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53 acres of farmland and 100 acres of forest: How to convert to permaculture?

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Eric, this is an awesome topic. I was thinking about these two properties the other day. My grandfather has 53 acres in NC that has been leased forever and farmed in corn and soybeans. It may have even been in cotton or tobacco a few times. It has been years since I have set food on the land. I remember at the time that it had been plowed and was being readied for corn. This property will pass on to my father and aunt, maybe even to myself at some point in the future. I was thinking about how to convert it to a permaculture food forest. The lay of the land is table top flat for the majority of the acreage. I was thinking that it could be planted in cover crops an acre at a time if I was going to convert it slowly. I expect it will take a lot of work to overcome the effects of decades of industrial agriculture on the soil. I could probably let local tree companies dump extra wood chips on the property which would help as well. Thoughts and suggestions appreciated. I have thought about what Martin Shepherd is doing in Wisconsin, but I doubt that the tree species would be anything like what he is using. I have not begun to research how to set up something similar.

The second property is my father's land in Indiana. It is all steep hills and ridge lines. I remember when the forest was cleared out around the house 30+ years ago. There are about 8 acres of open pasture around the house; the rest is all mature hardwood forest. I have thought about putting in a food forest/orchard type setting on the ridge lines where the ground has been cleared. I have a hard time imagining doing terraces on the hillsides going down into the valleys and toward the river. These are steep hills; probably falling down to the valleys 400 to 600 feet down. I can only imagine timber on the hillsides. The local stone is limestone and sandstone. I don't think there is enough of it around to actually do terraces.

All suggestions appreciated. These properties will pass to myself and my sisters one day. I would like to have a good plan to work (before) and when they are ours.

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Hi Jason,

What are your long-term goals? Make a full-time living from the farms? Have a nice retirement homestead? Something in between? Let me know I'll throw some more ideas out.

Meanwhile a perennial cover crop could be a great and easy option. It also might be nice to rent to a rotational grazing or even organic crop farmer if one is interested, check out the land linking programs or organic and livestock magazine classifieds for the area. You could assemble a nice seed blend even with native nitrogen fixing shrubs like Amorpha fruticosa and Acacia angustissima.

Higher level of activity would be more detailed site analysis. Even on the very flat site some earthworks (swales, keyline, etc.) could make a big difference as we all learned from Greening the Desert.

Your thoughts on the steep slope sound good to me, firewood or goat grazing are fine uses. Perhaps also native bamboo, Arundinaria gigantea.


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Location: Middle Georgia
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I would without a single doubt want the 53 Acres of forest. First, It would take many years to obtain such mature foresting.
Adding a Network of fruiting Trees and bush would branch it out in only a few years, and working on the terraces year by year.

If you watch the new Josef Holzer Video an see the perfect integration of the natural parts of the Permaculture System working.
He explains it so well, even for those of us who do not speak German. You cannot help but be inspired and your mind filled
and rushing with idea to idea, to turn your acreage into a paradise like the Holzer Farm. I know it inspired me and I only have
a little less than 5 acres. Rather than trying to build something from depletion, it is far better to work with the thriving forest
you have now, and ENABLE it to thrive. Joseph, like his father outlines it beautifully. Good Luck! I envy you the wonderful opportunity.
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