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Article saying temperate food forests don't work  RSS feed

 
Posts: 21
Location: Oklahoma Panhandle
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Ben,
You paint with a broad brush.  I know several ranchers, however I don't know any who have the freebie or extremely cheap lease deals you speak of.  Some of them may not make it through this price wreck we are in now.  Your statement reminds me of a woman who was on this site a few years ago that was quick to say that all farmers are stupid because she didn't agree with or understand what they were doing.
 
Posts: 312
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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dog duck hugelkultur
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Thanks for letting me know I come across like an idiot/jackass, but I was not talking about even a majority of ranchers, rather responding to the comment about degraded national forests. I was also referring to the vast majority of acreage (held by relatively few "ranchers") being grazed in the U.S., which is either NF, BLM or Homestead/Graves act acquired. Of course ethical ranches exist, and do not hold responsibility for the comment that "wow these national forests seem awfully desert like." Also, we subsidize the logging of forests that become biological deserts. Moreover, if you are in Oklahoma, I assume we are talking about very different places (most of my experience and historical research is in WA, OR, CA). I have seen cattle in the largest wilderness areas in the west (Mojave, Sierras, North Cascades) that are there because ranchers legally have access to the wilderness area itself or surrounding national forests. These are tens of millions of acres of public land that a relative handful of ranchers have access to destroy. And moreover native grazers will move in and do the job better if we don't shoot them and the predators that manage them better than we can if given the space that we give cows.
 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 312
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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dog duck hugelkultur
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In addition, the invasive cattle on public lands produce far less protein per acre (1/10 of bison) than native grazers and the fish that would be in streams if not for all the cow shit. That being said, unless you are on permies just to troll, if you read this I am probably not referring to you as the problem.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1511
Location: Denver, CO
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In addition, the invasive cattle on public lands produce far less protein per acre (1/10 of bison) than native grazers and the fish that would be in streams if not for all the cow shit. That being said, unless you are on permies just to troll, if you read this I am probably not referring to you as the problem.



How does this work? I'd love to see a study on this, if you know of one.
 
pollinator
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Gilbert Fritz
pollinator
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Do those links address protein yield?
 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 312
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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dog duck hugelkultur
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Good articles Tyler, and of course a clean 10-1 ratio is not completely accurate. It is almost impossible to calculate the potential of the prairie ecosystem to produce protein prior to European disturbance, let alone calculate the energy required to harvest it by native people and the ultimate soil/biomass result. But it is clear that bison, in what is closer to their natural conditions in the American plains are better adapted and have more symbiotic relationships with native plants and animals. I would speculate that here in the coast of NW CA we could do make similar hypotheses about Roosevelt Elk. I get pretty worked up about this because we have recently allowed Elk hunting in the Lake Earl-Talowa WIldlife Refuge areas due to "overpopulation" while simultaneously making moves towards allowing renewed cattle grazing in sensitive coastal dune ecosystems. I have little problem with hunting or grazing, it just should be done with appropriate species or we should stop asking why it's not working.
 
Bryan Elliott
Posts: 21
Location: Oklahoma Panhandle
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I'm not on here to troll.  I actually come to this site to gain knowledge and get different perspectives.  Both happen.  Ben, I have no problem with you-I've read enough of your posts to know you aren't one of those trying to impose some sort of utopia on me or anyone else.  The only public lands I have around me are some of the national grasslands and state owned public hunting areas.  They seem to be managed okay to good.   The news I get on the National Forests comes from writings from people on opposite ends of the arguments.  I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.  Since I'm not at ground zero and have no real knowledge, I've decided not to miss a great opportunity to shut up and risk taking this off topic.
 
author
Posts: 25
Location: Cobden, ON
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bee solar trees
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Food forests do work if you design for it.

Agro-ecology should be designed for both short-term efficiency and long-term sustainable productivity...not one before the other-- for both are needed for true success. 

Woodland agro-ecologies have immense potential to improve the productivity of both annual and perennial crops as well as animal and other productions.  Yet, a simple focus on agroecological benefits to the soil, the critical building block of all food systems, is enough to justify the design of these systems on every scale. 

One example is the improvement of soil properties such as pore space, organic matter and water holding capacity.  Improvements in soil nutrient storage, cycling and availability to crops come from soil life activity when water, air and organic matter are available to keep the soil system alive.  If your soil is anaerobic, low in soil organic matter and cannot hold moisture-- your yield, income and garden health flounder.

So, why wouldn't we want to intercrop trees in our gardens when they shed organic matter, open the soil pore space and enhance moisture retention?  Of course, they also offer substantial future returns in yields in fruit, nut and timber, etc...but I think the woodland agroecology is amply justified more simply for its innate benefit to the soil and the shade the trees cast on the sun-drenched gardener.
 
Posts: 136
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I'm always keen to hear negative stuff (it's important!) but this really didn't convince me. I've seen lots of very productive gardens with fruit trees in them, the vegetables right around the trees tend to yield a fair bit less, but they yield something. I wouldn't plant a dense forest with vegetables though, and IMO the article misunderstands a lot of permaculture principles. Generally vegetables and forest belong in different zones. The few  trees in a garden might take over and turn into an orchard, or more likely, some of them will get sick and unproductive, get chopped down, fed to goats, used for firewood, timber or really nice furniture/spoons/bowls etc. and seedlings will get weeded out.

Likewise, a real food forest could produce many different things over the years, perhaps young trees could be thinned out and sold in the first few years, and some vegetables grown while the trees are small, charcoal from prunings and thinnings, branches to feed to rabbits, goats etc. and after many years, quality firewood and timber

I've visited commercial orchards, and I have always been distinctly unimpressed: Vast areas of trees, heavily pruned for convenient harvesting, identical clones, getting lots of diseases, regularly replaced, spaced out to allow machinery to drive between them and compact the soil. They are SUPPOSED to be very productive, but I'm just not seeing it, when I compare them to the fruit laden trees I'm more familiar with, growing semi wild in far from optimal locations. But the yields from these kind of places are hard to measure because they are feeding poultry, producing biomass for compost, hay and generally getting  jumbled up with various other food producing activities in places no one would normally consider viable farmland. The most famous scientific study on organic and conventional fruit growing concluded that organic apples yielded 2% as much as conventional apples. This figure was based on the assumption that golden delicious apples with "russet" (rough skin) were unfit for human consumption as it's technically a disease, and most of the organic apples had it. Actually pears and many apples have russet skin, it's even a selling point in some varieties. No one had ever allowed Golden delicious to get russeted before, but consumers who were polled didn't mind, so taking that into account, the organic apple yields looked a lot better. Personally I wouldn't grow golden delicious organically, but that's just me. Anyway, point is that when you are growing apples for home consumption, you can be way less fussy than a commercial orchard, make verjuice with the green windfalls, cut out the bad bits and make chutney, cider, feed them to animals etc. etcc. and you don't lose so many in transit.

Comparing a food forest to a field of potatoes grown with fertiliser is not really fair either. I've seen what happens when you grow potatoes year after year with fertiliser, and it really isn't pretty. It creates the kind of place which becomes steadily less and easy to grow potatoes in until finally someone decides to do something to repair the damage to the soil, like (for instance) planting a whole bunch of random trees there, with the vague hope that in 30 years or so, they might be worth something as timber, fuel, or maybe just a nice recreational space. It should go without saying that producing more food while destroying soil is only feeding people in the short term, and all the agri-technological developments of the last century have actually increased the destruction of soil (with the possible exception of zero till farming which started as a wacko cranky organic farming idea before it caught on with agri-businessmen, so it doesn't really count). Building more healthy, humus rich soil is also one of the best ways we have of taking carbon permanently out of the atmosphere, and this shouldn't be overlooked either

Good statistics on yield are easiest to obtain when you have several identical large square plots of a crop growing on flat ground. I'm not saying you can't investigate food forests scientifically, just that the questions asked and methods used need to be different.

I once went to a job interview, for a science research job. Some commercial fruit growers wanted to know which herbicide would kill the grass around fruit trees and do least harm to the trees. I suggested cardboard, old hessian sacks or woodshavings, only to be told that the answer was a herbicide, they just wanted to know which one. It was a short interview

Occasionally in the past I met permies who seemed to be a bit obsessed with growing nothing but trees and "anti-grass", but fortunately this is changing. Trees are good for soil, especially when they get down deep into subsoil. Grassland has always been popular in temperate climates, because it also improves soil, but unlike trees it is fairly quick and easy to turn it back into arable land if necessary or you change your mind. This would be my only real criticism of the food forest idea: it may not be the best thing to do with valuable flat fertile land in temperate areas.

 
Posts: 55
Location: Devon, UK
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The Bec Hellouin model includes a forest garden, and was started on less than ideal land, and would probably hold up very well productivity wise. I don't have my copy to hand at the moment but the research being conducted on the farm suggests a high level of productivity, using permaculture design and techniques along with Parisian market gardening techniques. Exclusively producing food in a forest garden probably isn't the most productive method for producing food but it brings many other benefits, and I doubt anyone says we should exclusively use forest gardens in temperate regions anyway.
Growing in urban spaces I think it's also important to consider things like the ability of the plants we grow to absorb carbon from the air and clean pollutants out of air too. Heck even here in rural devon they were talking on the radio the other day about high levels of pollution in our towns (because everyone has to drive everywhere because our public transport is rubbish and few people get to live near where they live). But I think that's coming back to the fact that a forest garden isn't just about providing food. It's providing food, fuel, basketry materials, medicines, breathing space, pollution reduction, carbon reduction, immune system support, and probably a bunch of other things I haven't thought about depending on how you design your space. I'm just now thinking about how you could stick a glamping pod or similar into a forest garden and suddenly you have a yield you couldn't get from a potato field.
 
Posts: 145
Location: Courtrai Area, Flanders Region, Belgium Europe
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My starting point is a stripgarden about 5 m wide and about 30 m long. I've nothing but edges and several neighbours who grow veggies in a semi classical way tough they are spraying less and less each year.

If i did things as i was taught i would now have a lawn that i had to mow every week, bringing the clippings to the dump. I would have bare earth with isolated flowers and shrubs.
Now, i have a almost pesticidefree garden with fruit trees, berryshrubs, lots of herbs, some (mostly wild springtime) veggies and a generally far mor interesting space for butterflies, bees, birds, amphibians etc....
I only work my soil to extract rubbish, to plant perennials and trees, to ameliorate suspected atmospheric deposition of toxic soot, to improve drainage, to improve our groundwater table, to improve the ecological balance, etc....



I do not worry much about yield because from my point of view my style of gardening is already an environmental win. We cannot (presently) provide even 1% of the calories my family needs but i can and do provide nearly 100% of our needs in herbs, semi-wild fruit, etc... Each year, we experiment further, each year we add something new to the mix. Speeking money - my yield is not bad - herbs are costly to buy and we use a lot for cooking, herbal tea, etc....

Even if i don't reach the produce yields my neighbours have - my very best yield yet is an interesting garden which is a wonderfull place to explore for my 5,5 year old niece and myself. Any produce is a bonus. If i had to be paid for the work, harvesting would be economically imposible but i don't get paid. It's a hobby.





Some observations

100% of my wild springtime veggies - grow in the closest thing to a food forest i have. You see the same ones in early springtimes in forests all over the country.


There is little comparison between my neighbours gardens and mine including in what we grow. There are only a few things we  have in common.
I completely outproduce my neighbours vis a vis raspberries - Interestingly my patch and that of my left neighbour are just a few meters apart and i have some of the same rapberry variety as he has. I have mine mixed with stinging nettles, etc... He has them in the traditional high yield frame work.

This is the kind of anecdote we should pour in a report/format we could do citizen science with. Good observers making reliable observations and providing these to research. I hope to find a citizen science project on permaculture. In my mind it is the way forward for us to reach larger scale production.







 
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