Unlocking Midwestern Ag As Natural Climate Solution

A newly launched business, Canopy Farm Management (“Canopy”), will unlock the potential for Midwestern agriculture to become a natural climate solution, filling a key gap in an emerging industry in the region. The company represents an innovative partnership between the Savanna Institute and the Grantham Environmental Trust. With initial hubs in Illinois and Wisconsin, Canopy will focus on tree planting and management for farmers and landowners.

Integrating trees into the agricultural landscape — “agroforestry” — has the potential to sequester more carbon than any other agricultural land management practice. Agroforestry includes field-edge practices such as windbreaks and riparian buffers, as well as practices that more directly integrate trees with row crops (alley cropping) or livestock (silvopasture). When integrated into these systems, emerging tree crops like hazelnuts and chestnuts have the potential to introduce new income sources for local farmers and bring new investment to the region. Hazelnuts, for example, represent a $7 billion global market set to double in the next decade.

Canopy occupies a key juncture in this emerging industry, providing expertise and technology for tree planting, management, and harvesting. Without Canopy’s capacity and resources, many farmers who are interested in planting trees for conservation purposes or to engage new markets have not been able to take those steps.

An Innovative Partnership

Launching Canopy has been a years-long, multi-organization effort of planning and development. Canopy represents an innovative partnership between a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to scaling up agroforestry, the Savanna Institute, and impact investors, which have contributed $5M to launch the company’s operations. Initial investors include the Grantham Environmental Trust and a Chicago-based impact investor.

The partnership expects Canopy to catalyze more for-profit businesses to move into perennial agriculture by demonstrating market demand for its services. The majority of Canopy’s profits will go to non-profit entities supporting the widespread adoption of agroforestry and other natural climate solutions in the US. The Savanna Institute, as a part-owner of the company, will be one of those beneficiaries. The remaining profits will be shared among Canopy employees.

“Canopy will be working towards the same vision as the Savanna Institute. With the unique strengths of a business, Canopy is built to help people succeed in adding more trees to their farms,” said Keefe Keeley, Executive Director of the Savanna Institute.

About Canopy Farm Management

Canopy will provide tree planting and management services to farmers and landowners in the Midwest. Canopy will establish perennial crops, timber plantings, conservation practices, and integrated agroforestry systems. Its approach will combine expert staff, thoughtful design, and a mobile fleet of state-of-the-art farm equipment to cost-effectively establish and manage profitable, diverse, and resilient agroecological systems. Canopy is launching with seven staff and two hubs: in Champaign, IL and Spring Green, WI.

Canopy will also operate a perennial-focused plant nursery to expand the supply of cost-effective plant material in the region. The nursery will emphasize productive tree crops such as chestnut, hazelnut, heartnut, walnut, pecan, persimmon, pawpaw, black currant, and elderberry.

Kevin Wolz will lead Canopy as its CEO, stepping down from his current position as co-Executive Director of the Savanna Institute in the process. Wolz, who was previously founding Chair of the Savanna Institute’s Board of Directors from 2013-2016, had served as co-Executive Director since 2017 alongside Keefe Keeley. Keeley, who has led the Savanna Institute since 2014, will continue as Executive Director.  

Wolz said: “Canopy will support Midwestern farmers and landowners as we all work to stimulate Midwestern agriculture with profitable perennial crops and effective conservation strategies. We want to enable a second story for every farm.”