We need more trees on farms.
As the effects of a changing climate affect more and more farming practices, individuals, communities, institutions, and governments are increasingly turning to agroforestry as a powerful solution to both mitigate the inevitable effects of changing weather, precipitation, and temperature patterns as well as a significant contributor to reducing current emissions.
At the heart of agroforestry are a set of practices and paradigms where trees are integrated into productive farming systems. The carbon capture potential, along with many benefits to moderating local microclimates, and the crop yields from trees have been well established by both scientific research and the embodied experiences of many indigenous communities where agroforestry practices originate and are still employed today.
While many have been advocating for US agriculture to pay attention to agroforestry for decades, it has largely been ignored until quite recently, with the emergence of more substantial funding streams, the increase in private and non-profit entities, and governments asserting a more urgent surge to actually do something about climate change.
All this leads to more people wanting to plant more trees, faster. But the harsh reality is that we humans have not been very successful at the rapid scale up of tree planting in the past, with many well meaning efforts falling short of success. Too often, the focus is merely on getting a large number of trees into the ground, without concern for planning, site prep, and maintenance to see them survive and thrive.
If you are a farmer of any scale in the Northeast US, you can help us by completing this short survey. Your survey responses and insight will help us improve our collaborative education and research efforts.
Answer a few questions and help us create a snapshot of the current thinking across the broad NE farming community. We will share what we learn with you once the poll has closed.
The survey will close on October 15, 2022.
* Entries received by October 7, 2022 will be entered into a raffle and 5 farmers will receive a free copy of the Silvopasture book (including shipping within the Northeast US).
Tree planting is not a one-time event, but a commitment to rebuilding ecosystems step-by-step, over years and decades.
Tree planting initiatives must be seen as a multi-year project, with investment not only in the trees, but the people who will tend them. Farmers and those actively stewarding lands are some of the best candidates for tree planting and tending, yet are also very short on time and often only compensated by initiatives for the materials and not their labor.
Some of the larger gaps in scaling agroforestry include:
Funding sources often underestimate the cost of planting and maintaining trees, especially in support of farmers doing this work for fair compensation
There is not enough nursery stock to go around, and much of it doesn’t have the quality needed to thrive in agroforestry systems
The actual planting is just one step in the middle of the process of site planning, sourcing stock, site prep, planting, and maintenance. New trees need attention for 1 - 4 years to thrive.
Farmers are already busy, burdened, and struggling in the current market economy and don’t often have extra time for trees, nor the experience of management since trees are very different from vegetables, field crop, or livestock management.
We’ve been planting trees ourselves for over 20 years, both in farm and conservation scenarios, before landing at Wellspring Forest Farm in 2011 and including tree planting in the farm work, as we have been able - which is less than we would like. This direct experience has led us to see the real benefits trees can provide to our farm, while also the challenges in planting as many trees as we’d like to.
Our farm has always been a place for research and education alongside production, and so we are embarking on an exploration of how we can play a cooperative role in seeing more trees planted on more farms, successfully. Some of our initial solutions include:
Advocate for equitable and accurate funding sources that pay farmers for the real cost of time and materials to plant trees as a benefit to our larger community
Develop educational training materials and hands-on skill shares that cover all the elements of successful tree establishment including propagation, sourcing good seedlings, site design, prep before planting, strategies for planting, and maintenance including protection, mulch, and water.
Compile best practices for small scale and on-farm nursery production, to reduce costs of tree planting, gain benefits from local genetics, and potentially provide additional income streams for the farm
Support more educators and designers to gain confidence in being able to offer technical assistance to more farmers on tree planting and agroforestry practice.
Ultimately, we see these elements as leading toward more farms being able to plant more trees that thrive in the landscape. As we look for support to develop more educational tools and training, we want to hear from farmers about their experience with tree planting. If you identify as a farmer in the Northeast USA, please help us by completing the survey, above.
COMING SOON - more writing and resources:
* How Mother Nature Plants Trees
* Common errors in tree planting
* Beyond a hole in the ground; full spectrum participatory tree planting
*Are fungi the missing link in thriving trees?