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The Savanna Institute hosted its 6th Perennial Farm Gathering (PFG) on December 7th and 8th in Madison, Wisconsin. This annual event brings together agroforestry producers, researchers, specialists, and enthusiasts for two days of networking, knowledge-sharing, and festivities.

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Figure 1 Participants assemble for “Nutshell Updates” at the Savanna Institute’s 6th Perennial Farm Gathering. Over 170 people attended this year’s event

 The Perennial Farm Gathering (PFG) began as a handful of farmers meeting in a machine shed, but this year’s PFG had over 170 attendees, making it the largest one yet (Figure 1). The PFG was held at the beautiful Lussier Family Heritage Center on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin, and featured the screening of a mini-documentary, a perennial beverage-tasting, and a keynote speech by silvopasture pioneer Greg Judy (Figure 2).

The PFG began with the ever-popular “Nutshell Updates”, in which attendees have the opportunity to speak to the entire group for up to five minutes about what they have been working on for the past year, with or without slides. A panel discussion on perennial beverage production featured Deirdre Birmingham of The Cider Farm, mIKAEL aND of Beyond Vineyard and Winery, Jackie and Harry Hoch of Hoch Orchard, and Marie Raboin of Brix Cider. Panelists also provided tastings during a happy hour that evening.

Breakout sessions that afternoon provided an in-depth look at some specific topics. Vidacyle led a session about Sectormentor, their app for on-farm monitoring of orchard plants and soil health. Paul Dietmann, Senior Lending Officer at Compeer Financial, led a workshop on calculating return on investment in perennial farming. John Hendrickson led the first public unveiling of the University of Wisconsin's Fruit and Nut Compass, a spreadsheet tool designed to help perennial crop growers with financial planning. Finally, a “Research Reports” session gave agroforestry researchers the opportunity to share their results with the public.

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Figure 2 Greg Judy, a farmer and silvopasture pioneer from central Missouri, delivers the keynote address at the 2018 Perennial Farm Gathering

 Following the perennial beverage tastings, attendees were treated to the premiere of a mini-documentary entitled “Persistence: Midwestern Farmers and their Uncommon Crops”. The film featured several Midwestern farms producing uncommon fruit and nut crops and interviewed farmers about the challenges, successes, and principles of diversified fruit and nut farming. “Persistence” is currently available on the Savanna Institute website and YouTube channel.

The keynote presentation was delivered by silvopasture pioneer Greg Judy, who spoke about developing silvopasture with livestock to increase profits.  Greg is the author of No Risk Ranching and Comeback Farms and a collaborator with the Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri. He raises cattle, sheep, horses, goats, pigs, chickens and mushrooms on 1,200 acres in central Missouri.

Saturday afternoon breakout sessions included the “Principles of Success” panel (Figure 3), featuring experienced perennial farmers throughout the Midwest in conversation with researchers from UW-Madison, and the “Stronger Together: Collective Marketing and Farmer Organizing” panel, featuring representatives from the American Hazelnut Company, ReGenerate IL, ReGenerate WI, and Organic Valley. The Savanna Institute and Jason Fischbach of UW-Extension and the Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative led a session on strategies for jump-starting a Midwest hazelnut industry via impact investment, and a hands-on agroforestry design workshop guided attendees through designing an agroforestry demonstration at Silverwood County Park in Edgerton, Wisconsin.

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Figure 3 Panelists in the "Principles of Success" breakout session at the 2018 PFG: Jackie Hoch, Anton Ptak, Jim Riddle, Rachel Henderson, Hannah Breckbill, Wandy Peralta, Kathy Dice, and Tom Wahl, and moderators Leah Potter-Weight and Marisa Lanker

 The success of this year’s Perennial Farm Gathering would not have been possible without the generous support of sponsors including the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at UW-Madison, Green Lands Blue Waters, Red Fern Farm, Forrest Keeling Nursery, Organic Valley, and the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. Audio and video recordings of the PFG are being processed and should be available on the Savanna Institute website in the coming months.

Planning is already underway for the 2019 Perennial Farm Gathering, which will be held in early November or December. If you have suggestions for speakers or topics for the 2019 PFG, please contact the Savanna Institute at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..