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Regenerative Agriculture Series: Agroforestry and Handsome Brook Farms

Regenerative Agriculture Series: Agroforestry and Handsome Brook Farms

Handsome Brook Farms is proud to support agroforestry initiatives across its network. Agroforestry is a regenerative agriculture practice that integrates trees and shrubs into crop and livestock farming systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits. 

Hens feel at home in the forest because it mimics their natural environment. The canopy shade of trees help the hens stay cool and safe from predators. Over the past few years, HBF has been exploring ways to develop and enhance agroforestry systems within its network of growers to help hens and growers thrive.  

The Roots of Agroforestry:

Agroforestry is a regenerative agriculture practice that is increasingly being implemented by farmers and ranchers around the world. At Handsome Brook Farms, we believe it’s important to acknowledge agroforestry’s roots in Indigenous land stewardship methods. 

Many indigenous communities and practitioners historically managed complex agroforestry ecosystems to meet their physical, economic, cultural, and spiritual needs. These practices were non-extractive and promoted multifunctional regeneration of the land. Today, the benefits of agroforestry systems increase food security and community resilience.  

Agroforestry Projects are Site and Context-Specific:

Because each grower’s farm in the Handsome Brook network is so different, agroforestry projects have reflected that contextual diversity. 

Some examples of agroforestry projects include 

  • Elderberry and shrub plantings: In a previous article, we mentioned that elderberries are fast-growing, tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, and beneficial to the hens, soil, and add economic value to farm operations. HBF hens enjoy snacking on elderberries and contribute to the plants' fertilization. 
  • Orchards - Similar to elderberry, fruit and nut tree orchards can provide income diversification benefits for HBF growers. Over the past few years, HBF growers have enjoyed planting peach, apple, serviceberry, mulberry, persimmon, and black walnut trees in their hen pasture. As an added benefit, HBF hens provide an agroecological solution to orchard maintenance by regulating pests and weeds. 
  • Windbreaks - Windbreaks, or linear plantings of trees and shrubs, are designed to slow the intensity of wind, sheltering hens, buildings, and soil from wind, snow, dust, and odors. At HBF, windbreaks have improved barn conditions by acting as a buffer against inclement weather and reducing soil erosion in heavy hen traffic areas. 
  • Native tree mixtures - Planting a diversity of native trees reforests open pasture. This agroforestry practice promotes foraging, scratching, and dust bathing amongst HBF hens and has been shown to reduce feather pecking. 

Partnerships with Agroforestry Technicians: 

Handsome Brook Farms partners with local agroforestry experts to evaluate site conditions and determine tree species and patterns best suited for individual farms. HBF shares technical assistance costs in planning, planting, and maintaining tree and shrub plantings with growers, including assistance with fencing and other protective materials.

In the Northeast, Handsome Brook Farms partners with Wellspring Forest Farm to implement site-specific planting plans. In 2022, HBF received a USDA grant subaward to expand agroforestry initiatives with The Nature Conservancy and Propagate Ventures. Through this award, HBF will help growers measure the social and environmental benefits of implementing agroforestry practices. 

In Kentucky, as part of the USDA Regenerative Egg Farming Project grant, HBF growers are partnering with Mike Ladd, a forestry consultant, to learn more about which trees can add value to their pasture. In addition to recommending trees to plant, Mike is helping the growers thin out existing trees to create optimal soil health and hen utilization. 

Learn more about other regenerative practices being implemented across the Handsome Brook Farms network in future articles!

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