Editor’s note: The Savanna Institute apprenticeship program was launched in 2019 to provide aspiring agroforestry farmers with on-farm training and online learning. The institute recently was awarded a $40,000 grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. This is the second of a two-part article; the first part was published in the July 23 issue of Agri-View.
The farms involved in the Savanna Institute’s apprentice program are as diverse as the flora and fauna they produce. That diversity can help apprentices explore a wide variety of possibilities – from managing a certified-organic orchard to managing a silvoculture system. The Savanna Institute helps match apprentices with farms that best suit their interests.
Among the eight farms providing apprenticeships in 2020 are Mary Dirty Face Farm, a certified-organic orchard, and Brambleberry Farm, which is focused on fruit and nut nursery stock as well as beef cattle.
Rachel Henderson and her partner, Anton Ptak, started their orchard in 2009 at Mary Dirty Face Farm near Menomonie, Wisconsin. The farm was named in honor of a Native American woman who was admired for her independence.
“We were interested in biodiversity and recreating a natural ecosystem for the health of the land and trees,” Henderson said.
She and Ptak have participated in permaculture workshops and have continued to learn through their own farming successes and failures, she said. They also have learned about agroforestry practices through the Savanna Institute and by networking with other growers at the organization’s events.
The couple owns 60 acres, of which 25 acres are in woodlands. About 12 acres are for fruit production, including land that has been planted to trees that haven’t yet borne fruit. The orchard was certified organic in 2016. Henderson and Ptak currently raise apples, blueberries, currants, elderberries, gooseberries, pears, plums and raspberries on about 5.5 acres.
The couple sells full-season fruit shares as well as fall apple shares as a community-supported-agriculture business. They also sell fruit to area restaurants and direct to customers at the Fulton Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis and the Menomonie Market Food Co-op.
About 15 acres of the farm is in pasture. The couple custom-grazes a few beef cattle. They also have a small number of pastured pigs and chickens, which fit into the farm’s ecosystem. Pigs benefit from eating fallen fruit, Henderson said. Pork and chicken also provide good secondary revenue streams.
The couple mentored a Savanna Institute apprentice in 2019 and again in 2020. The apprenticeship is flexible; mentors and apprentices determine when the program works best for them, although it lasts at least 10 weeks. Apprentices can learn about perennial-crop establishment and-or harvest, farm planning and decision-making, equipment and crop maintenance, marketing, financing, processing and related areas.
“We see what people are interested in learning about, and the apprentice program also has helped us see different views of the agroforestry world,” Henderson said.
Nursery, cattle co-exist
Darren and Espri Bender-Beauregard of Brambleberry Farm near Paoli, Indiana, also have served as mentors. Darren Bender-Beauregard said he appreciates the Savanna Institute’s agroforestry-research program and how it shares that information with growers.
The couple has a small permaculture farm where they raise fruit, nuts and other woody perennials. Their small herd of Dexter cattle graze alleys between fruit and nut trees; 3 acres are currently devoted to silvopasture. The couple recently purchased 19 more acres, expecting to gradually convert it to silvopasture as well.
Darren Bender-Beauregard studied forestry in college and was interested in grafting to produce more trees.
“I was drawn to farming 17 years ago by the idea it could be an ecosystem,” he said. “It could provide income, help reduce soil erosion and provide shade for animals.”
Brambleberry Farm is different than many other farms associated with the Savanna Institute in that it’s primarily focused on producing nursery stock. He has taught apprentices how to graft fruit and nut trees. Different tree species can be used in a stratification system. He also discusses forages used for grazing. His advice to others is to experiment first with just a few rows of trees in a pasture or a crop.
“There are a lot of nuances that come with the marriage of trees and forages,” he said.
The Savanna Institute provides practical information on agroforestry and silvoculture. The organization and farmers who have contributed to its research already have done a lot of the hard work. That enables newcomers to leapfrog off others, he said.