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Non Timber Forest Products Part 1: Introduction and Herbs and Spices

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Here is the first of a few articles on Non Timber Forest Products and their role within Permaculture. Its a zone 3 or 4 technique that i really love and relish the opportunity to explore this topic more in writings and out in the forest. This article is an introduction with the first yield of herbs and spices looked examined in a few different contexts.

Agroforestry is a system of production that can be incorporated within just about any permaculture system as it can be scaled up and down. It can be viewed as one of the strategies that we employ for management of land. It is a way how we leverage the design principles and ethics of Permaculture to make sure the resilience and abundance that is possible with well designed systems follows. With that there are several facets of Agroforesry to focus on but this one is a favorite of mine because of my love for the forest and all that can be derived from it beyond timber: Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP’s).

Having managed my families forest for over 15 years now (2015), I have come to love all that can be done to deal with ecosystem imbalances. This includes managing holistically exotic and native species and all the while reviving an architecture in the forest that yields abundantly and has the feel of an old growth forest. If one is to obtain some creative yields from this, the system becomes even more multifunctional. My families land is part of the Oak-Hickory mixed Mesophytic ecosystem in the eastern half of the United states in Northern Kentucky, USA. Geographically it is neither south nor north, east nor west within this ecosystem making it a place of edge and very biodiverse. Thus the article below and the rest in this series reflects mainly this extended experience in Kentucky but also other experiences in other climatic zones. Thus we will examine numerous facets of NFTP’s including the following in several articles:

herbs and spices
medicinal plants
fish and wildlife management
mushroom harvest and cultivation
floral arrangement resources
honey production
fibers and crafts
roundwood construction
fruits and nuts
resins and saps

These represent material yields but the cascading affect of meeting principles like each element should preform many functions and diversity is a pattern that should be explored more deeply. The ethics of Permaculture are more easily met with this style of production as earth care, people care, and fair share become laden in the techniques and strategies that match the design of these systems. When farmers have a diversity of yields, economic pressure is lessened increasing potential for a better life socially. As well when the biodiversity of a land can persist and resist the monoculture tendencies for economy of scale, the environment benefits. With proper management timber trees can even be selectively harvested to help in the long term architecture of the forest through augmenting the canopy and the light resources that enter deeper into the forest. However the main aim of these systems is not timber rather the peripheral harvests that come from accentuating your pattern eye and leveraging the natural resources of a site such as soil types, forest age and quality, and rainfall patterns. NTFP’s usually rely on a canopy or edge that helps to provide shade and other favorable conditions for the growth of other crops or harvests. Evaluation of the species present in the forest is vastly important and it may take a local ecologist or permaculture consultant to help you with this identification. This is part of the assessment phase of the design process and remember to collect as much information and observations as possible before one of these options are undertaken. Embrace the full design process and remember that most of these are not immediate returns and thus budgets should accompany the business plan and overall project management including phases of implementation. Some of these, however, are simply looking deeper into your forest and seeing the abundance that is already there like wild mushrooms or medicinal plants. Exploitation is not the goal, rather a balanced harvest and conditions improvement so that all spheres within the ethics are promoted. This is true regenerative practices that go far beyond just sustainability. It takes humans to creatively interact with nature to clean up the mess we have made with our forest and ecosystems in general. Whether its Appalachians bringing back ginseng production or Costa Ricans harvesting mushrooms from coffee production wastes, the possibilities are there and are an important part of agro and environmental literacy. Some happen by accident through natural processes while others take years and years of skilled planning and precise project management. Zone 3 or most likely zone 4 is where one will find themselves working at to explore these harvest. Furthermore, in these articles I will give tips both from practical experience, theoretical research and sharings from other practitioners.

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