditional Ecological Knowledge. People here in the Midwest and all over the world have been farming with trees for really as long as we’ve been farming. But agroforestry is also the science and practice of how we do that in 21st century farming systems. 

So that can look a lot of different ways, integrating trees into cropping systems, integrating trees into animal farming systems, and for all sorts of different purposes, for increasing the profitability and resilience of those farming systems, for environmental benefits, like sequestering more carbon and soil health and protecting water quality and wildlife habitat. And it can be for all sorts of recreational and aesthetic purposes too, just making farms more beautiful places that are pleasant for people to live and to visit. So it’s more than just one thing. It’s really an approach to farming that says, how do we integrate more trees and make our farming systems more diverse and more perennial as we do that.

Dan Bresette: Tucker, I’m interested to hear a little bit more about how you’ve implemented silvopasture, which means integrating trees with grazing livestock on All Seasons Farm. From what I understand you all planted about 1,100 trees on your farm in May, with help from the Savanna Institute and other groups. And I’m wondering, was there a moment? What was it that caused you to want to do this? And what were the benefits that you were hoping to realize by planting 1,100 trees on a farm that supports I think about 50 head of organic milk cows?

Tucker Gretebeck: This is something I’ve always wanted to do, because we’re always trying to stay one step ahead, especially being an organic farm. And using the pasture system like we do, you know, one of the things that I’m always looking for is cow comfort. And that extra hour of eating, if there was shade, that turns right into, you know, a paycheck and shoes on the kids’ feet. And so we’re always trying to manipulate what we have to make something more out of it. 

On August 28th of 2018, it kind of changed the way I farmed. We had 14 inches of rain overnight. There’s a dam in our valley and it broke. The amount of water that was coming down… the farms up here on the ridge, and then it drops off 300 feet into a valley with a nice, beautiful, little creek coming through. And this changed everything, you know, there was so much water and when the soil above the dam, it brought sand and rock and trees and pretty much took away the pasture I had down there. And that pasture was pretty important to me during the summer because during the hottest times of the year, that’s where I’d send the cows.

So this all kind of came to a head here with the Savanna Institute and Organic Valley and all the other groups that helped out, especially, you know, our own county agent. There was a need that I had here on the farm, I didn’t know how I was going to do it, and a combination of needs and people that knew how to do it allowed me to get this done.

You can read the full transcript of Emma and Dan’s conversation with Keefe and Tucker on their podcast webpage