Yesterday we were talking about the great need to transition our agriculture (and our culture for that matter) to be based in systems (or integrated) thinking, rather than the segregated, reductionist monoculture mind set we have today. There’s perhaps no better example of systems-based thinking in practice than a well developed biodiverse ‘forest garden’ (or what is called a food forest in many places). Along with our own Geoff Lawton, Martin Crawford of the UK’s Agroforestry Research Trust is one of the world’s best recognised practitioners of the art. The following video gives us a peek at his work.
Martin’s forest garden has an enormous diversity of plants. Most, but not all, are edible. Those that are not edible would be regarded as a waste of space to most farmers or gardeners, but these also serve valuable purposes and earn their keep in the garden — ultimately also being responsible for not only increased resiliency, and thus less labour input, but also increased productivity. Some attract beneficial insects, or insect-eating birds. Some may distract/confuse the more troublesome insects by their colour and scent. Some may provide sustenance and habitat for pollinators. Some are bio-accumulators (i.e., for example, they might bring minerals up into the soil profile layers where they can later be accessed by other food-producing plants), or some might provide protection from wind and extreme temperatures to their more fragile peers.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about a forest garden is that, when designed well and mature, it will provide a large and varied array of produce with much less input of labour and energy than any monoculture of annuals ever could. And, such a garden will continue producing in this way for years and years, in a largely self-maintaining fashion. Considering where we’re headed on the energy front, self-sustaining, low-input food producing systems positioned right where we live sounds pretty good to me.
The only downside to such a forest garden is the length of time involved in developing it to maturity. A tree does not grow overnight. This is exactly why localised research into food forest systems should be occurring everywhere, and now. If our taxpayer dollars could be rerouted from financing wars and corporate bailouts to instead get channelled into fast-tracking the wide-spread research, education and implementation of food forests, we could see not only peace on earth, but climate stabilisation. Water and soil problems would dissipate, and massive quantities of CO2 would be put right back where it belongs, all whilst solving an impending humanitarian catastrophe featuring food shortages, famine and massive social unrest.
Again, as also mentioned yesterday, this involves a massive rethink of our economic and political systems if such a strategy were to succeed. If you can access virtually all the food you and your family needs within metres of your back door, the global traders and supermarket consortiums would largely cease to function. By closing the loop in our energy/waste cycles and restoring stability to the biosphere, we would be pulling the rug out from under the economy we’ve been madly building with little thought to the future and which is now threatening to destroy us. This thus requires planning and collaborative action to make the necessary transition as painless as possible.
I keep reading of unemployment skyrocketing in many countries. People are taking to the streets protesting for lack of jobs — yet, there’s so much work to be done…! None need be jobless if we can collectively catch this vision and cooperate to bring it to fruition. We can even get military generals and corporate CEOs to work — busy doing something far more productive.
I want to make my own forest garden. I can almost taste the naturally-ripened, fruit and berry vitamin bombs now….
Some of you in temperate climates may wish to purchase Martin’s book, Creating a Forest Garden: Working with nature to grow edible crops, and/or his DVD A Forest Garden Year.
Here’s one more Martin Crawford video for good measure:
I’d love to hear and share tales from your own experiences developing your garden and food forest. I want to learn from you, as do our readers: editor (at) permaculturenews.org