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creating a food forest in an existing primary forest?

 
J Lo
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hi fellow permies,

Here's a question, how viable is it to create a food forest within a existing tropical rainforest.

Most permaculture designs I have seen so far have been to replenish the degraded land (be it from agriculture, logging etc), how about designing an existing forest to be more productive to produce a wider range of perennial crops.

Your thoughts please.

Many thanks

 
Casie Becker
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I think I have seen this addressed to some extent in temperate forests. I think it could be done using a combination of techniques.

First of all you need to know what is already there, both for what use it has for you, and what role it plays for the forest. I imagine there's millions of little microclimates in any forest. After that you might start to alter the forest for your own purposes. Some of the already established trees could be suitable for grafting more productive cultivars to. Maybe you'll want to prune up the canopy to increase the light reaching some understory plantings. Maybe you'd selectively remove some trees to reduce competition for preferred species or to plant your own choices there. You'd probably be able to establish a "nurse tree" by felling an existing tree just for that purpose. These are just the first things that come to my mind. I'm another person working from the opposite end of the problem, trying to upgrade a degraded suburban yard. It is very viable to make an existing forest into a food forest. I think the chances are that you're at least halfway there in any existing forest. It would just be a case of enhancing what's already there.

I wouldn't be planning a lot of earthworks, though.
 
Neil Layton
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I think this would be considered bad practice, to be honest.

Existing primary forest is already a habitat that needs to be protected, not damaged by human intervention. If you read Edible Forest Gardens by Jacke and Toensmeier they advise against this, and explicitly recommend using land that has already been damaged by human activity.

It can be done, but my best advice is simple: don't! Leave primary forest alone!

Damaging primary forest like that is completely contrary to the principles of sustainability on which food forests are predicated.
 
Casie Becker
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When I see a question like this, I don't see it as a choice between growing food in the forest or not touching the forest. I figure the decision is between clearing the forest for more conventional growing methods or altering the existing forest to still provide food with minimal damage.

The Amazon rain forest is a good example of what often happens when farmers don't know how to manage their lands for maximum productivity. I think most of the farmers there would be happier not clear cutting and burning new fields every few years.
 
Lorenzo Costa
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Well considering that nearly all the amazon rain forest is a human planted food forest, I guess it can be done, in some way, without changing the whole landscape. researchers are now sure that vast parts of the amazon are human planted, and all the abundance one can find in some still protected areas was planted/seeded. Tribes used to move from an area to another on cycle usually not more than seven years in every area becuase no house, built only of local material can last more than seven years in those climates. I never knew that you don't have rocks or stones in the rain forest so only wood or leafs, and earth to work with.
I know this book farming the woods is not for rain forests but you can look it up and read their blog farming the woods I think there are interesting ideas on how to deal with the fact we may not all live in clearcut degraded land but still have to try to live in permanence in an ecosystem. I guess your question was not of clearcutting everything, or slash and burn, but integrate the diversity with edible perennials and some annuals. It can be done with a good observation and design.

 
Dan Boone
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Neil Layton wrote:
It can be done, but my best advice is simple: don't! Leave primary forest alone!

Damaging primary forest like that is completely contrary to the principles of sustainability on which food forests are predicated.


As others have pointed out, "damaging" in this context may be too strong a word.

My own contribution would be to point out that the advice to leave primary forest alone strikes me as making some unwarranted assumptions about the questioner. If someone is rich enough they can afford to leave land untouched, that's great. But a great many people in the world are in situations of economic distress and food insecurity. Advising a person like that not to grow food isn't a position I personally would be comfortable taking. "Grow it somewhere else" only works if they have access to a somewhere else.

Back down on the practical level, my first impulse in any kind of natural forest is to inventory every tree, until I'm certain I know where every food tree is and what are the benefits and uses of everything out there. When I cut a tree, I want to know what I'm cutting, why I'm cutting it, and what I'm planning to replace it with. I don't always meet that standard, but it's my goal.
 
Neil Layton
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Dan Boone wrote:
Neil Layton wrote:
It can be done, but my best advice is simple: don't! Leave primary forest alone!

Damaging primary forest like that is completely contrary to the principles of sustainability on which food forests are predicated.


As others have pointed out, "damaging" in this context may be too strong a word.

My own contribution would be to point out that the advice to leave primary forest alone strikes me as making some unwarranted assumptions about the questioner. If someone is rich enough they can afford to leave land untouched, that's great. But a great many people in the world are in situations of economic distress and food insecurity. Advising a person like that not to grow food isn't a position I personally would be comfortable taking. "Grow it somewhere else" only works if they have access to a somewhere else.



Unless you know exactly what you are doing with a complex ecosystem, you are going to cause damage, as opposed to interference. That kind of interference can be got right, but it's not straightforward, and requires a degree of understanding of the ecosystem few of us are even capable of. I'm not going to even think about advising because I don't know what sort of ecosystem we are talking about.

I take your point about your concerns, but I have to ask where you are going to draw the line. Using the justification of food security, while defensible from an anthropocentric perspective, has resulted in some appalling environmental crimes. Now, I'm not saying this is what the OP intends, or even will do, but I think "food forest or clearcut" presents a false dichotomy. We are in a position now where much of our existing agricultural land is under threat, to the point where we could lose all our farmland within 60 years (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-food-soil-farming-idUSKCN0JJ1R920141205), which will certainly result in more loss of primary forest, and the life within it, as a result of that food insecurity.

One could present a case for some sort of "wise use" of primary forest, but I am a long way from comfortable with that!

So, we have to ask the question of the OP, do you have some degraded land you could restore instead?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm not exactly sure what qualifies as "primary forest." The historic climax vegetation of much of my land was tallgrass and midgrass prairie, but since conditions changed (no bison, no fires, and lots of domestic grazing) it has regrown to mostly oak, juniper and elm forest. A small patch of this forest behind our house has many oaks dead from oak wilt, a regional disease, so we're removing the oaks and I plan to replace them with fruit trees analogous to the native understory fruit trees, but not the same species. I also hope to grow other non-native food plants in this food forest. I don't know if this project falls into the category of "damaging primary forest" or "restoring degraded land." What do you all think?
 
Tristan Vitali
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I'm not exactly sure what qualifies as "primary forest." The historic climax vegetation of much of my land was tallgrass and midgrass prairie, but since conditions changed (no bison, no fires, and lots of domestic grazing) it has regrown to mostly oak, juniper and elm forest. A small patch of this forest behind our house has many oaks dead from oak wilt, a regional disease, so we're removing the oaks and I plan to replace them with fruit trees analogous to the native understory fruit trees, but not the same species. I also hope to grow other non-native food plants in this food forest. I don't know if this project falls into the category of "damaging primary forest" or "restoring degraded land." What do you all think?


Same sort of situation here on half our property with the other half being recently logged in a nearly clear-cut fashion, leaving nothing but the sickliest and most damaged trees standing. This is obvious degradation of the "primary forest", leaving pine, hemlock, beech and sugar maple (along with the pioneer fir, spruce, birch and aspen) to regrow. Our historic climax forests did, however, include pine, hemlock, beech and sugar maple, but in some valleys also included other hardwoods like chestnut and oak, walnut, black cherry, etc - those have long since been stripped from most of the area by the logging industry, leaving sparse and unhealthy genetics which never reestablished in the ~40-60 years since the last cut. What I'm doing here requires cutting a lot of both pioneer and climax understory trees to make way for the climax canopy trees.

After much thought about it all, I've come to consider reestablishing any climax-type ecosystems as a good thing, regardless of whether it's an exact match to the system that was there "before white folk came along". It's good to keep in mind that, much like the amazonian rainforests being a super-sized forest garden slowly shaped and maintained by the tribal folk that lived there, pretty much all of north america was the same super-sized forest garden maintained by the american indians through planting, cultivation, driving of the herds of bison/elk/etc, and even use of fire. For me, it comes down to this: creating more diversity in a stagnating ecosystem is good, building more healthy soil is good, and growing food for yourself and others is good. No way to get around that

In response to OP, #1 is to find and identify the micro-ecosystems that exist (sunnier areas, shadier areas, higher/drier ground and lower/wetter ground), #2 is to find and identify the various groups of tree species and their natural guilds (chestnut, pine and sugar maple as an example from my area) so you can choose compatible species to work into those guilds, replacing a few less productive trees with those that provide many of the same functions along with food production, and #3 is to get ready for a long, arduous journey of slowly reshaping an overgrown and weedy garden of eden that has been let go for far too long
 
Neil Layton
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I can see why this is a tricky one.

Now, I'm not sure what sort of "oaks" you are talking about: when I think oak, I think 20-30m specimens of Quercus robur, which would not fill the same ecosystem function as an understorey fruit tree.

That said, natural disease-related disturbance is a feature of any forest.

It might be possible to write an entire essay on this, with conclusions dependent upon the nature of the pre-human ecosystem (complete with the lost megafauna!), or pre-European colonisation ecosystem.

A simpler way of looking at it would be to ask what is "right", and the simplest way of looking at that is to quote Leopold: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

Do your respective planned interventions tend to "preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community"? If so, I would say go ahead; if not, then I would suggest a rethink.

Hope that helps.

 
Tyler Ludens
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The oaks are an overstory species. The native understory fruit trees are plum, persimmon, gum bumelia, and rusty blackhaw. I plan to plant domestic species of plum and persimmon.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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how viable is it to create a food forest within a existing tropical rainforest.


I do not live in a tropical rainforest, but I do live-and have lived-in temperate rainforests, and so I do have some knowledge of this to a degree mostly since I have been researching forest gardening before I ever heard about it in the regular modern permaculture sense, or even before I heard of permaculture. I have often wondered about the possibility of planting a garden in and among the forest, or in small clearings, and I know that this was practiced by nearly all native peoples who lived in forest areas to some degree, but in many cases it was not done in quite the same way that a permaculture minded person might think of it.

As an example: A native group might notice, on a repeated basis, that after a naturally occurring lightning strike forest fire the nut trees regrow rapidly (and are much shorter than the older nut trees that are hard to harvest), and many of the under-story edible plants also thrive. They go to areas after a forest fire and they repeatedly find preferred species, and after generations of this pattern they conclude that they could act as the lightning does, lighting a fire to create a selective burn of an area in order to facilitate the advancement of preferred species. The annual gardens of corn beans and squash can be planted in the larger openings, and pioneer edible weeds (lambsquarters and others) can be enhanced by seeding. Some of these fires, particularly at the beginning of this extended multi-generational project got out of control (and that can be really dangerous to village health!), and so the village decides that they really need to figure out the best possible time to make this fire disturbance. Experiments continue, and a system of continual ecological and garden renewal is developed, but the forest is always allowed to renew to full vigor before fire is introduced again to a given area.

Somewhat contrary to this above example, many native peoples would more often than not tend the preferred species within the systems that naturally existed (without large scale interventions). They did this by helping the preferred species to gain advantage over other species in minor ways. This is the beginning of horticulture, before the cult of the seed that created agriculture.

The first thing that comes to my mind when trying to conceptualize a food forest in an existing multi-canopied tropical rainforest is the lack of light. All plants need a given amount of sunlight, and a rainforest is a place with a very dense closed canopy. From my understanding, most gardener/farmer societies in the tropical rainforest do indeed cut the forest down in order to gain access to both direct sun and the nutrients that are available in the forest biomass. Also villages last longer (do not rot) and are more defensible if they are in a more cleared area. Plus a large tree might fall on a house crushing the people within. A certain amount of clearing was necessary, and it was not taken as lightly as it is today. Clearing jungle land with stone age equipment was not easy work, and so it was done with a great deal of respect, and with both a thorough understanding and a long term commitment to the project.

These were often not huge clearcuts, nor was it necessarily, or even common in the pre-Columbian societies to slash and burn everything to ash. What was more common was that native people would hack an area of the jungle down and burn some of it for sure, and sometimes they would hack it down, light it on fire, and throw dirt or water on the fire to stop the fire and to char the wood so that it lasts longer in the ecosystem than simply allowing the material to rot in the hot, humid, decomposition rich system. Sometimes they were clearing land, and then suppressing the regrowth of species that they did not prefer, while enhancing those they did. In a permaculture sense of terminology and action, this could be chop and drop of non-preferred species while fertilizing of preferred plants with the chopped waste.

Being selective about the process is key to the success ecologically. Clearly this means being selective with many different variables and it will require a vigilance (observe, observe, observe!) that few people in the modern world have the ability to sustain. It depends on so many variables that it is hard to give any advice. It depends on what you want to be growing. I depends on what is already growing. It depends on the size of the area that you want to alter in relation to the size of the area that contains the genetic and regenerative potential of the ecosystem.

Is it possible? : Yes. But this must be qualified, the way I see it, by two things:

1.) by the extent that your project is as an impact to the greater system's ability to self regenerate if you walk away.
2.) By the extent of your skills/knowledge base to take on such an advanced project.

Most permaculture designs I have seen so far have been to replenish the degraded land (be it from agriculture, logging etc), how about designing an existing forest to be more productive to produce a wider range of perennial crops.


In my opinion, the only way to do this successfully at this point in the modern knowledge curve-and with the state of the world as it is-is to try to emulate the native food patterns that created abundant food systems in the local rainforest where you live. These people worked with the natural ecosystem as much as possible; emulate them. While at the same time you need to be trying to limit the damage that you are doing to the regenerative potential of the area (considering the modern ecological dilemma), using whatever permaculture that you understand. It is the regenerative principal that must never be challenged, and if you keep that in mind, you may have a chance of doing this successfully.

All of that said, if you have existing jungle, but you do not have access to such a knowledge base, I would suggest you find land elsewhere, if possible, so that you can practice the principles of forest gardening and permaculture and get a design down that works both for your ecosystem and for you. If have existing wild jungle land and you also have an area that could use rehabilitation nearby, it would be vastly better to try to regenerate the damaged land toward the rainforest that it once was-using food forest priniciples-than to do any major intervention work within the existing forest. Allow your observations of the existing wild rainforest to guide your principles.

A great book and resource on regenerative forest gardening and community building and many other things, where the jungles of Columbia were recreated from a desert wasteland, is Gaviotas: a village to reinvent the world.

Of course Willie Smits is another great person to emulate on this sort of project.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I don't know if this project falls into the category of "damaging primary forest" or "restoring degraded land." What do you all think?


Hi Tyler.

I think that the same basic principal that I outlined above is key to understanding this. The regenerative potential should be allowed free reign. If you allow things to regenerate, or use this principle to tilt the ecosystem in your favor, then you really can not do too much damage to such a system.

Is your area in a state that it regenerates in a stable long term way? Clearly not. The Oaks are developing a widespread disease which will spur the ecosystem to produce something else to fill the niche or alter it in ways that you may not be able to fathom, completely remaking and renaming itself. I believe that such systems are a successive stage towards a very different climax ecosystem.

Your system is not likely to be regenerated back to grassland by any natural means, so unless you are willing to chop the trees, and manage the cattle properly so they graze and trample and do the Savory thing, and you probably do other things to build soil systems, then grassland is not going to happen.

I think that you are better off doing as you are, which is work with the existing ecosystem that the Earth has been using to heal itself without it's fire and bison tools. It has produced this Oak forest, but that is in a state of change. You are changing it, while helping the Earth to build soils, water retention systems, and diversity.

I don't think that you are 'damaging a primary forest'. I think that you are 'restoring degraded land'.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I briefly toyed with the idea of restoring the prairie here, but quickly realized it would be too difficult on such a small piece of land which is already mostly forest.
 
Chris Badgett
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Hey Tyler,

In this video, Toby Hemenway describes his encounter with a food forest within an existing tropical rainforest in Belize

(Go to the 4:34 mark in the video)



Cassie, I appreciate your reframe of the question to "I figure the decision is between clearing the forest for more conventional growing methods or altering the existing forest to still provide food with minimal damage."

In my view, it is important to look at how to work with permaculture without necessarily starting with damaged land. It is of course important to rehabilitate damaged land whenever possible though.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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Cassie, I appreciate your reframe of the question to "I figure the decision is between clearing the forest for more conventional growing methods or altering the existing forest to still provide food with minimal damage."


Hi Chris: Thanks for showing pointing out Cassie's re-frame. I agree that this is the primary question, but with the emphasis on the words 'minimal damage', especially in relation to the regenerative potential of the existing ecosystem.

I briefly toyed with the idea of restoring the prairie here, but quickly realized it would be too difficult on such a small piece of land which is already mostly forest.


Tyler, I probably would have toyed with the idea as well, but you are limited by space and by your resources and your time/energy. If you were going to try that, you would have to consider that you also do not have the rainfall patterns, or the soil organic matter in depths in place to kick start the system, so it would really be a long haul.

I am wondering if the Oak ecosystem that you have is something that occurred in sporadic savanna like form within the tall and medium grassland ecosystem in the past. In that case, the bison and prairie fires would have naturally disturbed it in random patterns to keep any disease in check. I think that you are doing the right thing, by cutting down a lot of the dying or dead Oaks and using them in buried wood beds and in brush dams to try to retain the limited moisture that you have. I would suggest leaving some of the oaks in place for the purpose of providing shade (cooling) for the earth and your plants, and habitat for insects, spiders, birds, bats, and rodents et cetera. You may find that as your inter-planted guilds of domestic fruit trees gain maturity that the oak system begins to gain resilience; maybe not-indeed probably not-but there is hope in diversity.

Perhaps there is another Oak that is not prone to this disease (that maybe has palatable acorns!) that you could start to replace a few of these as an over-story canopy in your guild. ?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:
I am wondering if the Oak ecosystem that you have is something that occurred in sporadic savanna like form within the tall and medium grassland ecosystem in the past. In that case, the bison and prairie fires would have naturally disturbed it in random patterns to keep any disease in check.


Yes, the oaks grew in clumps called "mottes" within the prairie, and most of the tree species here have fire resistance. These disparate clumps of trees could get the endemic oak wilt, but because they weren't contiguous, a single motte could die out and all the other mottes in the area would be fine. The Ashe juniper ("cedar"), which a lot of people here think are not native because the trees invade so aggressively, also developed within the prairie ecosystem but because they don't have fire resistance, they grew along protected watercourses instead of taking over the whole darn place. They also don't compete well with healthy grassland and their invasion is an indicator of poor grazing practices. The favorite thing for people to do here is cut down all the cedar, burn it in huge piles, and maybe take out the "trash trees" like hackberry (a favorite food tree for birds), pretty much anything else that isn't an oak, then get oak wilt so their place is a desert studded with dead oaks.

 
Tristan Vitali
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Tyler Ludens wrote:The favorite thing for people to do here is cut down all the cedar, burn it in huge piles, and maybe take out the "trash trees" like hackberry (a favorite food tree for birds), pretty much anything else that isn't an oak, then get oak wilt so their place is a desert studded with dead oaks.


I'm silently shaking my head here. Sad state of affairs. Make your property a shining example and maybe, just maybe, some neighbors will change their practices for the better.
 
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I'm sure our rancher neighbor across the road disapproves of us because we let a lot of our cedar grow (blocks road noise, good bird habitat). Our improvements will be mostly invisible except, we hope, our place will be a little more green and lush as we solve our erosion problems and begin to slow the massive amount of water that passes through this property.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I would think that the least damaging/risky way to make a existing forest more productive would be to find areas where trees have fallen and there are clearings and then plant native edibles in that area (perhaps giving your edibles a "head-start" by planting ones that are already a few years old). You could also herd ducks or other small livestock through it if you could find a way to make fencing that would be portable and easy to work with in the forest, without having to clear out forest to put in the fencing.

We have a natural forested wetland on our property, as well as more shaded forest. It was logged here about 40 years ago, so it's a somewhat established forest, though lacking in much plant diversity. I often think about planting more edibles in there, but I always end up focusing on another portion of my property first. The wetland and the dry forest are just so beautiful, and I'd hate to mess up their ecosystems. But, I do use these areas. I harvest fern fronds for mulch, as well and leaves and logs/branches that fall on my paths. My alder trees are constantly dropping leaves and dropping themselves, as well as growing back up really quickly, and their wood is wonderful for my hugels. The fallen trees also make great firewood. Yes, the ecosystem would do better with that organic material, but permaculture is also about ABUNDANCE. A functioning forest creates abundance, and I take a little, so that in the end I make a smaller dent on the larger environment.

One other thing I do a little of is transplant native edibles into clearings and along my paths. I put thimbleberries and currents and serviceberries and buncberries in areas where there does not seem to be much plant diversity (There's areas where I see trilliums or other rarer plants are growing, and I don't mess with the areas around them because I don't know what caused those things to be there, and I want them to thrive). I also try to create diversity in areas where there are monocrops, such as salmonberry or invasive blackberries. I hack those back so that thimbleberries, native blackberries and blackcap raspberries have room to grow. I also prune some of the red huckberries, as well as native blackberries to keep them healthy and to get more fruit.

I think it's important to remember that, we, too, are part of this ecosystem. A established forest is a wonderful place for wildlife to find food and shelter, and I think there are ways we can, subtly, make them more delightful and useful for us. Just as other animals make paths and consume food, we do too.

But, like others have said before me, I think it's best to focus your energies on more "disturbed" areas first. This gives you learning experience. I would also suggest not tackling the forest all at once, but rather in "zones." Those closest to your house would be those that you affect first. And, try to always leave some "zone 5" for wildlife, etc.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I think it's important to remember that, we, too, are part of this ecosystem.


This is a paradigm shift that most do not fully grasp. A friend of mine this winter told me that many native tribes do not have a word for Nature. They do not see their personal habitat, or village, or anything in their lifestyle to be separate from the rest of the ecosystem. The word Nature, as it is commonly used and known signifies that it is something external to humans and their doings.

It's good to be reminded of this, and to meditate upon it.

When I was touring, I had a sticker on my bicycle that said, "The Environment is Everything". That and a few of my other stickers were interesting conversation starters.
 
Neil Layton
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:
I think it's important to remember that, we, too, are part of this ecosystem.


This is a paradigm shift that most do not fully grasp. A friend of mine this winter told me that many native tribes do not have a word for Nature. They do not see their personal habitat, or village, or anything in their lifestyle to be separate from the rest of the ecosystem. The word Nature, as it is commonly used and known signifies that it is something external to humans and their doings.

It's good to be reminded of this, and to meditate upon it.

When I was touring, I had a sticker on my bicycle that said, "The Environment is Everything". That and a few of my other stickers were interesting conversation starters.


I agree, entirely.

What I can't countenance is taking a logical leap from that to a position where we as humans can do as we please with the rest of Nature on the basis of superior power. Taking responsibility and attempting to live in closer harmony is one thing; deciding that this viewpoint means we can do as we like is quite another. The problem, sometimes, is telling the difference.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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What I can't countenance is taking a logical leap from that to a position where we as humans can do as we please with the rest of Nature on the basis of superior power. Taking responsibility and attempting to live in closer harmony is one thing; deciding that this viewpoint means we can do as we like is quite another. The problem, sometimes, is telling the difference.


I agree. Superiority, Dominion... it has lots of different names, but it is a huge leap, completely backwards from the paradigm shift of feeling and knowing nothing else but, oneness with the natural world.

Telling the difference, making choices, these are extremely complicated, just as our impact in the rain-forest is as you have pointed out.

It would be interesting to know what the original poster intends, or if this is just a hypothetical question.

The problem, from what I see, is that often our decisions are made from the culture of a State System based on ignorance and pseudo-knowledge rather than a holistic culture based generations of practical knowledge, and thus on wisdom.

This is why I would caution doing any work in the primal forest, unless the knowledge of traditional practices, of ecology, of permaculture, and perhaps many other aspects, has reached a point where a person feels wise enough to enter such a complicated and advanced project.
 
Tristan Vitali
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It's definitely not a black and white issue, but this question of "if" and "should" probably should be also kept in the context of the current state of affairs in the world (and more specifically, the region). Modern agriculture practice is slash and burn, monocrop, pesticide/fertilizer/herbicide and to hell with all else.

I'd say that the very fact the OP posted here shows this is not the person's intention. If the OP 1) wants to produce food and 2) has access to land in that region, I, for one, am SUPER happy that she is looking to establish a "food forest" and not more slash and burn pasture for cattle or a monocrop oil palm farm in the (presumably) virgin forests.

The true spirit of Permaculture is not about making the entire planet wildlife habitat and to hell with humans - it's about figuring out ways to create a permanent, regenerative, holistic systems for all aspects of human culture and just happens to rely on "natural processes" we witness in the wild.

To me, the real magic of the permaculture community is and has been not only the ability to apply natural processes in order to establish these highly resilient and productive ecosystems full of biodiversity, but also the ability to speed them up so dramatically that what would take hundreds of years "in the wild" can be accomplished in the span of a human lifetime.

Proper, mindful and responsible intervention is what this is all about. Careful observation, analysis and application of appropriate technology is how it's done. What are the alternatives for mankind here? Either we stop producing food using the soil and move everyone to mega-cities so we can let everything go "wild", which is akin to the human population declaring "Goodbye Cruel World", or we continue down the path that monsanto/dow/etc have laid out for us, desertifying everything in our path as we grow GMO crops to feed the billions of hungry mouths their daily corn syrup and soy lecithin rations.

We often talk of the "lesser of two evils" - in a sense, this has become a debate about the "better of two goods". It's a debate over whether something should be done even if it can't be absolutely perfect.

My opinion is that a food forest established by someone smart and intentional enough to know what it is, smack dab in the middle of a virgin, primal rainforest, is a good thing in comparison to what we could be talking about here, even if done poorly.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Bill Mollison suggested that if food for humans was grown using permaculture, most land could be returned to wild nature. There would be no need for humans to inhabit pristine wild places because the damaged places would be regenerated and made much more productive than they currently are. I suggest that they would also be made much more like wild nature, so we would feel the same impulse to be there and enjoy the beauty.

 
John Polk
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Bill Mollison was opposed to going into existing forests to make changes. His quote on the subject:
"Leave the 'bush' alone. It is doing quite well without us."

His base philosophy was to repair damaged systems, not alter existing, working systems.

 
Tristan Vitali
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That's the one place I disagree with Mollison - sort of a philosophical standpoint on the human role in the natural world. I tend to believe that we humans should be analyzed in the same way we analyze that poor chicken - behaviors and characteristics, inputs and outputs, etc. Humans inherently are purveyors of disturbance - we change landscapes and ecosystems by our very nature. The difference between us and chickens (and this is certainly debatable to many) is that we can do so with intention and reason. Just as it's the chickens' role to disturb the soil surface through scratching behaviors, it's the humans' role to disturb the "natural ecosystems" of the world...but because we have the faculties of logic, reason, comprehension and intent, it's our role to do so in ways that are not indiscriminate, such as large scale slash & burn for raising cattle, just to feed humans at the expense of all else, but instead to do so with careful attention to creating the complex, diverse ecosystems that benefit all of creation.

It comes down to the philosophical debate over what humans really are, inherently, and what that says about our place, our role, and our duty in this thing we call life, on this thing we call earth, and to these things we call "other". Everyone will have a different take on it, built from their own cultural belief systems and experiences, but I think we can all agree (with the exception of the few truly radical environmentalists out there) that we are not a mistake of creation. We have a role to play and I believe our role is to act as stewards of change for the better wherever we can make it.
 
Ryan Kudasik
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I had this very same question and finally signed up here to ask it. Only I am in the temperate zone. I had the good fortune of purchasing 3.2 acres. There is a one acre woodlot. It is a sick and being chocked out by wild grapes. I would rather see it be something that gives me a more direct yield. I envisioned slowly replacing the trees. For every one I cut I would put in one or two fruit or nut. I know that it's advised against, but at the same time I can't see letting a third of my property get taken over by roses and wild grapes. Despite Mollison and Jacke there has to be a way to responsibly transition to a more productive food forest. But for the same cautions as Mollison and Jacke give, I am very hesitant to do ANYTHING until I give it a long time of observation to make sure I'm truly benefiting the ecosystem. I really want to learn more about the technical aspects.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ryan Kudasik wrote: I know that it's advised against, but at the same time I can't see letting a third of my property get taken over by roses and wild grapes.


Invading plants like that are typically indicators of disturbed, not intact, systems. If it were a intact functioning forest, it probably wouldn't be invaded by anything, in my opinion.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Tristan Vitali wrote: it's the humans' role to disturb the "natural ecosystems" of the world.


Is it necessary when we're already disturbing such a huge percentage of the biosphere? If most of the ecosystems were undisturbed, I could see an excuse (maybe not a reason) to disturb some of them, but what can be the reason or excuse to do so now?

What possible reason could there be to disturb yet more ecosystems at this point in history?

My main concern here is for other animals who might not do so well with humans in their territory, such as the big cats, wolves, bears, some birds, the other great apes, etc. Is there to be no place for these other folks to live undisturbed by humans and their domestic animals? With 7+ billion human people now on the Earth, it seems unfair to demand more space for us, and even less for these other, non-human people.

 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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