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Restoration Agriculture – A review

I recently finished reading Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard.

This book outlines Mark Shepard’s journey from his childhood in New England to life at his farm at his home in Wisconsin.   As a child, Mark’s family relied heavily on their annual garden and fruit trees to provide food for the family.  He remembers garden work to be hot, laborious and never ending.  The annual garden was a constant fight against nature.  Weeding, watering, planting, a never ending cycle.

He then recounts the food they foraged.  It was cool and peaceful.  They mostly harvested.  They didn’t have to worry about weeds, as every part of the natural system worked together.  These childhood experiences, along with a few books, led him to the restorative agriculture system he uses today.

Mark’s farm in Wisconsin copies natural systems which are conducive to the area which he lives.  Within a small area, he will plant chestnuts, apples, grapes, and blackberries.  Each plant either complimenting each other, or utilizing different substrates of the area.  An area filled with this diverse plant system will produce more food overall.  However, if that same area were planted with all apples, you would harvest more apples, but the diversity equals safety.  If there is a bad year for apples,  the apple producer is completely out of luck.  You can even use this system to harvest wood for fuel and building.

He also expand this system to include animals.  You an have pigs foraging in between the alleys of perennial woody crops, in a paddock shift system.  This means that the pigs move from area to area with just enough disturbance to to enhance the area.  If there are too many pigs in too little an area for too long ( or one of any of those three “too’s”), you will end up degrading your land instead of enhancing it.

This book also commented on how these methods can actually nourish the world instead of “feeding” it.  He discussed the nutrition lacking in corn and our other mono-crops.  This is evident when we see 500 pound adults with Rickets, a disease partially caused by  a deficiency in necessary nutrients such as calcium.  They are clearly getting enough calories, but not any nutrition.  It is possible to be fat and malnourished.

At his farm, New Forest Farm, Mark is also trying to restore the American Chestnut.  The American Chestnut was hit with a blight originating from the Chinese Chestnut.  The American Chestnut was the East Coast’s version of the Red Wood.  When the blight first started to spread, we stupidly decided to cut down all the American Chestnuts to stop the spread.  This removed any trees that may have had a natural genetic resistance to the blight.

Mark is planting thousands of trees in hopes of finding one genetic variety that has resistance.  He does this over planting them from seeds and then using his STUN technique.  STUN stands for Sheer Total Utter Neglect.  This allows for the strongest of plants to survive.  If any tree wants to die, he lets it.  The weeds out the weak genetics and brings the strong genetics to the foreground.

This book is an enlightening read.  It gives hope, and also gives a reason to become active in your food choices.  It offers a new prospective on farming and restoration to the land.  This book is an entertaining and quick read, but beyond informative.

My take aways:

  1. Plant more trees
  2. Plant things you can eat (they still look pretty!)
  3. Plant trees
  4. Eat from a perennial systems. (nuts, fruits, pastured meats)
  5. There is hope.
  6. Plant trees that will thrive in your area.

I do recommend this book.  It has opened my eyes and added to my arsenal of information so that I can make educated decisions.  As I start to design my property and plant with a plan, I will be keeping Mark’s systems and philosophies in mind.

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