Nathan Pickard

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since Apr 28, 2013
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Recent posts by Nathan Pickard

This is a three year old food forest with swales, food trees, bushes, and vines.  

Lots of info and pictures at:

3 years ago
I love where you are going with this. I've been thinking a lot about this very same thing. What if we took the average American's food, shelter, transportation costs and place them in a food forest setting? I made a video that tries to explain it within three minutes. It is a made up company in the video. I wish a company like this existed. I am just trying to get people thinking in these terms. The cool thing is that the City of Tulsa is now going to apply for a $500,000 grant from the FED to turn this trail into a food forest!
From about the Tisdale Food Forest:

A Roadside Attraction


A Community Tries a Hand at Food Forestry Along the Tisdale Highway

Imagine a forest: a wild swath of land, thick with trees and underbrush, alive with insects and woodland creatures. Origins unknown, it was not planted by hand, nor is it cared for by man, yet it thrives, year after year. When you imagine a forest you might not picture a roadside agricultural experiment but that is exactly what you’ll find lining the L. L. Tisdale Parkway just north of downtown Tulsa: a food forest with a story.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Mark Shepard spent long, hot summer days toiling in his family’s sprawling vegetable garden. It was hard, dirty work that he didn’t particularly enjoy. He preferred hauling firewood, a physically demanding chore but one that could be accomplished under the shade of the woods with snacks of wild nuts and berries provided by the forest free of charge. Shepard wondered:

“Why was it that growing our garden produce was so much work, and yet out here in the woods … there was so much to eat, and we did nothing but harvest the bounty?”

Perhaps it was a touch of sloth that initially drove him to question modern reliance on annual agriculture but it was this line of inquiry that led him to his life’s work. He is now the proprietor of New Forest Farm, a 106-acre commercial-scale perennial agricultural ecosystem, and author of Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers. In his book, Shepard extolls the many virtues of agro-forestry: minimal maintenance, enhanced habitat for pollinators and wildlife, elimination of pesticides (since there is a predator for each pest in the functioning ecosystem) and increased resilience against catastrophe.

When Tulsa native Nathan Pickard finished reading Restoration Agriculture last fall, he was inspired. No stranger to urban gardening, Pickard helped start the Brady Heights community garden many years ago, later embellishing the garden with fruit trees and blackberry bushes before turning his efforts to his own backyard. But reading Shepard’s critique of annual agriculture got him thinking it was time to purchase acreage and plant his own demonstration food forest. His property search took him to North Tulsa but as he drove home one day he noticed the abundance of vacant land lining the L. L. Tisdale Parkway. It gave him an idea: Why not use the highway right of way, unused land that requires costly maintenance by the city, for a food forest?

Pickard pulled together a team, starting with Up With Trees board member E. J. Oppenheimer, who Pickard was surprised to learn works closely with Shepard on agroforestry projects around the world. With support from Up With Trees and Green Country Permaculture’s James Spicer, as well as a diverse set of volunteers ranging from a nutritionist to a sound engineer, the team created a site plan and a proposal guided by a simple goal: “Create an orchard which creates value.”

By the end of April the team was ready to plant. With a generous donation from the local nonprofit Transitions Tulsa, as well as a smaller donation from a shuttered Wal-Mart, 500 trees and shrubs were purchased for the forest including Chinese chestnuts, pecan, plum, peach, fig, cherry, mulberry, apple, jujubes, Virginia pine, black locust and loblolly pine trees. Over the course of two weeks, with design guidance from Green Country Permaculture, equipment from E. J. and Luke Oppenheimer’s Valley Park Ranch, and plenty of volunteers, three rows of fledgling forest were stretched along six city blocks of highway. Though planting the forest was a labor-intensive process, strategic permaculture design makes it a low maintenance project with far greater outputs than inputs over time. James Spicer estimates that in three to five years, once the trees and shrubs begin producing, the forest will yield thousands of pounds of food each season.

Not just any food but healthy, high-demand market crops. Crops that will be cared for and harvested by North Tulsa teenagers, hired through the nonprofit Crossover Community Impact. Crops which can be sold competitively at markets and through mobile grocers, bringing new fresh fruit and nut options to food deserts. In addition to the literal fruits of labor, the forest will provide beautification, shade, habitat, biodiversity, jobs, noise reduction, pollution reduction and decrease the mowing footprint.

To the untrained eye the forest looks like a tangled mess of wildflowers, blackberry bushes and a variety of saplings. There is a method to the madness, however. Native wildflowers serve to attract pollinators, which will increase fruit production. Daikon radishes will send big tubes into the ground, breaking up the soil so it can better absorb water, while black locusts will fix nitrogen for the trees.

“We planted a large diversity and we spaced them pretty close so that way as trees do die other ones will fill in. It’s, like, let’s throw a bunch of diversity out here and then this site is going to give us feedback, it’s going to let us know what’s working and what’s not,” Spicer explains.

This laissez faire approach might seem counterintuitive to a farmer, or even gardener, who is accustomed to nursing their plants through thick and thin. No one likes to see a plant die after they’ve labored over it. Oppenheimer describes the method this way: “You don’t want a tree that’s like a prima donna that you have to take care of and water and is bothered by pests. You want a tree that’s, like, ‘No, I’m here to grow and this is my spot and just leave me alone and I’ll be fine.’”

The hope is that the forest will fill in and flourish over time. That it will grow tall and stand on its own. That it will outlive us all and that those who come after us will enjoy a legacy of fresh fruit, nuts and berries. Future generations might observe, appreciate and replicate the thoughtful design of the Tisdale Food Forest. They might forage a free snack in the shade of the forest and wonder, where did this all come from?

For more information find the Tisdale Food Forest at
4 years ago
We had the exact same issue and considered all the alternatives mentioned. What we ended up going with was keeping the pool walls as a rhizome barrier and filling it in with dirt, etc. We then planted edible bamboo and timber bamboo on alternate sides of the pool. It is the one place we could think of with an adequate rhizome barrier for bamboo and we are excited about it. Once it fills completely in. We are going to cut out a secret room in the middle that will be very private and fun for the kids. We just visited a bed and breakfast that planted their whole back yard in bamboo and then cut out all kinds of unique rooms within it.
5 years ago
If your city is anything like my city, you'll be lucky to be allowed to have anything other than dogs and cats. The ordinances are usually very restrictive about farm animals in urban areas.
5 years ago
That makes a lot of sense. I am showing your video to someone this weekend who is buying 12 acres and is very conventional. I think your video is the perfect thing to show him he can make more money by going your route while not straying so far away from a normal orchard that he thinks we are all crazy. I was just curious if you had experimented with it at all and good reasons against it from a practical standpoint.
6 years ago

Stefan Sobkowiak wrote:

Nathan Pickard wrote:I am an accountant by training and one of the hardest things about permaculture is getting financial revenue numbers from existing permaculture farms. Could you help us out by sharing a range of revenue by acre that you have experienced? That would be a huge help to those of us trying to write business plans, etc or trying to make informed decisions on when to get away from our professional careers.

Thanks Nathan for the question. We are working on a comprehensive spreadsheet with a few agroeconomists to do exactly that. Customizable so you can plug in our own variables and give you a great idea for projecting your future revenue. We expect to have the project finished by the end of the summer. Stay tuned, if you would be interested in it send me an email with: 'Permaculture Orchard Spreadsheep" in the subject to: miraclefarms(at) I'll notify you when it's ready at the end of summer.
Our target revenue from the Permaculture Orchard is $1 per square foot. Where we have fully planted and the plants are mature and graze animals we can reach that. We do not yet achieve that over the whole of the orchard since we still have plantings to add. Caveat we sell all direct, no middle man but we are far from a major city (1 hour to Montreal). If you are 10-20 minutes from a town with a McDonalds I envy you since it is so much easier, you already have your customer base nearby. Read Booker T. Whatley's great book on the subject of marketing your farm products.

Thanks Stefan. I think your comprehensive spreadsheet will be a huge help!
6 years ago
I am an accountant by training and one of the hardest things about permaculture is getting financial revenue numbers from existing permaculture farms. Could you help us out by sharing a range of revenue by acre that you have experienced? That would be a huge help to those of us trying to write business plans, etc or trying to make informed decisions on when to get away from our professional careers.
6 years ago