Beef Cattle in a "Living Barn"

Agroforestry integrates crops, trees and livestock in the same area and at the same time.

Together these components can create long-lasting sustainable farming  practices which can provide short-, medium-, and long-range economic, environmental and social benefits for farmers.   With so many Vermont farms on wooded hillsides and involving marginal lands, agroforestry approaches like maple sugaring and shiitake mushroom cultivation can present important opportunities for wooded areas to provide both environmental benefits and a cash crop to keep farms viable.

There are many approaches to agroforestry that can help farmers meet a variety of needs and address varied situations.

Common Types of Agroforestry Systems

Silvopasture: combines trees, forages and livestock. Trees can be arranged in a scattered or in a row fashion. Ideally, animals should be rotationally grazed and must enter the system when trees are strong enough to withstand their presence. Animals and forage benefit from shade and
shelter while trees and forages cycle animals' manure.

Alley cropping includes trees arranged in rows where crops are placed in wide alleyways between the tree rows. Hay or grazing animals can be intercropped along the alleyways.

Forest gardens integrate food, herbal, timber and specialty non-timber forest products in the same area allowing farmers sustainable income.

Riparian buffers provide river bank protection by reducing erosion and ecosystem conservation in waterways, enhancing water quality with the potential to offer extra revenue.

Windbreaks used for protecting crops from prevailing winds can also increase pollination, production and reduce wind erosion. Windbreak efficiency increases with the use of multiple species of trees and woody plants.

Economic Benefits of an Agroforestry System

Log-grown shiitakes are just one example of a possible agroforestry crop.

Agroforestry systems benefit from the multifunctionality of their integrated components (trees, crops and animals). Trees typically provide long-term investments while crops and animals offer shorter and medium term income.  The use of intermixed hardwood species, shrubs, crops, forage and grazing animals  also offers greater ecological resiliency, diversity and lower risks while ensuring higher income per acre.

Environmental Benefits

Farmers on a Farm Tour Learning about Environmental Benefits of Diverse Plantings

Agroforestry systems can be planned and arranged to mimic forests, protecting water and soil quality, producing food and raw materials while supporting wildlife.

Single or multiple species can be used, however, different species can help minimize risks and add more economic and environmental sustainability over time. Trees and shrubs act as carbon “sinks” and storage, offsetting animal emissions, connecting forest patches and acting as wildlife corridors.


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Woodcut of a farm with people gathering produce and cows grazing


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  • Help with a plan for grazing your livestock:  Amber Reed at or Kimberly Hagen at or 802 522-6729 
  • New England Grazing Network: Jenn Colby 802-535-7606
  • Vermont Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program Education Coordinator Mary Ellen Franklin at
  • Pasture or grazing research questions or ideas: Juan Alvez at 802-656-6116 or
  • General inquiries about pasture and livestock programming and potential partnerships: Andrew May at