Home Restaurant Can Agroforestry Save the Food System?

Can Agroforestry Save the Food System?

Fiddle Creek Dairy sits at the top of one of the endless rolling hills in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. On the first day of spring, farmer Tim Crowhill Sauder looks from his sloped pastures out over the open fields that extend in every direction. A bright red barn interrupts the long horizon. An Amish farmer rides a plow behind a team of horses. It’s a bucolic picture that belies the landscape’s natural state.

“This was the great Eastern Woodlands,” says Sauder. “It wants to be a forest here.”

Centuries ago, Sauder’s Anabaptist ancestors arrived and, instead of learning from and alongside the Native peoples who had already developed techniques to farm within the forest, took the land and cleared the trees to grow crops and graze livestock. Now, Sauder sees its next chapter as both practical action and penance.

“I do it for the sake of my children’s future and for the sins of my ancestors,” he says, of the 3,500 young hybrid willow, honey locust, mulberry, chestnut, and persimmon trees that are now maturing slowly in neat rows across 30 acres of pastures.

Sauder’s system—where his cows will soon graze among trees instead of in fully open pastures—is called silvopasture. And it’s one of several practices that fall under a broader agricultural approach called agroforestry, or farming with trees.

Agroforestry includes planting trees and bushes in strips to prevent soil erosion and provide habitat for wildlife, along streams to stop nutrient pollution, or between rows of corn. These practices, long part of Indigenous farming, are taking root all across the country.

Farmers can plant trees and bushes in strips to prevent soil erosion and provide habitat for wildlife (windbreaks and hedgerows), along streams to stop nutrient pollution (riparian buffers), or between rows of corn (alley cropping). These practices, long part of Indigenous farming, are taking root all across the country.

In California, Rebekka and Nathanael Siemens graze sheep to their 2,000-tree almond orchard. On 18 acres in Wisconsin, the Midwest’s leading agroforestry nonprofit, the Savanna Institute, is growing chestnut, elderberry, black currant, and black walnut trees between rows of organic soybeans.

Whatever the approach, more abundant plant life that stays put year after year—i.e., perennials—lead to healthier ecosystems that support biodiversity and store carbon. Indigenous cultures around the world, including Native American tribes, have long practiced various forms of agroforestry. And, as researchers, policymakers, and governments look for effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build climate resilience on farms to secure the food supply, agroforestry is approaching a renaissance.

Funding Agroforestry as a Climate Solution

Project Drawdown ranks silvopasture and alley cropping among its top 20 climate solutions. In the latest round of reports published by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s top climate experts concluded that practices that store carbon dioxide are now critical to meeting climate goals. They found that scaling up agroforestry could make a meaningful contribution to carbon removal while also helping farms adapt to climate risks.

“Farmers are stewards of photosynthesis, one of our oldest and best technologies for getting carbon out of the atmosphere,” Keefe Keeley told policymakers, government officials, and CEOs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) biggest annual gathering this year.

Keeley, the executive director of the Savanna Institute, was invited to speak to highlight the USDA’s Climate-Smart Commodities program. The agency awarded $3.1 billion in two rounds of grants last fall, including $153 million to projects focused specifically on agroforestry. (Additional broader projects also include elements of agroforestry.)

The Savanna Institute is one of many organizations involved in a $60 million effort coordinated by The Nature Conservancy across 29 states. In the Southeast, Tuskegee University is leading two projects intended to help underserved farmers transition to agroforestry practices and to grow markets for their products. The Adirondack North Country Association will help women-owned farms measure the benefits of riparian buffers and cropland reforestation in New York, while Caribbean Regenerative Community Development will work with small coffee farms in Puerto Rico.

In recent months, the USDA started distributing funds from the Inflation Reduction Act designated for climate-smart agriculture—including agroforestry practices. Then, in late March, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) reintroduced the Agriculture Resilience Act. If included in the next farm bill, it would direct the USDA to establish three new regional agroforestry centers. As lawmakers prepare to write the 2023 Farm Bill, many are looking to continue to expand funding for climate-smart practices.

Source link

Previous articleStaying on Target: Mastering Your Meta Audience
Next articleConcord Hospitality’s Mark Laport on the Building Blocks of Growth