The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) applauds Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) for introducing a bill that will expand research for agrivoltaics, or agrisolar, which pairs appropriate farmland with solar energy production.

“Expanding agrisolar is all about maximizing our resources to grow both food and renewable energy on the same piece of land, while at the same time diversifying revenue sources for farmers,” said NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson. “NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse has spent the last two years working with farmers, land managers, and solar companies to harvest the sun twice. This bipartisan bill will allow us to take agrivoltaics to the next level in this country.”

Agrisolar or agrivoltaic partnerships are growing across solar-appropriate farmland in the U.S., providing a new revenue source for farmers, clean energy for surrounding communities, and myriad benefits to crops, livestock, and pollinators.

The Agrivoltaics Research and Demonstration Act of 2023 will direct $15 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the study of agrisolar systems to develop best practices for farmers, ranchers, solar developers, and communities who want to adopt or expand the use of agrivoltaics.

Supporters of the bill include NCAT, American Farmland Trust, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the American Solar Grazing Association, among others.

“We applaud Senator Heinrich and Senator Braun for their forward-thinking leadership in introducing this bill,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director for American Farmland Trust. “As the essential transition toward renewable energy accelerates across the country, it must be done in a way that strengthens rural communities and minimizes the footprint on our most productive farmland. This legislation would help advance the potential for agrivoltaics to do both.”  

NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse connects businesses, land managers, and researchers with trusted resources to support the growth of co-located solar and sustainable agriculture. The Clearinghouse includes an interactive atlas of agrisolar sites, funding opportunities and state-specific incentives, an information library with more than 500 peer-reviewed articles, multimedia tools like photos, podcasts, and videos, and one-on-one technical assistance for farmers and solar developers.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is partnering with New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP) to bring NCAT’s free Armed to Farm training to the Bay State for the first time. Armed to Farm will take place July 24-28, 2023, in Danvers, MassFarmer-veterans will attend classroom sessions and travel to local farms for hands-on learning experiences. The deadline to apply is June 9.

Armed to Farm trainings include an engaging blend of farm tours, hands-on activities, and interactive classroom instruction. NCAT Sustainable Agriculture specialists will teach the training sessions, along with staff from USDA agencies and NESFP. Experienced crop and livestock producers will provide additional instruction. 

“We’re eager to bring Armed to Farm to Massachusetts,” said Andy Pressman, NCAT Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Communities Director. “Armed to Farm has served nearly 1,000 veterans in all corners of the country as they start or grow their own sustainable farm business.”   

Armed to Farm is a sustainable agriculture training program for military veterans. NCAT, a national nonprofit organization based in Butte, Montana, developed Armed to Farm in 2013 through a cooperative agreement with USDA-Rural Development. Farmer veterans learn how to make a business plan and market their products, how to access USDA programs, set business goals, and develop mentorships with seasoned farmers. 

“Armed to Farm was instrumental in helping us learn so much about how to begin our farm,” said program alum Lanette Lepper of Dudley, Massachusetts. From mistakes to avoid, what crops to grow (or not), and practicalities we never would have thought of ourselves, the experience was invaluable! Just six months after attending, Armstrong Acres was born!” 

This training is for military veterans in the Northwest, with selection priority given to Massachusetts residents. The number of participants will be limited. One spouse or farm partner is welcome to attend with a veteran but must submit a separate application. 

Applications are available here and are due by June 9, 2023. NCAT will notify selected participants by June 16. 

Armed to Farm Massachusetts is supported by USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement. Successful applicants may also receive a travel stipend thanks to our partnership with California-based Ranchin’ Vets. 

Learn more about NCAT’s Armed to Farm and additional training series at ARMEDTOFARM.ORG.  

The National Center for Appropriate Technology is offering a series of free monthly workshops this summer on how to grow food sustainably.

The workshops are from 10 a.m. to noon at NCAT’s Small-Scale Intensive Farm Training (SIFT) demonstration farm at the nonprofit’s headquarters, located at 3040 Continental Drive in Butte.

May 13: Preparing Your Organic Garden: In conjunction with the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program and Montana Tech’s Earth Month, the SIFT series will begin with a hands-on lesson on composting basics, organic potting mix, organic soil amendments, cover crops, mulching methods, and more. It also will cover scheduling plantings throughout the growing season and the importance of hardening off plants in the Butte area’s often challenging environment.

June 17: Analyzing Your Soil and Creating a Management Plan: This workshop will cover analyzing soil types, conducting infiltration tests, and reviewing soil tests. It will look at different management strategies to address the needs of the soil and develop a plan. It will address tillage and degradation of soils, irrigation and water holding capacities, and develop a custom cover crop mix.

July 22: Benefits of Increasing Biodiversity: This workshop will address the benefits of increased pollinator habitat, integrated pest management, and mitigating risk in cropping strategies by building more biodiverse ecosystems. In this workshop, participants will plant drought-tolerant native pollinators. There also will be a tour of NCAT’s native hedge rows and agrisolar array.

Aug. 19: Saving Seeds and Preserving Food: This workshop will cover selecting heirloom varieties that work well in the Butte area climate and the basics of seed- saving techniques. It also will address the characteristics of vegetables that increase shelf life throughout storage, processing, and preservation methods.

Sept. 16:  Choosing Varieties to Grow in Butte: This workshop will feature NCAT’s annual taste test of successful varieties of fruits and vegetables trialed on the SIFT Farm. It will also cover timing, growing tips, and seed selection for high yields in Butte, as well as seed- saving basics for a resilient farm and garden.

To RSVP for the free events, head to NCAT.ORG/EVENTS.

Montana-grown and raised foods will take center stage in Gardiner on Friday, April 21, when the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) joins with Farm to School of Park County, Gardiner Public Schools, and other partnering organizations for the first of three Farm to School workshops. 

The workshop will provide general training on Farm to School programs and Montana Harvest of the Month as well as feature the ways Gardiner Public Schools have implemented those programs. There will be a special focus on how rural communities can leverage partnerships to promote Montana foods. 

The Montana Harvest of the Month program promotes food grown in the state. Each month, participating sites spotlight a food by serving it in at least one meal, snack, or à la carte offering. Schools and early care programs also offer students taste tests and include the food in lessons and activities.  

“That food might be summer squash, which isn’t going to be at the top of most kids’ lunch-time wish list. It’s amazing to see how often kids surprise themselves and really like a food they didn’t think they would,” said NCAT Local Foods Specialist Molly Kirkham. “Kids often aren’t very adventurous when it comes to food. One of the primary goals of Harvest of the Month is simply to expose children — and adults — to new, healthy foods. The other goal is to support Montana’s farmers and ranchers.” 

NCAT leads the Montana Harvest of the Month program along with partnering organizations around the state.  

Montana Harvest of the Month also is an excellent way to launch or expand a farm-to-school or farm-to-cafeteria program since it provides an easy framework to follow and ready-to-use materials, Kirkham said. And farm to school programs depend on a partnership of school staff and community members that Harvest of the Month can often provide. 

Montana Harvest of the Month is open to K-12 schools, early care and education programs, businesses, organizations, and other institutions in the state.  

Participants in the April 21 workshop will hear from people involved in farm-to-school initiatives, including food service directors, parents, organizations, producers, and educators. The workshop will also include training based on participants’ role in the community. 

Kirkham encourages anyone interested in the Montana Harvest of the Month program or farm-to-school and farm-to-cafeteria programs to attend the showcase event Friday, April 21, at Gardiner Schools, located at 510 Stone Street. It will begin at 10 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.

“Parents and organizations interested in helping with school taste tests, food service directors looking for realistic recipes and strategies for procuring local foods, educators who want to add farm-to-school activities to curriculum, and producers interested in working with schools and other institutions, this event is for you!” she said. 

The cost for the Farm to School Workshop is $15 for an individual, and some scholarships are available. Registration includes lunch and snacks made with local foods.   

For more information and to register, click here. 

American Farmland Trust, the National Center for Appropriate Technology and the U.S. Biochar Initiative today released Recommendations to Scale Up Sustainable Biochar Research and Commercialization for Agriculture and Conservation, which outlines actions to facilitate the development of a sustainable industry to supply biochar as a crop and grazing land amendment for farmers. Investment in research, production capacity, market mechanisms, outreach, and education will facilitate the broader application of biochar on farms and secure benefits for agriculture along with the delivery of renewable energy as a coproduct.  

In March 2022, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), NCAT and AFT hosted a two-day virtual event on biochar research and commercialization. Discussions reflected broad agreement that building a pyrolysis biochar and bioenergy industry is a promising near-term strategy for carbon removal. Sustainable fit-for-purpose biochar integrated in soil health management systems has potential to address climate change, build productivity and resilience of farms and forests, and create jobs and opportunity across rural America. Chuck Hassebrook, Director of NCAT’s Biochar Policy Project said, “There is great opportunity to build a biochar and biofuel industry that enhances soil health, sequesters carbon, improves farm and forest income, and creates jobs and opportunity across rural America. But federal investment in research and development is needed to unlock that opportunity.” 

Building a sustainable pyrolysis biochar bioenergy industry will require a coordinated, multi-faceted strategy. Supportive public policy is needed to prompt investment in production capacity and market development. Convening participants stressed that commercially relevant results are needed during the next five years. Rachel Seman-Varner, Senior Scientist at AFT said, “Current barriers limit the widespread production and use of biochar, and therefore the realization of the full potential climate adaptation and mitigation benefits of the practice. Key barriers can be addressed with a cross-agency, multi-stakeholder approach outlined with these recommendations.”  

This white paper presents four core policy recommendations derived from the convening.  

  • Coordinated Biochar Research Initiative – A coordinated research approach is recommended that includes cross-site and site-specific research to understand the interactions between various biochars, soils, crops, management, and weather as proposed in the Biochar Research Network Act introduced recently in Congress. 
  • Biochar Outreach, Extension and Education – In order to scale up biochar use, gaps in knowledge need to be filled by outreach, extension and education organizations to support farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange, on-farm demonstration trials, development of decision support tools, public-private partnerships to support biochar adoption, and knowledge transfer. 
  • Support of Commercialization of Biochar & Development of a Sustainable Biochar & Biofuel Industry – Developing a sustainable biochar biofuel industry will require strategic incentives and investments – we cannot wait for production and markets to align. 
  • Cross Agency Action Plan – This white paper outlines detailed recommendations for cross agency actions among USDA, DOE, EPA, and other agencies to address policy barriers to biochar adoption.  

Tom Miles, Executive Director of US Biochar Initiative said, “Biochars and biochar-amended products are being used productively in agriculture today. Improved outreach, government incentives, and long-term research are needed to stimulate investment, scale production, and validate long-term agronomic and environmental benefits.” 

We cannot wait 50 years to realize the potential of biochar. We present these policy recommendations to meet that challenge. 

To view the recorded convening and summary paper along with additional biochar resources, visit the convening webpage on AFT’s Farmland Information Center. 

American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 7 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on a half million additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.

CONTACT: Lori Sallet, E:  ● P: (410) 708-5940  


THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY has been helping people build resilient communities through local and sustainable solutions that reduce poverty, strengthen self-reliance, and protect natural resources since 1976. Headquartered in Butte, Montana, NCAT has field offices in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Learn more and become a friend of NCAT at NCAT.ORG

CONTACT: Emilie Ritter, E: 


US Biochar Initiative promotes the safe, stable, and sustainable production and us of biochar through research, policy, technology, and implementation. Join our network and the growing biochar industry to share findings and best practices that improve soil health and productivity while removing carbon from the atmosphere. 

CONTACT: John Webster E:  ● P: (801) 870-2465 

Minnesota energy companies, solar developers, farmers, and chefs are partnering in innovative ways to grow food, renewable energy, and pollinator habitat all within the same piece of land. The National Center for Appropriate Technology’s (NCAT) AgriSolar Clearinghouse today released its short film “Dive into the Prairie,” which takes viewers on a short tour of Minnesota’s agrivoltaic success stories.

AgriSolar or agrivoltaic partnerships are growing across solar-appropriate farmland in the U.S., providing a new revenue source for farmers, clean energy for surrounding communities, and myriad benefits to crops, livestock, and pollinators.

Chef Mateo Mackbee uses solar-grown foods at his St. Joseph, Minn., restaurant. Everything from salad greens grown under or around solar panels, to the honey that sweetens his salad dressing.

“Agrivoltaics is a big thing for me to see what can be grown, grazed, or raised in and around solar arrays,” said Chef Mackbee. “AgriSolar is the future, for sure.”

Mackbee sources solar-grown honey from Bare Honey, which partners with energy companies and solar developers to place his commercial beekeeping boxes on the same land as the solar panels and pollinator habitat.

“Pollination is a huge part of what commercial beekeeping is,” said Bare Honey founder Dustin Vanasse. “We have our co-located honeybees and those, combined with the native pollinators on these sites, will provide pollination to the farms that are around the site.”

NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse is connecting businesses, land managers, and researchers with trusted resources to support the growth of co-located solar and sustainable agriculture.

“The partnerships blossoming in Minnesota show a real-world example of how it can work for several industries that share common goals,” said NCAT Energy Director Stacie Peterson, PhD. “Land is finite, and AgriSolar partnerships mean we can maximize our resources for the benefit of communities, the environment, and businesses.”

The National Center for Appropriate Technology’s (NCAT) AgriSolar Clearinghouse today premiered its short film “The Solar Shepherd” during the 2023 Solar Farm Summit in Chicago.

The film showcases a family-owned farm in central Massachusetts that’s raising sheep and solar energy on the same piece of land. AgriSolar or agrivoltaic partnerships are growing across solar-appropriate farmland in the U.S., providing a new revenue source for farmers, clean energy for surrounding communities, and myriad benefits to crops, livestock, and pollinators.

“It’s been a wonderful friendship between the two businesses,” says Solar Shepherd LLC founder Dan Finnegan. “We can’t access enough land to keep our farm sustainable, without this partnership with solar, we wouldn’t have a successful farm, we simply don’t have enough acres to graze.”

Finnegan partnered with SWEB Development Inc. on the 15-acre solar array which provides enough clean energy to power 1,100 homes and has so-far raised 45 lambs to maturity.

“You can have this partnership in a one-acre field, a 15-acre field up to a couple hundred acres,” says Joe Mendelsohn, project developer with SWEB Development Inc.

NCAT’s AgriSolar Clearinghouse is connecting businesses, land managers, and researchers with trusted resources to support the growth of co-located solar and sustainable agriculture.

“Tremendous potential exists in partnerships between farmers and solar developers,” says NCAT Energy Director Stacie Peterson, PhD. “As the demand for solar energy grows, it’s up to us to be good stewards of the finite land resources we have and maximize the benefit to farmers, communities, and the environment.”

Agroforestry integrates agriculture and forestry to get the most out of a single piece of land. The National Center for Appropriate Technology’s ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program has released new resources that detail how by adding trees to crop and livestock operations, farmers and ranchers can “over-yield,” that is, produce multiple products from the same piece of land.

Agroforesty also benefits the farm and the greater ecosystem by creating wildlife habitat, sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, increasing beneficial insect populations, improving soil water-holding capacity, controlling soil erosion, reducing leaching and runoff, and improving soil fertility.

ATTRA has long been a trusted source for practical information about designing and maintaining agroforestry systems.

Four new publications and five videos make that connection even stronger by showcasing the use of agroforestry in urban settings and offering practical tools to growers who would like to begin urban agroforesty operations.

“Agroforestry practices can help ease issues that urban and suburban farmers often face,” says Katherine Favor, the NCAT Agriculture Specialist who penned the new publications. “Urban areas often face issues like water contamination from mismanaged stormwater runoff, heavy metal buildup in the soil, pollution, lack of privacy, and lack of habitat for wildlife, among others. Trees that are integrated properly into urban landscapes can address those problems and can produce food for families and communities.”

The new publications can be downloaded at no cost from the ATTRA website. Plus, learn even more about the benefits of agroforestry Tuesday, March 7 during NCAT’s annual conference, Growing Hope: Practical Tools for Our Changing Climate.

  • Urban Agroforestry Tipsheet: Food Forests and Beyond 
    Urban agroforestry, sometimes called community agroforestry, is the intentional integration of perennial trees and shrubs into farms and communities in urban and suburban areas to provide benefits to the community and to improve sustainability and resilience.
  • Urban Agroforestry Case Study:  A Food Forest on Public Park Land
    The Festival Beach Food Forest is located on three-quarters of an acre of public park land in Austin, Texas. Open day and night to the public, it provides a source of food for the community to forage and a place to connect with nature and each other.
  • Urban Agroforestry Case Study: Utilizing Agroforestry in Floodplain Restoration Projects
    To prevent the loss of property and life, the City of Austin decided to purchase homes in dangerous floodplain areas, relocate residents to safer areas, and restore the floodplain buyout area in an ecological way.

Urban Agroforesty Tipsheet Food Forests and Beyond also is available in a Spanish translation.

  • Hoja de Datos La Agroforestería Urbana: Bosques Comestibles y Más
    La agroforestería urbana, a veces llamada agroforestería comunitaria, es la integración intencional de árboles y arbustos perennes en granjas y comunidades en áreas urbanas y suburbanas, para proporcionar beneficios a la comunidad y mejorar la sostenibilidad y la resiliencia. 

Agroforestry videos also are available on the ATTRA website. 

  • Multiple Levels of a South Texas Food Forest
    In this video, we take you on a tour of the food forest at Keepers of the Garden, an urban agroforestry farm in Corpus Christi, Texas. This urban agroforestry farm is located in the Southern Subhumid Gulf Coastal Prairies ecoregion, in hardiness zone 9b, and it            serves not only as a production farm, but also as an educational center for schools, a refuge for local wildlife, and a community hub.  
  • Managing and Maintaining a Coffee System in California
    In this video, organic farmer Scott Murray discusses how to manage and maintain a coffee system in warm areas such as Southern California. Scott talks about pruning, pest management, harvest, quality control, processing, marketing, selecting varieties for Southern California, and interplanting with trees to create a beneficial microclimate. 
  • Managing Water and Nutrients in a Coffee and Avocado Alley Cropping System
    In this video, we head to Jason Mraz’s family farm in San Diego, California, where he is growing both specialty coffee and avocados in a single integrated alley cropping system. This video explores the specifics of the below-ground considerations to think about when managing a coffee and avocado alley cropping system, including how to meet both crops’ water and nutrient needs.
  • Designing a Coffee and Alley Cropping System
    This video case study takes us on a tour of Jason Mraz’s family farm in San Diego, California, where he is growing both specialty coffee and avocados in a single integrated alley cropping system. 
  • Planning and Establishing a Coffee System in Southern California
    In this video, organic farmer Scott Murray discusses everything you need to know about    how to plan and establish a coffee plantation in warm areas like Southern California. Scott discusses growing coffee seedlings in the nursery, transplanting, hardening off, and interplanting with trees to create a beneficial microclimate. 

ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture Specialist Katherine Favor also has shared her expertise on agroforestry in several recent ATTRA blogs posts. ATTRA’s agroforestry resources can plant the seed of new ideas for new products and ecosystem benefits on your operation. Check them out, along with ATTRA’s other trusted and practical resources at


The National Center for Appropriate Technology, along with nationally recognized organic leaders, will offer an Organic Academy Roadshow session in Fargo, North Dakota, on January 26-27, 2023. Beginning farmers and ranchers in the northern Great Plains will have the opportunity to explore regenerative, certified organic production systems for grains, oilseeds, and pulses.

Thirty travel scholarships for beginning farmers and ranchers are available for up to $200 each to defray costs of attending. The academy is free to attend, but registration is required by January 20, 2023. Online registration is available at ATTRA.NCAT.ORG/EVENTS.

“This series of educational opportunities is not just another farming training,” said Doug Crabtree and Anna Jones-Crabtree of Vilicus Farms in Montana. It is about leveraging training to further build the network of beginning organic producers who are farming and ranching at a scale that will have a tremendous impact on land stewardship across the Northern Great Plains.”  

The Organic Academy will include intensive training sessions and one-on-one technical assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers. Topics will cover transitioning to organic production, an introduction to organic system planning, organic grass-finished ruminant production, and more. Session leaders will include experienced organic farmers and ranchers. The event schedule and speaker list can be found here.

In addition, attendees will be able to interact with civic leaders, county Extension agents, and staff from USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service during a public event on January 26 from 7-9 p.m.

The trainings are part of the three-year federal Beginning Farmers and Rancher Development Program, Preparing a Resilient Future, in partnership with the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, Center for Rural Affairs, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, International Organic Inspectors Association, North Dakota State, and University of Wyoming.

The project targets medium to large-scale field crop and livestock operations, unlike most programs focused on beginning farmers and ranchers. This project was selected in a national competition under the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program funded through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society (NPSAS) is hosting this event in collaboration with NCAT. NPSAS will hold its annual Food and Farming Conference at the same location. Registration for the NPSAS conference is here.



A new publication from the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s sustainable agriculture program, ATTRA, offers a practical primer for farmers who want to try their hand at growing industrial hemp.

Absent from U.S. Agriculture since the 1930s, hemp was reintroduced as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill defined hemp as essentially a cannabis plant with 0.3 % or less of THC. That led hemp crops to be subject to complex regulations and testing.

Industrial Hemp Production details those considerations as well as production information for hemp grown to produce fiber, seeds, and CBD cannabis products.

“For some farmers, hemp could make a lot of sense,” said Mike Lewis, a Kentucky farmer and sustainable agriculture specialist with NCAT and one of the authors of the publication. “But it’s a complicated crop to grow and can carry some unusual risks, such as THC levels and required harvesting periods. This publication gives farmers practical tools to understand if it’s the right crop for them.”

Jody McGinness, director of the Hemp Industries Association, co-authored the publication with Lewis, who serves as the association’s president.

Industrial Hemp Production connects farmers with a variety of information:

  • Regulatory considerations, including state and tribal licensing; local ordinances, seed genetics, and required harvesting windows.
  • Marketing challenges that arise from hemp being a young and volatile market sometimes subject to a variety of regulations depending on where it is being grown.
  • Products that can be produced from hemp and the characteristics of the varieties used for fiber, seeds, and flowers.
  • Practical production tips such as spacing, harvesting, and processing, as well as information on how the tough, resinous hemp plants can affect equipment.

Industrial Hemp Production is available to download free on the ATTRA website at ATTRA.NCAT.ORG. It was produced by NCAT through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development.