OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

A vibrant agroforestry industry in the Connecticut River, Housatonic River and Hudson River watersheds in Western MA and eastern NY

Quick-growing perennials have ignited the agroforestry industry in the Northeast resulting in local ciders and chestnut flour pizza parties.

Photo of Christian Shearer

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Regen Network Development, Inc. (Regen Network)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

TerraGenesis International (for-profit social enterprise, www.terra-genesis.com), Propagate Ventures (for-profit, www.propagateventures.com), BreadTree Farms (small farm, https://breadtreefarms.com)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.Regen.Network

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Great Barrington, Massachusetts, USA

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

A four county area, including portions of the Connecticut River, Housatonic River, and Hudson River watersheds in Massachusetts and New York

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Russell Wallack, owner of Breadtree Farms (https://breadtreefarms.com) and Co-Director of Terra Genesis International (www.terra-genesis.com), has lived in the Connecticut River Valley for most of his life. Now, as a chestnut farmer in Rensselaer County, NY, he works to bring commercial chestnut production back to the northeast. Russell is a co-author of BRASA, a preliminary agroforestry site suitability analysis in the Connecticut River Valley watershed. 


Jeremy Kaufman lives in Columbia County, NY and is the COO and Co-Founder of Propagate Ventures (www.propagateventures.com), an organization that is on a mission to scale agroforestry into a cornerstone of agriculture. Jeremy works with farmers to design and install tree-crop systems and bridge project level capital needs. 


Gregory Landau, Chief Regeneration Officer and Co-Founder of Regen Network (www.regen.network) and CEO and Co-Founder of Terra Genesis International, is currently raising his family in Great Barrington, MA. He is co-author of Regenerative Enterprise, the Levels of Regenerative Agriculture Whitepaper, the Regen Network Whitepaper, and co-creator of the 8-forms of capital framework. 


Sarah Baxendell, Director of Philanthropic Partnerships, Regen Network lived in the Connecticut River Valley for half of her life and considers the Pioneer Valley home. As an ecological designer she works to bring resources to ecological interventions. Her first job was at the Atkins Country Farm Market in south Amherst, Massachusetts, which informed her vision of local food systems. 


Christian Shearer is the CEO and Co-Founder of Regen Network and COO and Co-Founder of Terra Genesis International, both based in Great Barrington, MA. Christian has been working with agro-ecological systems around the world for the past 15 years.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Area: Four counties spanning 1.86 million acres (Franklin, Hampshire, and Berkshire, MA and Columbia County, NY) that include portions of the Connecticut River and Housatonic River Watersheds in Western Massachusetts and the Hudson River Watershed, east of the Hudson River. The area includes towns and urban centers like Amherst, Northampton, Greenfield, Great Barrington, MA and Hudson, NY. 


The Connecticut River winds southwards past productive agricultural lands, flanked by the rugged hardscape of the Worcester plateau to the east, and the Berkshire hills to the west. Frequent winter storms bring bitter cold and frozen precipitation. Summers are warm and humid. Nature, culture, education and agriculture come together in the region in a rich, productive tapestry. Travelers are drawn to the valley by its lively college towns, known for their liberal political values and their embrace of alternative cultures and lifestyles, where prominent colleges and universities cooperate with each other in the “Five College Consortium” of UMass Amherst, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke, Smith College, and Hampshire College. The glaciers that formed the Valley left behind some of the richest soil on earth which is now home to 2,000 farms that hold 169,000 acres of land in production and represents 25% of farms and 33% of farmland in the state. Farms range in size from ¼ acre to 345 acres, with an average farm size of 50 acres. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) models were born in western Massachusetts. Local colleges serve over 9,900 meals per day and spend over $11 million annually on food. Local restaurants serve around 6,000 meals each day. Because of this, locally grown foods are plentiful and accessible. 


Columbia County, NY is located between the Hudson River and the MA border. It is linked to adjacent urban areas, reaching NYC in 2 hours and Boston in 3 hours. Newcomers to the area often invest in second-homes, relishing the rural character and the proximity to NYC. The region boasts Prime farmland soils (USDA) and is home to conventional grain, dairy and apple production and niche grain and dairy production, as well as the National Young Farmers Coalition, a hub of farm advocacy, Tierra Farms, the largest organic dried fruit and nut distributor in the US, and Hawthorne Valley, a biodynamic innovator. Maintaining the County’s agricultural landscape is of growing interest to residents. The soils are gravelly loamy, ideal for tree crops. Columbia County is the first county to pass a bill to create a carbon pilot project administered by local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. 


An estimated 4,000 indigenous people lived in the region for thousands of years. The Pocumtuc Confederacy was first encountered by European settlers in 1636. The region hosts a rapidly growing Hispanic population and is home to one of the highest per capita lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) populations in the US.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

7527

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

419453

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Uncertainty exists in future temperature and rainfall in the Northeast. The region has seen a greater increase in extreme precipitation (increase of 70% from 1958 to 2010) than any other US region. By 2050, sea level rise, saltwater intrusion and flooding may drive coastal populations inland. Erosion from heavy rains may affect coastal economies. Shifts in plant life cycles from water and temperature cycle changes may have negative effects on traditional food forest gathering by indigenous communities. Regional food production may face these threats: a) increased intensity and frequency of summer heats may increase pathogens and parasites and decrease dairy and poultry production, b) intense precipitation may cause wetter fields that delay planting or harvesting, c) field crops may experience heat stress, drought conditions, and invasive weed, pest, and pathogen outbreaks, d) warmer winters may impact existing apple crops due to earlier bloom and frost damage, and e) winter chilling may decrease, affecting existing berry varieties.


With a projected 2050 population of 17 million New England residents, the region will need to produce over 50% of its food. The rural economy must be expanded to devote three times as much land to intensive production. With a large population, abundant water, cold winters, and limited and under cultivated farmland, complete regional food self-reliance is not realistic. To feed this future population, the number of farms must expand from 24,000 to 50,000, farm operators from 11,000 to 80,000, and full time farm workers from 19,000 to 52,000. 


In 2020, local farms face barriers in distribution, processing, and storage, changes in the availability of regional produce throughout the seasons, building and maintaining relationships with consumers, and the perceived expenses of local food. Farmland in Massachusetts is expensive and more affordable in New York. A decade-long regional dairy industry slump has left landowners seeking more economically viable agricultural business models. High debt, low prices, and inflexible farm assets are currently leading multi-generation dairy farmers into bankruptcy or selling their herds. Corn, soy and hay production used to feed dairy livestock is the largest landblock ripe for transition. 


Agroforestry strategies allow landowners to leave 70% of the region’s forests intact while producing agricultural commodities and income to meet growing food production demands. Adding trees to cropland can sequester 1 - 4 tons of carbon per ha/year, whereas converting forests to cropland emits 62 to 120 tons of carbon per ha/year. Agroforestry systems retain up to 53% more Nitrogen and 17% more phosphorus than monocultures. Globally, conventional cropland erodes at a rate of 10 tons per ha/year, whereas erosion rates in forests range from .004 to .05 tons per ha/year. Conventional agriculture strategies result in trillions of dollars in lost yields and livelihoods.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Humans are converting terrestrial carbon into atmospheric carbon far quicker that we can return it to the soil; the carbon cycle is currently broken. However, a tree is the opposite of a smoke stack. It sequesters carbon and contributes to biodiversity, which keeps the ecological gears turning. Globally, forests cover nearly 1/3 of land area and contain over 80% of land-based biodiversity, but those numbers have dropped considerably from historical averages. 


Agroforestry systems increase farm resilience and play a role in expanding and linking habitats to support biodiversity adaptation. Agroforestry systems can protect New England farm communities by limiting the impact of extreme and shifting weather on agricultural production while actively reversing the effects of climate change. Agroforestry planting systems include a) riparian forest buffers, which protect waterways from agricultural impacts by filtering sediment and contaminants, providing shade for aquatic ecosystems, and stabilizing stream banks that minimize hydrologic changes of storms and floods, b) silvopasture, which combines trees, forage plants and livestock in an integrated intensively-managed system which creates shade to protect animals, c) orchard band windbreaks, which filter air pollutants and protect crops from wind and temperature extremes, and d) alley cropping, which diversifies farm income by coupling wide tree row plantings with a companion crop.


Agroforestry systems are intentional, intensive, interactive, and integrated. By planting perennial crops, such as (canopy layer) pecans, walnuts, chestnuts, (understory trees) apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, nectarine, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, persimmon, paw paw, (shrubs) blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, currants, elderberries, gooseberries, hardy kiwi, and (groundcover) strawberries, farmers accomplish multiple benefits and yields within a small area. 


Chestnuts, hazelnuts and fruit trees play a vital role in implementing agroforestry in MA and NY. Until the chestnut blight of the 1900s, chestnuts made up 1/4 of hardwoods in the Appalachian mountains and were a staple of indigenous diets. Chestnuts are nutritious, low in fat, high in carbohydrates, gluten-free and can easily be incorporated into baked goods. Chestnut trees’ deep roots stabilize and improve soils. Requiring 100 frost free days to flower, full sun, and acidic, well drained soils, chestnuts are a useful, drought adaptable crop for hillside agriculture. 


Today, 2,500 acres of chestnuts are grown in the US. To provide for 2050 food consumption, 10,000 acres of chestnut production are required. For New England to grow 50%+ of its food regionally (currently 12%), 20,000 acres must be planted with nut trees. The soils in western MA and Columbia County, NY are especially productive for apples. One million acres of fruit orchards are required to meet New England’s 2050 fruit consumption demand.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Western Massachusetts and Columbia County’s rural food economy is stabilized by agroforestry. Investments in perennials, training of farmers in best practices around establishment, care, and harvest, increased regional processing and distribution underpin a regional food system which relies on agroforestry for biodiversity outcomes, climate resilience, and diversified agriculture yields. 


Dairy farms earn high incomes with diversified businesses, phasing out dairy herds, feed crop fields, and shifting farm assets to new production. Fields formerly planted with corn, soy, and hay are filled with productive orchards, diversified livestock grazing, and annual crop production. Landowners diversify their income and minimize risk by adopting long-term farm leases with new farmers. Some multi-generational dairy farms are lost, but in their place diversified, risk-averse farm business models thrive. Heavier and more frequent rain events no longer plague annual crop production because alley cropping is universally adopted. Productive fruit and nut trees in farm fields absorb excess water, stabilize soils, and increase farm crop diversity. 


Social demand to protect biodiversity, reconnect habitat, reestablish forest edges and riparian buffers have led the community to plant over 100,000 new trees. Forests are currently 50% denser and more connected than in 2020.


Global demand is high for validated on-farm biodiversity and carbon outcomes. Farmers and land stewards across Columbia, Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin counties have enrolled over 200,000 farm acres and 700,000 forested acres on the Regen Network platform, capturing and storing 17 kilotons of atmospheric carbon annually. Due to increased corporate demand, global prices for carbon are high, at $150 per ton, earning the average 10 acre farmer $6,000/year in income representing the biodiversity outcomes of their property.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Characters:

  • Russell, Breadtree Farms, Chestnut farmer (Columbia County, NY)

  • Sarah, Chestnut flour grinding operation (Mill River Gristmill in Amherst, MA)

  • Matt, Atkins Farm, apple farmer and wild apple forager (south Amherst, MA)

  • Jonathan, Valley Cider, hard cider distiller (Hadley, MA)

  • Celeste, Chef at Northampton Brewery (Northampton, MA)

  • Maria, mother (Greenfield, MA)

  • Serena, Pocomtuc descendant (Great Barrington, MA)

  • Tiffany, Connecticut River fishing company (Leverett, MA)

  • Lisa, dairy farmer (Hudson, NY)


The 30th Annual Chestnut Brunch, Conway School of Design, Conway, MA


“Celeste, that pizza smells amazing,” Tiffany interjected as she shifted the hot coals around her corn sheath wrapped bass, freshly caught on the Connecticut River. “My daughter, Luna, is going to be so jealous. Did you know they teach your chestnut flour pizza crust recipe in home economics class at Amherst High School now?”


“I never thought I’d say this, but it’s because they planted too many chestnuts as windbreaks between the sports fields. Twenty years ago, when the chestnut rush first emerged, nobody knew what they were doing,” Russell, an old farmer who was one of the first to plant chestnuts on his Columbia County, NY property, chimed in. “It took us about a decade to get tree spacing right. Now, the school is selling chestnuts wholesale and investing back into the school farm.” 


“It’s come 360,” Jonathan chuckled, as he poured Celeste a glass of his latest batch of Valley-grown hard cider. “I never thought I’d be taking on UMass Food Science interns this year or transforming my grandpa’s old tobacco barn into our second cider distillery in Hadley.”


“I’m sure glad you did, Jonathan,” Sarah said. “This cider batch is delicious. So dry! If you hadn’t figured out the financing to rebuild that old shack I would never have been bold enough to rebuild the historical Mill River Grist Mill to produce chestnut flour.” 


“Do you remember how dirty the Mill River water used to be?” Celeste questioned. “I can’t believe we used to swim in that creek as kids! The park trees we planted have made a big difference.” She shook her head. “Sarah, how would I ever make these chestnut flour pizzas without you? My team at Northampton Brewery used to grind chestnuts by hand, right Russell?”


“It was a mess,” Russell grumbled. 


Celeste laughed. “It was. I know we’ve won ‘Valley’s Best’ for our chestnut crust pizzas three years running, but it’s not MY recipe. Serena taught it to me and gave me permission to share it. All those amazing pizza toppings are grown locally by many of our friends. We’re so lucky.”


Serena nodded. “It’s one of the last chestnut recipes I was taught by my Pocomtuc grandparents. It’s the perfect flour for baking.” 


“Your chestnut baking class last week was amazing, Serena.” Maria chimed in. “Chestnut flour has been transformative in our family. Did I tell you that my son Charlie’s doctors say he’s barely on the autism spectrum anymore? It took a decade of removing gluten from his diet. The guidance counselor at Greenfield High School thinks he may even be able to join his grade level next year!” 


“That’s wonderful, Maria,” said Matt, a young apple farmer who took over the orchards at Atkins Farm Market in South Amherst. “Have you tried my apple pie recipe with the hot weather apples that are finally maturing? It’s perfect for all that extra chestnut flour. We are so lucky we started to forage wild apples a decade ago and found this variety on the south side of Mt. Tom, left behind by homesteaders.”


“How’s the apple crop coming along?” Russell asked. “I wasn’t sure when you tore out all those heritage apple varieties. It makes an old timer like me cringe.”


“They just aren't growing well anymore. It’s too warm in the region for those varieties,” Matt responded as he shook his head. “We’ve kept a few of each just in case. You know how old man Atkins feels about those heritage apples he spent a lifetime cultivating.”


Russell nodded.


“We’ve partnered with Propagate Ventures, and their financing models have provided us the startup capital to invest in a new test row of cider apples each year on that north facing hill, where it’s cooler,” explained Matt. “This weather is pushing the limits of the orchards we established 15 years ago already, and we want to make sure we have supply for our new hard cider partnership with Carr’s Cider. We’re calling it ‘South Amherst’ cider.” 


“We’ve been planting peaches at our property as well with the help of Propagate Ventures,” Lisa chimed in. “It was so sad to let the cows go, but our dairy wasn’t competitive in the marketplace anymore. My family has managed this land for six generations already, and we had to figure out how to stay viable. We’ve got room for some apple trees on our north ridge if you are interested in partnering, Jonathan and Matt.” 


“Let’s figure out a time for me to come see the property next week,” Jonathan replied.


“Hey, Russell,” Jonathan interjected, “What’s the price you are getting for your carbon credits from Regen Network for all those chestnut trees? We’ve been getting over $100 a pound of carbon for the apple trees we’re stewarding for our ciders. My brother is thinking it’s time to plant another acre, and maybe Lisa’s property would be a good solution.”


“Finally getting real value for the ecosystem services of our agroforestry plantings is a blessing. It’s allowing us to plant about 50% more trees each season as we expand the windbreaks around our annual crops. The extra cash flow per acre has made all the difference in this region.” Russell responded. “If you haven’t signed your properties up on the platform, Jonathan and Lisa, it’s really time to take advantage of that opportunity. It may pay for your expansions even in the first year!”


“If we can just keep planting those chestnuts, Russell, we’ll be alright,” Tiffany, owner of a Connecticut River fishing company, said. “The fishing season on the Connecticut River has finally evened out, which is great for business.”


“It’s great for planning our menus at Northampton Brewery,” Celeste agreed.


“Russell, do you remember when we met?” Tiffany asked.


“It’s hard to forget. You smelled awful delivering those fish to Celeste,” Russell piped in with a smirk. “You realized we were using the BRASA (Bioregional Agroforest Suitability Analysis) agroforestry planting data to establish new riparian buffers along the river. With the water quality and temperature tests you had been taking daily, we could finally see the link between the water filtration and shade provided by the tall trees. You were able to find the cool spots near our plantings where the bass were hiding.” 


“It was a relief to figure that out,” Tiffany agreed. “After that I told everyone to plant trees to help our fishing company to stay in business. Pocumtuc means ‘clean river,’ after all, right Serena?”


Serena smiled. 


“It’s time to eat,” declared Jonathan. “It smells too good to wait!”


“Should we make a toast?” asked Serena.


“To chestnuts?” offered Matt.


“To apples?” Maria quibbed.


“To the community,” Russell agreed.


Russell, Sarah, Matt, Jonathan, Celeste, Maria, Serena, Tiffany, and Lisa clinked their glasses of Jonathan’s latest hard cider batch together. They dug their forks into the steaming hot bass Tiffany had caught on the Connecticut River. Their fingers became greasy from slices of chestnut flour pizza, smothered in fresh vegetables grown by friends, and baked with chestnuts that were harvested from Russell’s pastures. They eyed Matt’s dessert, apple pie made of the newly maturing climate-adaptive apples and a chestnut flour crust that was ground in Sarah’s local gristmill. The late summer moon rose, shining down on the river valley, and their community. 


An Implementation Framework that makes this Vision possible:


Breadtree Farms:

Incubating commercial chestnut production in the northeast US by planting chestnuts, partnering with regional growers, educating landowners about revenue-positive lease models, and developing chestnut-based products. Breadtree Farms is partnered with Otter Creek Farm, transforming 20 acres of former corn and soy fields into a chestnut orchard. 


TerraGenesis International (TGI):

TGI co-authored (with TK Design Lab) the Bioregional Agroforestry Suitability Analysis (BRASA), which assessed, inventoried, and mapped the Connecticut River Watershed’s suitability for riparian buffers and intercropping commercial hybrid chestnut trees on existing farms. However, local farmers lack the financing to adopt agroforestry.


Propagate Ventures:

Propagate Ventures, works with farmers and land managers to design and install tree-crop systems that work in tandem with existing farm operations. Its fruit, nut, and timber tree systems complement both row crop and grazing operations. Adding trees and shrubs generates economic returns, builds soil health and sequesters carbon. The company also works to provide financing mechanisms and the partnerships needed to meet the short and long-term goals of its partner farmers. Propagate currently works on 16 agroforestry projects that are planting about 100K of trees and shrubs over the next three years. Two of those projects are in Columbia County. 


Regen Network:

Regen Network, Platform for a Thriving Planet, issues scientifically-verifiable and auditable ecosystem credits so that farmers, ranchers and other land managers can be recognized and paid for their positive ecological practices. On the platform, land stewards enroll and voluntarily list the ecosystem services on their property. These activities are verified by remote sensing. Ecosystem services credits are issued, stored in the registry, and sold to buyers, providing land stewards a new source of income.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Website
  • Prize partners
  • LinkedIn

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

This vision was furthered through local partner discussions, regional and national policy research, and economic and implementation partner outlining. The area of interest and the BRASA report were expanded to include Rensselaer County, NY in order to accommodate more existing agroforestry projects.

The vision broadened from a chestnut and apple focus to agroforestry, which honors the intent to plant chestnut trees, reestablish a regional staple crop, and reinvigorate regional forest management strategies. The expanded scope highlights existing perennial strategies, including fruit, berry, and livestock production, and ensures that the site-specific nature of each pilot drives implementation strategies. The broadened vision expands on the ecological benefits of agroforestry (tillage decrease, soil carbon, soil retention, water infiltration increase, labor reduction, flood protection), addresses livestock within agroforestry systems and ensures resiliency at all scales is increased.

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

Russell Wallack, owner of Breadtree Farms (https://breadtreefarms.com): Connecticut River Valley resident, chestnut farmer in Rensselaer County, NY, co-author of BRASA. 


Jeremy Kaufman, COO and Co-Founder of Propagate Ventures: Columbia County, NY resident, manages 2 projects with farms in Columbia county already via Propagate Ventures. 


Sarah Baxendell, Director of Finance and Philanthropy, Regen Network: former Connecticut River Valley resident, former employee of  Atkins Country Farm Market in south Amherst, Massachusetts.


Christian Shearer, CEO and Co-Founder of Regen Network, COO and Co-Founder of Terra Genesis International, both based in Great Barrington, MA. 


Gregory Landau, Chief Regeneration Officer and Co-Founder of Regen Network (www.regen.network) and CEO and Co-Founder of Terra Genesis International: current resident of Great Barrington, MA. 


James Pittman, Ecosystem Service Economics Consultant to Regen Network, and Ecological Economist, Real Value Group

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

This food vision incorporates data from the Bioregional Agroforestry Suitability Analysis of the Connecticut River Watershed (Terra Genesis International, TK Designs), the Northampton Food Plan (Pioneer Valley, MA), New England Food Plan, NRCS research about regional chestnut, fruit and nut crops, and local experiences of regional organizations, including Regen Network, Propagate Ventures, TK Design, and TerraGenesis International. 


Additional local farmer outreach was conducted in spring 2020, which focused on enrolling local pilot farms for potential implementation of these agroforestry strategies, enrolling the local agroforestry farm community in the replicable value of this work, and ensuring that documents, data, and reports collected would be made accessible to local and regional nonprofits, universities and farmers in an open-source manner to further the regional vision of a strong agroforestry-based economy. Data would also be shared by Regen Network in the Field Methodologies Working Group of OpenTEAM, a FFAR USDA funded project consortium, and made available open-source on their website. Regional nonprofits and universities whose work may benefit from the expanded BRASA report scope in Hampshire (MA), Berkshire (MA), Columbia (NY), Rensselaer (NY), and Franklin (MA) counties include Scenic Hudson, Glynwood Center, Columbia Land Conservancy, Schumacher Center, Hudson Carbon, and Ag Stewardship Association (Rensselaer County), and UMass Amherst.


Regional and national agroforestry farmers, nonprofits, and small businesses who support this application for regional investment in agroforestry include: Lisa DePiano of Umass Amherst in Amherst, MA; Luke Smith of Lunasi Forest Farms in Columbia Cross Roads, PA; Mark Phillips of Hudson River Flows in Great Barrington, MA; Ana Smith of White Buffalo Land Trust in Santa Barbara, CA; Zach Wolf of Caney Fork Farms in Carthage, TN; James A Quella of Q Farms in Sharon, CT; and Carbon Harvest in Asheville, NC. 

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

Investments in agroforestry are replicable and scalable within the northeast, southeast, and northwest regions of the United States. Local stakeholders have engaged with these efforts, and have an embedded interest in utilizing the methods and best practices being explored within this vision and its implementation farm pilots. There is a need for change in agriculture locally, which signals the demand for agroforestry strategies to ensure regional food system resilience.


Agroforestry requires increased complexity of management interventions and required farmer skill sets. Tree-crops must be managed actively, as competition increases over time. In silvopasture systems, practitioners must be familiar with the dynamics of managed grazing, forage growth, and tree establishment time management in order to avoid damage. Trade-offs will be made between livestock and tree production, as it is difficult to maximize both at the same time. Long-term crops are at risk of disease outbreaks and pests, soil fertility loss, crop loss due to poaching or weather, and a shortage of processing facilities. Establishing riparian buffers and windbreaks require landowners to remove an area from commodity crop production. Incorporating productive tree and shrub crops into these buffers helps to offset the loss in acreage. If a windbreak design is intended to meet a combination of economic and ecological objectives, there may be tradeoffs in performance and costs among potential designs. 


Barriers to entry include a high capital investment in initial tree and shrub establishment, as well as the long-term land tenure requirements to realize the full profitability and benefits of trees. The high initial investment has a slow return, and crop-producing trees and shrubs can require high maintenance in initial years when there are not yet returns via harvest. Government funding and assistance is largely limited to conservation districts and state programs such as EQUIP, CRP and CSP. Market establishment is a time intensive and long-term process. Detailed record-keeping and market research is required for selected products. 


To support this work, the USDA is developing regional interagency frameworks to prioritize agroforestry, facilitate data sharing, conduct agroforestry economics assessments, and technologies that help to develop profitable systems for marketing goods, build healthy farms, protect air, water and soil resources, and restore ecological services. They are developing technologies for the accounting of agroforestry benefits by establishing protocols that reflect agroforestry impacts, conducting life cycle analyses of agroforestry systems, quantifying the economic benefits for comparison with other management systems, quantifying the impacts of climatic variability on agroforestry systems, and conducting inventories of trees outside of forests to support carbon accounting.

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

The September sun rose in Columbia County, NY. Russell collected chestnuts, wrapped in their opened burrs, just fallen from the tree. He inspected the nuts for mold; crop quality has increased. Russell carried his crate of nuts to the processing shed, passing buffer areas abundant with songbirds and foxes. He sorted and boxed the chestnuts, ready for delivery to the Mill River Gristmill in Amherst, MA that afternoon for roasting and grinding. 


Sarah grabbed the boxes, heavy with their chestnut bounty. She thanked Russell for making the long drive. Inside the restored Mill River Grist Mill, Sarah placed the chestnuts on a roasting rack, ready to enter the warm oven. The roasted nuts rolled onto the conveyor belt where Ben, Sarah’s apprentice, pulled them from their burrs. Nuts dropped into the grinding head, powered by the creek. Crunk! Crunch! Local, regenerative chestnut powder emerged on the other side, which Ben scooped into packages and filled crates bound for Atkins Market in South Amherst, ready for sale.   


His wrist twisted and the apples popped swiftly off the branch. Matt placed apples in crates on the north hill at Atkins Farm - the sweet and the cider separated. Macintosh apples were headed to the bakery where chestnut crust apple pies were freshly baked. The baker was eager to meet the growing demand for chestnut and apple value-added products that have become a strong part of the local economy. 


The cider apples arrived at Valley Cider, an Atkins partner in hard cider fermentation. Matt lifted the crates from his truck, and poured the contents onto the cider press belt. Jonathan thanked him, as the press rose and fell. The apple juice slid into the fermentation barrels. Demand was high for another batch of cider to be delivered to Northampton Brewery, which is frequented by the farm’s neighbors who benefit from regional agroforestry. The bottling machine swung around, filling bottles with local cider, freshly fermented.

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

Agroforestry planting systems include: riparian forest buffers that protect waterways from agricultural impacts by filtering sediment and contaminants, provide shade for aquatic ecosystems, and stabilize stream banks that minimize hydrologic changes of storms and floods; silvopasture, which combines trees, forage plants and livestock in an integrated intensively-managed system and creates shade to protect animals; orchard band windbreak that filter air pollutants and protect crops from wind and temperature extremes; and alley cropping, coupling wide tree row plantings with a companion crop, which diversifies farm income.


Regional food production in Hampshire, Franklin, Berkshire, Columbia, and Rensselaer counties may face climate change threats, including increased intensity and frequency of summer heats that may increase pathogens and parasites and decrease dairy and poultry production; intense precipitation may cause wetter fields that delay planting or harvesting; field crops may experience heat stress, drought conditions, and invasive weed, pest, and pathogen outbreaks; warmer winters may impact existing apple crops due to earlier bloom and frost damage; and winter chilling may decrease, affecting existing berry varieties. Conventional agriculture strategies result in trillions of dollars in lost yields and livelihoods. 


Agroforestry systems increase farm resilience, play a role in expanding and linking habitats to support biodiversity adaptation, and protect New England farm communities. In short and medium time frames, agroforestry systems limit the impact of extreme and shifting weather on agricultural production through incremental changes in microclimates as agro ecological systems are implemented. This has been shown to reduce pest pressures and increase business resilience. In 2050, heavier and more frequent rain events will have less of an affect on annual crop production because alley cropping is universally adopted. Productive fruit and nut trees in farm fields absorb excess water, stabilize soils, and increase farm crop diversity. In 30 years, the mature canopies of trees and the stable roots of these perennials will help modulate micro-climate changes, decreasing wind stress and heat stress on both row crops and livestock that would be grown amongst these canopies. 


Windbreaks decrease soil loss caused by wind, increase water availability to nearby crops due to lower evapotranspiration rates from reduced wind speed and the effects of catching snow, filter and block dust, drifting pesticides, and odors from nearby farms and homes, and provide resources for pollinators and beneficial insects that controls pests on farm. Riparian buffers slow run-off, trap sediment, and prevent channelization of streams via above ground foliage and below ground roots. Below ground roots take up excess nutrients and filter pesticides and sediment from runoff. In silvopasture systems trees provide shade for livestock during summer and wind protection reduction in the winter. Livestock manure recycles nutrients to trees and forage and tree shade reduces the lignin content of forage. Trees provide structural diversity which increases habitat for birds and wildlife. Alley cropping systems allow for carbon sequestration in woody perennials and soil organic matter. Trees reduce soil erosion, nutrient leaching, soil compaction, and water runoff. Forest farming allows for the management of forest understories for production, which can displace invasive species that often occupy this area.


Over longer time frames, agro ecological systems will reverse the effects of climate change by converting terrestrial carbon into soil carbon. Agroforestry strategies allow landowners to leave 70% of the region’s forests intact while producing agricultural commodities and income to meet growing food production demands. Adding trees to cropland sequesters 1 - 4 tons of carbon per ha/year, whereas converting forests to cropland emits 62 to 120 tons of carbon per ha/year. Strong social demand to protect biodiversity, reconnect habitat, reestablish forest edges and riparian buffers will have led the community to plant over 100,000 new trees. Therefore, forests in 2050 will be 50% denser and more connected than in 2020.


By providing a way to track, verify, and reward the ecological benefits of agroforestry at scale, Regen Network will accelerate a new multi-billion dollar regenerative agroforestry carbon credit market. Regen Network enables farmers to monetize their positive environmental impact, including clean air and water, enhanced biodiversity, long term carbon storage, and other ecosystem services. These incentives will make ecological farm management decisions and agroforestry systems investments increasingly viable. By realigning economic health with ecological well being, the earth’s ecological systems will sequester 320 gigatons of carbon dioxide in the next 50 years as a part of the shift towards a sustainable economy.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

A New England Food Vision, states that for New England to grow 50%+ of its food regionally (12% in 2020), 20,000 acres must be planted with nut trees, and one million acres of fruit orchards are required to meet the region's 2050 fruit consumption demand. Perennial crops, such as (nut trees) pecans, walnuts, chestnuts, oaks (acorns) hickories, (fruit trees) apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, nectarine, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, persimmon, paw paw, (shrubs) blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, currants, elderberries, gooseberries, hardy kiwi, and (groundcover) strawberries can provide significant nutritional and economic benefits. 


Chestnuts are nutritious, low in fat, high in carbohydrates, gluten-free and can easily be incorporated into baked goods. Pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and hickories are a native fatty nut that is a plant-based healthy fat and protein. Blackcurrants and elderberries are two of the top three antioxidant fruits that can be grown in cold climates. They provide higher concentrations of vitamin C than most regionally grown fruits.


With an abundant supply of regionally-grown chestnuts, chestnut flour will provide a healthy, universal option for local, and often wheat based products like, pastas, breakfast cereals, baked goods, and pizza crusts. Through expansion of peach and apple orchards, local cideries will have abundant supply to produce locally-grown and pressed hard cider. Apple pies from climate-adaptive varieties will grace grocery shelves. An expansion of regional farms will invigorate local farmers markets and allow for local produce in every home. Friends and neighbors will know the names of their farmers. Bass caught locally on the Connecticut, Housatonic and Hudson rivers will become widely available as freshwater temperatures cool regionally as riparian buffers investments increase.


A key to agroforestry is raising healthy meat in silvopasture. Grass fed beef, a prerequisite for silvopasture, is high in beneficial fats and low in overall fat content. Pasture-raised eggs are higher in concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins than animals that are fed grain and stored-feed diets. Producing poultry on pasture or cover crops is becoming a popular way for livestock and crop farmers to diversify their operations in the Northeast. Poultry are often rotated onto pastures after cattle or sheep, where they forage on regrowth and scavenge for invertebrates in manure deposits, often helping to distribute manure nutrients. Rotational grazing is also known to improve soil health, which, in turn, allows for increases in annual and perennial crop yields.


By increasing the production of more nutrient dense food regionally, food will become more accessible and greater calories and nutrients will be consumed. An increase in high quality nutrient-rich silvopasture-raised animal products will drive demand for locally-grown meat, eggs, and dairy, and decrease the amount of factory farmed meat consumed from outside of the region. In conjunction, with increased consumption of nutrient dense tree crops, nutritional problems linked to caloric and nutritional disease will decrease in the region. With an increase of healthy food production will come increased demand for processing facility capacity throughout the region. As these investments expand, this will reduce distribution bottlenecks and enable small-scale agroforestry producers to become more competitive in a marketplace that is often oriented towards large-scale production.


These shifts in regional food supply require the support of ongoing local programming to become embedded aspects of local culture. Expanding school gardens for elementary schools and implementing school farms for middle and high school students will increase the familiarity with local produce and knowledge of local cooking skills and recipes. By investing into upcoming generations, agriculture will be seen as a financially viable career pathway. Having an intimate relationship with food from a young age, reinforced by age-appropriate home economics classes, allows food growing, harvesting and preparation to become basic knowledge for regional youth.

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

A regional economic shift:

The area includes urban centers like Amherst, Northampton, Greenfield, Great Barrington, MA and Hudson, NY. In Hampshire County, local colleges serve over 9,900 meals per day and spend over $11 million annually on food. Local restaurants serve around 6,000 meals each day. Columbia and Rensselaer counties are linked to adjacent urban areas, reaching NYC in 2 hours and Boston in 3 hours. 


With a projected 2050 population of 17 million New England residents, the region will need to produce over 50% of its food. The rural economy will expand to devote three times as much land to intensive production. To feed the growing population, the number of farms will expand from 24,000 to 50,000, farm operators from 11,000 to 80,000, and full time farm workers from 19,000 to 52,000. 


To provide for 2050 food consumption, 10,000 acres of chestnut production are required. For New England to grow 50%+ of its food regionally, 20,000 acres will be planted with nut trees. One million acres of fruit orchards are required to meet New England’s 2050 fruit consumption demand.


A decade-long regional dairy industry slump left landowners in NY state seeking more economically viable agricultural business models. High debt, low prices, and inflexible farm assets have led multi-generation dairy farmers into bankruptcy. Corn, soy and hay production used to feed dairy livestock will be transitioned into diversified businesses with high incomes by phasing out dairy herds, feed crop fields, and shifting farm assets to new production. Fields formerly planted with corn, soy, and hay will become filled with productive orchards, diversified livestock grazing, and annual crop production. 


Landowners will diversify their income and minimize risk by adopting long-term farm leases with new farmers. Some multi-generational dairy farms will be lost, but in their place diversified, risk-averse farm business models thrive. Commercial chestnut production in the northeast US will be incubated by planting chestnuts, partnering with regional growers, educating landowners about revenue-positive lease models, and developing chestnut-based products. Startup capital for new orchard investment will become abundant as these industries advance. 


Most perennial crops demand a price premium when compared to annuals. On a per acre basis this can be 3-10x the financial returns of annual crops. Investing in perennial crops removes the high upfront capital costs demanded by annual agriculture and provides increased revenues to farmers that enable higher wages and stronger farm balance sheets. Regenerative banking, community-based lending, and fair commodity prices based on the true cost of nutrient rich food, support small farmers in their role as the heart of the regional economy.


New Economy, New Workers.

New economic opportunities will emerge for landowners, farmers, harvest workers, local food sales, start-up capital investments on-farm, start-up capital investments for processing facilities, and regional institutional cooperative buying from local farmers. Additional job opportunities in business support services will expand to meet the needs of these new agricultural enterprises, including banking, business planning, marketing, and investment funding. Increased interest in local food production will expand opportunities in cooperative education, school systems and restaurants to meet the educational needs of this cultural shift. 


According to the 2007 USDA agriculture census, about 25% of farmers in New England are women. The highest percentage of female principal farm operators are located in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. On average female-operated farms are smaller than male-operated farms, at 210 acres on average (compared to 452 acres for male-operated farms), and average annual sales of $36,000 (compared to $150,000 for male-operated farms). Between 2002 and 2007, women principal farm operations increased by 24%. At this pace, by 2037, it is expected that this gender gap will be closed, with over 50% of New England Farms owned and operated by women. 


Increasing farm viability through carbon credit markets:

Receiving real value for the ecosystem services of agroforestry plantings will allow landowners to plant about 50% more trees each season. The extra cash flow per acre will provide capital for agroforestry investments and orchard expansions. Increases in future corporate demand for carbon and greenhouse gas offsets will drive global prices to $150 per ton, earning the average 10 acre farmer $6,000/year in income representing the biodiversity outcomes of their property. 


This work will expand technology firms, satellite data scientists, arcGIS specialists, and partnership managers to allow for efficient analysis of site data and credit issuance. Sales of credits to corporations will increase the demand for sales and operations positions to support this process.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

Columbia and Rensselaer counties are located between the Hudson River and the MA border. They are linked to adjacent urban areas, reaching NYC in 2 hours and Boston in 3 hours. Newcomers to the region often invest in second-homes, relishing the rural character and the proximity to NYC. The region is host to the homes of famous landscape artists like Frederic Edwin Church and is renowned for its rolling hills. 


Travelers are drawn to the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts by its lively college towns, known for their liberal political values and their embrace of alternative cultures and lifestyles. Prominent colleges and universities cooperate with each other in the “Five College Consortium” of UMass Amherst, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke, Smith College, and Hampshire College. The Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts are home to many artists and creatives. The region hosts a rapidly growing Hispanic population and is home to one of the highest per capita lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) populations in the United States. 


An estimated 4,000 indigenous people lived in the region for thousands of years. The Pocumtuc Confederacy was first encountered by European settlers in 1636. There is regional interest in returning land to indigenous peoples, to develop deeper cultural connection to place, and to engage with the region’s history of colonialism, extractive economies, and the damage done by white supremacist approaches to land management in a transformative way.


Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) models were born in western Massachusetts. Because of this, locally grown foods are plentiful and accessible. The National Young Farmers Coalition, a hub of farm advocacy, Tierra Farms, the largest organic dried fruit and nut distributor in the US, and Hawthorne Valley, a biodynamic innovator, are all located in Columbia County, NY. Columbia County is the first county to pass a bill to create a carbon pilot project administered by local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. 


Agroforestry has always been at the heart of New England’s culture. The region is rich with landscape and agricultural history, with Great Barrington at the heart of a locally grown egg movement and regionally grown artisan wool products. Tourists and residents flock to the region to enjoy crisp temperatures and classic fall foliage. Visitors frequent Cider Day events, Garlic and Arts Festival, and fall apple picking in abundant regional orchards. At the cusp of multi-generation agriculture families and an emerging trend of diverse individuals choosing farming as a career, the regional food system will increasingly rely on agroforestry for biodiversity outcomes, climate resilience, and diversified agriculture yields.


Maintaining these five county’s agricultural landscapes is of great interest to residents. Social demand to protect biodiversity, reconnect habitat, reestablish forest edges and riparian buffers is ingrained in the regional appreciation for land and agriculture and in its history as an agriculture region. Agroforestry has been shown to be the most visually prefered landscape, both as compared to forest and traditional agricultural landscapes. The Appalachian Trail runs through the region and provides a place to interact with the history of regional crops like chestnuts and hickories. Hunting is an annual tradition for many in the region and allows for the control of deer populations. Outdoor enthusiasts regionally welcome increased tree cover that attracts wildlife and regularly embrace the exploration of vast open spaces.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

Patterns and principles work in Nature as technology, which informs human technological development. Humans converted terrestrial carbon into atmospheric carbon far quicker than it was returned to the soil; the carbon cycle was broken. However, a tree is the opposite of a smoke stack in that it sequesters carbon, contributes to biodiversity, and improves the local microclimate, which keeps the ecological gears turning.


Ecology is the source of all value on Earth - photosynthesis creates all the food, fiber and feed that we use, all the building materials that we require, and helps our world have abundance and resilience. Agroforestry systems increase farm resilience and play a role in expanding and linking habitats to support biodiversity adaptation. Agroforestry systems can filter sediment and contaminants, minimize hydrologic changes of storms and floods, provide shade to protect animals, and filter air pollutants and protect crops from wind and temperature extremes. Agroforestry systems retain up to 53% more Nitrogen and 17% more phosphorus than monocultures. Adding trees to cropland can sequester 1 - 4 tons of carbon per ha/year, whereas converting forests to cropland emits 62 to 120 tons of carbon per ha/year. 


Applying Technologies to Agroforestry Systems and Financial Barriers to Entry

Propagate Ventures’ technology allows for the analysis of the economic viability of adding agroforestry crops in a specific farm context. By analyzing the whole farm systems, from farm equipment to management methodology, this technology can determine a path to agroforestry viability.  Over the next 30 years, this analytics platform has the ability to accurately predict markets and on-farm viability. This will position more capital to flow into farm transitions and agroforestry systems, and thus, help farmers increase their farm incomes.  


Ecology has economic value and is a form of financial technology. By redesigning prevailing carbon market frameworks towards a farm and farmer-first focus, carbon credits are directly linked to agricultural and ecological outcomes, with up to 80% of the carbon credit price transferred directly to land managers and land owners. The use of blockchain allows for ecological accounting and data transparency. Regen Network, Platform for a Thriving Planet, issues scientifically-verifiable and auditable ecosystem credits so that farmers, ranchers and other land managers can be recognized and paid for their positive ecological practices. On the platform, land stewards enroll and voluntarily list the ecosystem services on their property. These activities are verified by remote sensing. Ecosystem services credits are issued, stored in the registry, and sold to buyers, providing land stewards a new source of income.


The novel use of satellite data analysis technology allows for the development of agroforestry-based carbon credit methodologies by Regen Network. Due to this, GIS is a useful regional planning tool, which allows BRASA to inform a regional agroforestry implementation strategy - assessed, inventoried, and mapped farm and ecological assets regionally. 


Adapting On Farm Technologies to Support an Agroforestry Food System Expansion

Farm technology must be improved and adopted to increase agroforestry systems financial viability. This includes the modernization of the cider press, cider house, and grist mill, readoption of cider processing techniques, modernization of historical farming techniques, technology-informed orchard design and upgraded harvesting processes. These efforts will be supported by advances in crop health monitoring, pest management, and disease control technology.


Technologies to support farm economic viability also include technology applications to increase the ease of purchasing orders between restaurants and farmers. Fortunately, these modernizations are emerging today rapidly. For example, Propagate Ventures provides sub-centimeter accurate tree locations that allow for the automation of tasks by drone or tractor. 

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

A transformative upgrade to the United States Farm Bill and Crop and Flood insurance reform will be required to provide federal assistance, lending, subsidy, taxation relief, and small business incentives to support the economic transition towards diversified small farm enterprises. However, in the absence of a quick-moving federal legislature, the following Bioregional Food Act represents core policy changes that would be enacted on a bioregional, if not federal, level. 


Bioregional Diversified Food Economy Investment Act:

  • Dairy Economy Transition Investments provide bankruptcy relief for dairy farms that choose to develop qualified economically viable agricultural business models for new diversified farm operations, including 100% forgiveness of high debt burdens of legacy dairy operations. Qualified business plan development assistance is used as a pre-qualification pathway for small business loans and grants for dairy farms transitioning farm assets and start-up investment for agroforestry business models.

  • The Farm Investment Tax Credit Program provides long-term farm development tax credits that enable private capital to invest in agroforestry projects. Tax credits are provided for landowners who minimize risk by adopting long-term farm leases with new agroforestry farmers.

  • Bioregional Food Distribution and Processing Investments include small business loans and grants for cooperative processing and distribution facilities, including retrofitting new and existing facilities. To avoid destruction of crops and livestock euthanizations caused by processing bottlenecks, local processing investments are critical for regional food systems resilience. 

  • Organizations that purchase local food within 50 miles are eligible for Local Food Purchase Tax Credits, including tax incentives for small and large entities (local restaurant vs a college).

  • Food Economy Technology Tax Credits are provided for organizations developing innovative agriculture and ecological technology tools, as well as small business loans and grants for research and development. Farm Patent Protection Grants allow technology organizations to apply for 100% grants of patent submissions expenses for new farm technologies.

  • The Climate Neutral Farm Act mandates that farm subsidy eligibility requires that farming systems are carbon neutral or carbon negative. Government subsidies for crop insurance will be limited to crops grown using approved soil conservation practices to reduce pollution and sequester soil carbon. Diversified small farm enterprises and carbon-neutral farming methods are pre qualifications for start-up capital subsidies and state or federal opportunities.


The Agriculture Land Restoration Act establishes agricultural preservation restrictions for existing agriculture lands and forms regional Community Land Trusts where agricultural land ownership is stewarded by regional non-profits. In this context, the Agriculture Land Restoration Act also encourages farmland acquisition by resident operators, limits land consolidation by large-scale corporations and investment funds. To prioritize farmland for beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmers and strengthen credit lending and land access rights for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color farmers, the Agriculture Land Restoration Act establishes federal and state land banks at below market rates. It expands funding and training for regenerative agriculture in order to rectify historical disparities to land access and tenure in New England. 


The Bioregional Diversified Adult Farm Education Investment Act expands NY and MA state budgets for Extension educators to 3x 2020 budgets, including farmer training certification courses in best management practices around establishment, care, harvesting, and increased regional processing for the agroforestry industry. Business planning and development courses for diversified small farm businesses are used as a pre-qualification pathway for small businesses loans and grants in the Bioregional Diversified Small Farm Investment Act.


The Bioregional Child Food Education Investment Act includes a Nutrition for All Investment that mandates home economics classes in every school in MA and NY state in order to ensure child nutrition and cooking education is equitable and accessible to all. The Healthy School Food Investment ensures school food guidelines are upgraded to include healthier fruits and vegetables, mandates salad bars in every school in NY and MA state, requires school food to be sourced from farms within 50 miles, or the school farm/garden, reforms school food purchasing guidelines, and transforms historical central kitchen models for school districts by building a kitchen in every school. The School Farm Investment mandates a school farm for every high school and middle school, a school garden for every elementary school, and adopts mandatory Farm to School curriculums in NY and MA state.

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

In many agricultural projects, ecology, economics, and technology often exist in a space of tension. However, this food systems vision focuses on overcoming these tensions by strategically aligning aims and showcasing how these themes partner with and strengthen each other's potential for success. As ecology becomes viewed as a form of technology, and emerging technologies are used to advance that aim, new incomes will be made available for farmers to prioritize agricultural decisions that benefit ecology as much as farm economics. The use of novel satellite technology techniques will allow for cost-savings in soil testing and the ability to calculate changes in soil organic carbon stocks. As such, improvements in the economic conditions of farms will emerge as the ecological improvements from agroforestry projects are quantified and monetized. 


Healthy soils, natural ecosystems, intact water cycles and stable climates are necessary precursors for healthy and productive agroecological systems and resilient communities. The Rodale Institute's long-term study on farm productivity proved that organic agriculture and carbon farming techniques lead to higher long-term farm efficiency. As such, conventional agricultural practices will not remain economically viable as ecosystems become more fragile.


The ecological bioproductivity of agroforestry crops improves the integrity of agriculture and land management and the health of its constituents. Investments in resilient agricultural systems, like agroforestry, will allow the region to diversify its diet. By expanding investments in agroforestry systems that have a long history in the region’s culture, the region can reclaim some of its cultural and indigenous crop history. By reestablishing chestnut groves that formerly grew in abundance across Appalachia, culturally-appropriate, high-margin agroforestry crop selection will allow diets, culture, and economics to become more aligned in the future, while infusing an expanded sense of responsibility for the region’s colonial past. Healthy agroecological systems produce more nutritious food in a more reliable way, which leads to improved diets and stronger cultural integrity. As people learn more about and engage deeper with healthy soils and foods, economic efficiency, stability and resilience expand. 


In order for these regional agroforestry investments to gain traction, ensure financial viability and cultural importance, shifts in regional and national policies must be implemented at-scale. By simultaneously investing in youth and adult agriculture education, financing investments in start-up capital, new agroforestry systems, and processing facilities, these shifts can become embedded aspects of local culture and the backbones of a regional economy. By ensuring the financial viability of farm operations, developing a pathway for apprenticeships, farm successions and land ownership, these investments will benefit more than just one farming generation. 

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

Dairy farms are struggling regionally in 2020, which could accelerate the loss of dairies. USA Today reported that dairy farms in the United States are folding at the rate of sixteen per week. The US has lost over 18,000 dairy farms in 1992. However, niche localized dairy production and raw dairy products are increasing regionally. By removing the middle-man and pasteurization requirements, dairy farms can once again sell milk at higher prices directly to consumers. By reviving niche dairy production, direct to consumer marketing models, and transforming conventional dairy into agroforestry landscapes, vibrant rural life will remerge. 


Managed grazing models in agroforestry systems have the ability to improve soil. However, these systems require little to no grain as cattle and livestock ingest natural forages in intensive rotations. A shift towards holistic grazing management practices will drive down the demand for feedstock crops across the region. If feedstock farmers are to benefit from the agroforestry transition, they must receive training to adopt agroforestry systems on their land. Although this transition may pose challenges for retooling a region, the opportunities outweigh the risks, including stacking agricultural and ecological yields as animals and plants behave in symbiosis, recycling rich manure as livestock is rotated. 


Increasing agroforestry production could drive land value increases and, if not implemented carefully, could increase the gap in land ownership access. Regional land values are already high relative to the United States at-large, so adding permanent value to the land through perennial crops could inflate land prices. This shift could also decrease the amount of available tillable acreage, which may drive more conventional farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices and learn new management systems. 


This shift in farming techniques will require significant training of regional farmers, and may be too risky of an investment for some older and more experienced farmers in the region. By expanding training and apprenticeship programs, financial investments, and developing land-based pilot agroforestry projects that can serve as regional trial centers, these barriers will be more easily overcome. For some farmers who are later in their career, there may be insufficient time for them to transform their business models. However, by providing land-lease frameworks to emerging farm enterprises, land owners can invest in new business models that will take 25-30 years to fully mature.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

The BRASA report will be expanded to Franklin, Berkshire, Columbia and Rensselaer counties, identifying priority locations for riparian, agroforestry and chestnut investments. This systems-level land suitability analysis will become a community resource for regional agroforestry planning. Raw data will be made available open-source and will be shared with regional farms, nonprofits, and planning agencies.


Three multi-year agroforestry implementation case studies will be underway with local farmers, including agroforestry plantings, with the support of Propagate Ventures. Regen Network will have partnerships with these farms to monitor, verify and report ecological impacts due to agroforestry practices, and will issue ecosystem service credits to landowners. These credits will be sold regionally to offset carbon impacts of the regional economy, infusing these farms with a new source of income to reinvest in their agroforestry projects. 


Regen Network, in partnership with these farms, will have developed methodologies to issue a broad suite of agroforestry-based carbon credits which represent the impacts of riparian forest buffers, silvopasture, orchard band windbreaks, and alley cropping. These holistic credits will represent ecological co-benefits, including soil health, animal welfare, water quality, and soil organic carbon sequestration. 


A pipeline of future agroforestry projects will have emerged from regional surveys and networking, setting the stage for scaled expansion of agroforestry investment and implementation across the five county region in focus. By leveraging the BRASA report, strategic regional investments can target farm partners, land, and farm operations which are prepared for long-term project success. As farms implement agroforestry, they will be enrolled on the Regen Network platform to be issued agroforestry carbon credits, creating a feedback loop of farm-based investment and investor interest in start-up capital investments regionally.

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

Public and private investments in agroforestry will increase as the financial viability, contributions to ecological health, and regional food security are demonstrated over the next 5 - 10 years. Short-term investments in agroforestry systems (next 5-10 years) will allow for the following 20 years to become a major period of increased adoption of agroforestry in the region.


Conventional farmers must justify the cost and effort of start-up investments into agroforestry systems. Regional agroforestry case studies will provide management, yield, and cost data to create effective financial instruments like long-term debt vehicles, impact investment, crop insurance, and revolving tree-planting loans. Purchase contracts for agroforestry crops must be innovated on multiple business scales, so transitions can be de risked and crop incomes can be stabilized. Institutional investment communities will be invited to finance agroforestry on a project basis by including trees in their financial portfolios, and investing in regional agroforestry implementation efforts. 


While the economic viability of agroforestry is dependent upon proven crop yields, it will be enhanced by the creation of effective markets for ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, soil health, and water quality. Through the sales of carbon credits featuring ecological co-benefits, farmers will be compensated for their verified on-farm ecological outcomes. Ecosystems services markets must evolve beyond carbon, incorporate the value of all ecological systems, and adopt agriculture systems for carbon sequestration at scale.


To support regional agroforestry adoption, agriculture will be increasingly approached as the stewardship of commons by many stakeholders, and local policy will need to shift to address this. Local governments will need to allocate funding to private-non-profit land holding entities who contract with land-managers for the use and preservation of this land.

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

The BRASA report will be expanded to Franklin, Berkshire, Columbia and Rensselaer counties, identifying priority locations for riparian, agroforestry and chestnut investments. This systems-level land suitability analysis allows for regional planning. Raw data will be made available open-source. 


A regional survey will pre qualify interested farms to ensure that farm partners, land, and farm operations are prepared for long-term project success. Two - three farm agroforestry pilots will be identified from the survey and the BRASA suitability analysis. Ideal locations are large parcels, influential regional farms where innovative agroforestry techniques are already being implemented. 


To incentivize farm participation, subsidies will offset the cost of site analysis performed by Propagate Ventures including farm level economics, implementation design, and agroforestry project scope. Data from these initial pilots will be compiled into systems level economic analysis that will be shared regionally to target broader regional agroforestry financing and implementation opportunities. 


Regen Network’s science team will work to validate the ecological outcomes from agroforestry investments via satellite data and develop a monitoring, reporting and verification methodology to quantify the increases in above ground and soil carbon footprints, as well as quantifiable ecological co-benefits. Regen Network will streamline the initial baseline property analysis, develop ecological protocols across agroforestry techniques - riparian forest buffers, silvopasture, orchard bank windbreaks, and alley cropping - which allow for the scalability of issuing carbon credits regionally, and coordinate ground-based soil testing. Regen Network will issue carbon credits and broker sales so farms receive new income sources to reinvest into their agroforestry businesses. Lowering the investment cost of agroforestry and creating new farm incomes allow agroforestry to be scaled regionally. 

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

Agroforestry is an economically transformative farm diversity strategy, and the heart of a new regenerative agriculture-based food system. Agroforestry systems create stability and resilience in ecological, social, and economic systems, connect domains in ways that make better use of natural technology wisdom and patterns, and solve many of the world’s challenges with an integrated solution set. The need for agroforestry systems are urgent at all scales, and this food vision is a powerful catalyst for investment and change. 


Bioregional planning is necessary to create ecologically linked investments and policies for regional food systems that put agroforestry at the heart of economic, social, and ecological investments. Agroforestry systems have significant ecological co-benefits, including waterway protection, stream bank stabilization, shade for animals, air pollutant filtration, and soil organic carbon sequestration. Agroforestry investments can be expanded by leveraging traditional financial investor frameworks to creatively fulfil start-up capital needs. Linking carbon removal credits to location-based, localized, real-world projects is critical to democratizing the carbon credit industry, and is a disruptive strategy designed to increase farm revenues and farm infrastructure startup investments. 

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

Food Systems Vision Stakeholders:

  • Russell, chestnut farmer (Columbia County, NY)

  • Sarah, chestnut flour grinding operation (Amherst, MA)

  • Matt, apple farmer (Amherst, MA)

  • Jonathan, hard cider distiller (Hadley, MA)

  • Celeste, chef (Northampton, MA)

  • Maria, mother (Greenfield, MA)

  • Serena, Pocomtuc descendant (Great Barrington, MA)

  • Tiffany, fisherwoman (Leverett, MA)

  • Lisa, dairy farmer (Hudson, NY)

  • Luna, student farmer and fisherwoman (Greenfield, MA)

View more

Team (5)

Christian's profile
Sarah's profile
Sarah Baxendell

Role added on team:

"Sarah Baxendell, Regen Network's Director of Philanthropic Partnerships, works to coordinate partnerships, investments, grant applications and reporting, and financial projections. She grew up in Amherst, MA and has spent a decade working on urban ecological and food systems interventions, including as the Executive Director of Hilltop Urban Farm and as a Coordinator of the Occupy Wallstreet Sustainability Working Group. She is a former JPMorgan Private Bank assistant and permaculture designer."

Jeremy's profile
Jeremy Kaufman

Role added on team:

"Jeremy lives in Columbia County, NY and is the COO and Co-Founder of Propagate Ventures, an organization that is on a mission to scale agroforestry into a cornerstone of agriculture. Jeremy works with farmers to design and install tree-crop systems and bridge project level capital needs. Propagate Ventures currently manages 2 agroforestry projects in Columbia County, NY that are planting $50K of trees and shrubs over the next 3 years."

Russell's profile
Russell Wallack

Role added on team:

"Russell Wallack, owner of Breadtree Farms (https://breadtreefarms.com) and Co-Director of Terra Genesis International (www.terra-genesis.com), has lived in the Connecticut River Valley for most of his life. Now, as a chestnut farmer in Rensselaer County, NY, he works to bring commercial chestnut production back to the northeast. Russell is a co-author of BRASA, a preliminary agroforestry site suitability analysis in the Connecticut River Valley watershed."

James's profile
View more

Attachments (5)

Rockefeller Support Letters.pdf

Letters of Support from local, regional, and national partners and allies of this Food Systems Visions.

Regen - Pitch + Science.pdf

A summary of Regen Network, a platform for a thriving planet, and review of the organization's recent science case studies

08.03.2018_BRASA-Report.pdf

The Bioregional Agroforestry Suitability Analysis (BRASA) Co-authored by TK Design Lab and TerraGenesis International in 2018.

19 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Ethan Soloviev
Team

Excited to see the idea develop. I've got a chestnut farm in the Hudson River Valley and would gladly participate in helping move the project forward!

Spam
Photo of Sarah Baxendell
Team

Hi Ethan Soloviev Thanks for reaching out! Russell Wallack has mentioned you and your farm many times! He should be reaching out soon to connect and articulate ways that farms can partner with this initiative if/when it moves into an implementation phase of this process! Thanks for all your great work - and for planting so many chestnuts locally! Thanks - Sarah Bax

View all comments