Rise of the Forest Gardeners--Earth Culture
Nothing manifests our world view and our relationship with the planet more than how we garden. If we are detached from our food, we are detached from the earth and each other. For millions of americans the ability to drive to the grocery store and buy healthy food is slowly disappearing. For hundreds of millions in the third world, driving or grocery store is not even a distant dream.
The original way of farming is being rediscovered. When Europeans explored North America, they found a literal garden of eden of abundant berries, herbs, chestnuts, tangled plots of corn, beans, squash, as well as abundant fish and game. This landscape had been successfully managed with nothing more than fire and rudimentary tools by the native people for thousands of years. Native Americans had a long history of a deep relationship with native cultivars.
Our industrial agriculture has weakened our ecosystem's resilience with monocultures, has despoiled our land and water with chemical pollutants and genetically mutated organisms, and has broken our connection with the earth and our food. Far more calories are spent growing, processing, and transporting industrial foods than they ever yield. Industrial farming is a short term fossil fuel bubble.
An old idea is being found-the great remembering. An idea that worked for humanity for millions of years-that is evolutionarily proven to work for the average person. Instead of working against nature, spending energy to fight forest succession, work with nature. Garden as a forest does-as the original people of North America knew.
When you look at the yield of the whole system, rather than one part, a forest garden yield is actually higher than a monoculture's. Professor Jane Mt. Pleasant of Cornell University studied the "three sisters" polyculture of corn, pole beans, and squash. She found that the total yield of the three sisters system was 17 percent higher than a monoculture of corn, and a more balanced diet as well.
A food forest mimics the structure of a natural forest and the process of succession. Forest layers include canopy or tall trees, understory or low trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, ground cover, roots, and climbers. Plants in a food forest can be selected to provide not only food for humans, but also benefits to other plants, animals, insects, and the soil. For example, a nitrogen fixing pea shrub can be planted next to a fruiting tree. The pea shrub will capture nitrogen from the air and release it to the fruit tree through its roots and even the peas can be edible.
Goals of a food forest include growing an abundant diversity of delicious food, creating a largely self-maintaining resilient ecosystem, restoring and protecting ecosystem health, improving economic sustainability, and fostering a world view that reunites humanity with the earth. Masanobu Fukuoka, author of The One Straw Revolution, said that, "Natural farming is not just for growing crops, it is for the cultivation and perfection of human beings." He also said that, "If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork."
Permaculture relies heavily on edible forest gardening. Permaculture is a philosophy of human settlement developed Bill Mollison and David Holgren. It literally means permanent-agriculture or permanent-culture. Permaculture is a set of principles and ethics that combine modern technology with native skills. It is the opposite of industrial agriculture. Instead of eroding top soil, isolating elements in monocultures, and reducing biodiversity on a large scale-permaculture builds top soil and biodiversity, and increases connections between elements all on a small home or community scale. Permaculture can be applied to both urban and rural landscapes. Why drive to the grocery store when you can eat fresher food right out your backdoor?
Permaculture has developed a large international following of individuals who have received training through intensive two week long "permaculture design courses" (PDC). I took my in 2004 at the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute. Permaculture Activist and Permaculture magazines publishing a schedule of courses around the country and the world. Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway is good introduction to permaculture. Edible Forest Gardens Volume I and II by Dave Jacke and Eric Toesmeier is an advanced two volume text on the vision, theory, design, and practice of forest gardening.
If you want to become a perennial plant geek, read Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener's Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles by Eric Toensmeir. Then visit the Plants For A Future and Dave's Garden plant database websites. Combine these with plenty of hands-on experience. Build your own plant guilds, see what thrives in your local environment, share what works.
I encourage you to take a PDC-it will change your life. You will become more self-reliant and at the same time more community interdependent. Find like minded people to share your life, vision, passion, experience, and seeds with. A food forest will feed your family, your soul, and possibly even your pocketbook. Growing business like Eden on Earth and Blue Planet Earthscapes offer edible landscape design, rainwater harvesting systems, and education to new "seedling" forest gardeners. They show how you can make a living following your truth by doing what you love.
As I say, you are better off living in a yurt on a plot of good land that you own, than you are in a house that the bank owns. You are also increasingly better off living in an interdependent community of like minded people than you are isolated in the suburbs. Create a land trust for your community-this whole business of private property and owning the earth has to go. Control your destiny, live in a food forest, educate your children holistically, build a new culture-earth culture, to coin a phrase.
Imagine 20 years from your community or suburb. You and your neighbors have converted your yards into a connected edible landscape. Fruit and nut trees overhang fences. The air is filled with the perfume of flowers and the sound of chirping birds and buzzing insects. Its quieter now-you have created car-free pedestrian blocks-you now work from home. Each family manages their forest garden differently, some for berries, others fruit, nuts, medicinal herbs, culinary herbs, bee habitat, dyes, grains, syrup, or mushrooms. You trade with your neighbors and have a never ending variety of seasonal fresh food. In the fall you have "putting-away" parties so save the harvest for winter.
This reality can happen. You can turn scarcity into plenty by reweaving the web of life. Start by educating yourself. Find like minded people. Have potlucks to talk about the future with neighbors. Become the future you want to see. This is the rise of the forest gardeners.