‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’

I remember when I first read Jacke & Toensmeier’s ‘Edible Forest Gardens‘. Above and beyond the immediate excitement I felt at getting involved in such projects myself was the vision proposed in the section ‘Gardening The Forest’, where the authors suggested that when European colonialisation occured the inhabitants of North America (in this case those inhabiting the broadleaf temperate forests of the East coast) were in fact cultivating the land in a multi-generational, hyper-broad scale — um… ‘agriculture’ — and were not the ‘hapless, noble savage at odds against a brutal wilderness’ that the social darwinist within us would like to think, or has assumed, for ages now….

It seems so obvious looking at it. Of course they’d have an encyclopedic knowledge of and intimacy with their environment. Of course they would cultivate the land… Of course!

For years my main motivation in its study was the vision of human culture, human settlements of the future where food forests and other complimentary systems are not only further implemented but already thoroughly established — a world where not only has once degraded land been regenerated back to states of robust health, but where it has been done with the needs of humanity in mind. Imagine a village, a town, a city, where for generations its inhabitants had been diligently cultivating woodlands of species they knew to be of great benefit. All spare space within the metropolis and entire surrounding countryside has been planted to a rich, mixed, multi-tiered woodland, with each species therein a familiar plant ally chosen for one of many valuable and well utilized characteristics — its fruit as food, its leaves as medicine, bark for tanning, roots for dye, fibre for cordage, fodder for stock, timber to build with…. From the tallest trees to the most ephemeral, herbaceous ground covers the whole environment a home for fully and semi domesticated animals, long free from the torturous constraints of batteries and pens, each also bringing their own particular functions and effects to the melange of phenomena. It’s in a world like this where there are literally hectares of Human Supportive Woodland per capita that our food security may be met largely by a walk through the woods. Local, organic, nutrient rich, health inducing even by default, these are the visions that keep me excited, inspired and hopeful. Visions of a Humanity in tandem with natural function. Humanity as natural function. It now seems increasingly clear, with more and more studies like those of Bill Gammage that this is in fact not just a most appealing vision of a potential (fingers crossed!) future, but also one very closely resembling that of our not too distant past.

I highly recommend Bill Gammage’s ‘The Biggest Estate On Earth’.