Temperate-climate agroforestry offers the potential for long-term ecological mutualism with humans and trees, and while it is time-tested in having sustained millennia of our ancestors, there are many hurdles to shifting lifeways toward agroforestry in 2020. In this post I introduce the main challenges I have identified, and I outline a potential approach to overcome these challenges. In short, that approach is an agroforestry worker cooperative that ‘owns’ (has rights of control, and rights to returns) land and practices stewardship so to advance tree crops and sustain itself.
I hope this clarifies opportunities that we can turn into realities, to support multi-generational stewardship of trees for basic needs in a way that is mutually beneficial to all relations involved.
A long term steward of the northeast, Sunchoke aka Earth Apple aka Jerusalem Artichoke aka Helianthus tuberosus. This plant is a sunflower species with a starchy, potato-like root that propagates itself (usually easily) from year to year.
In the video below, Ben Falk harvests and discusses a 400sq.ft. area that grows sunchokes year after year, with minimal maintenance, while building soil. This year’s harvest offers 90lbs of starchy “J-choke” tubers, leaving some in soil to regrow the patch for next year’s harvest. He notes using them as pureed soup after some slow cooking, as well as pickling and lactofermenting them. I have only had them a few times. When I cooked them I cut them thin and stir fried them, cooking them for a while and adding other veggies and seasoning into the mix. They are dense plants and feel like a good staple, able to significantly help mitigate ‘the hunger gap’ as Ben says regarding strains on food supplies and ecology. I look forward to growing, harvesting, and cooking more of this perennial plant ally.
One idea for ‘where is the real limit’ is ‘first principles’, meaning the phenomenon studied by natural sciences.
For example: according to the patterns (we sometimes call laws) in physics, biochemistry, and agroecology, is it feasible to grow food in monocultures that rely on external inputs and petroleum products? Not for the long haul, not at all. Yet we do it, and further, we rely on economic systems (e.g. multinational corporations, global prioritization of financial profits) that make it difficult to do the opposite! (Opposite being, for example, ‘restoration agriculture’ or cultivating highly productive, highly diverse agro-ecosystems that mimic natural ecosystems in structure and function over time and space.)
Economics (as in, how we manage our ‘households’ at different scale) and political will is often where we stray from first principles (for some time). We can economically incentivize all we want, we can make all the political noise we want, but eventually we get constrained by higher and broader drivers. “The buck stops”…here and now, in accordance with natural trends and constraints.
We’ve pushed well out of bounds, so it will take some change to get back ‘within our limits’. A framework to work on is ‘relinquishment, resilience, and restoration’ a la deep adaptation (https://jembendell.com/2019/05/15/deep-adaptation-versions/). May peace be upon you.
From a food resiliency standpoint: collecting wild nuts, cleaning and drying them properly, and storing them in-shell with decent airflow in a cool space like a basement – it’s probably one of the highest levels of resiliency for fat and protein that you could store, I think. These hickories should be good for 10 years, I’ve heard for up to 15 years. Chestnuts when they’re dry, more or less indefinitely. Acorns, more or less indefinitely. These Japanese walnuts from 4 years ago…one out of 50 is a dud, the rest taste absolutely beautiful.
from Edible Acres (@4:31 of video below)
@ 5:34 some processing footage
“It feels like a critical base layer to food security, with gardening, wild foraging and hunting as additional layers of benefit.”
Replying to a comment about wild nuts being a most efficient form of hunting & gathering
Food sovereignty, good when times are good and when times are not so good.
An imaginative exercise – what does an ideal food system look like to you? When I envision optimal food systems and resilient, rewarding primary sectors that are grounded and guarded by ecological mutualism, I see trees are a key & core part.
Towering timber trees among their families and cohorts of diverse company, gifting staple crops for current and future generations with numerous co-benefits. Agroforest cows? Shiitake and other medicines? Trees of all types, hazel in the northeast alongside other handy hardy bushes. Alley & edge crops. Wildlife habitat. Connection to place and harmony with neighbors human and nonhuman. Productive conservation & restoration agriculture. Forest gardens. Community food hubs, gathering and processing.
How can we integrate ecological mutualism into our lives, at various scales? Go nuts
soil-regenerating pasture growing happy healthy 100%-grassfed animals who have one bad day in becoming proteins and nutritious foods. peace be upon them that pasture replacing and adjacent to non-organically grown GMO soybeans (>95% U.S. soy) grown with petroleum, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and more. how at peace are the creatures involved? peace be upon them eating meat ain’t necessarily good for the environment, CAFOs are something to carefully critically consider before you source your food from them if you have choice in the matter. silvopasture and holistic grazing though? productive ecological restoration, we got a lot of work to do y’all, let’s make it real! peace be upon you
In this video is a beautiful and simple example of agroforestry’s mutually beneficial closed loops in action: black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).
Black locust is grown in pasture to create a managed savanna known as silvopasture, one of 5 common agroforestry techniques.
Black locust has a few roles in the silvopasture system. It is part of
the fabric of holistic grazing, wherein herds of large mammals rotate
around partitioned areas, intensively
grazing on each then moving on to let it regenerate growing more soil
each time. To manage livestock, many fence posts are needed, and what
better wood for fence posts than black locust?
Black locust is rot resistent and can grow quickly (3-4 ft/yr in NY).
Its density and rot resistance makes it an excellent material for
firewood or weatherproof construction including fence posts. While it
grows it fixes nitrogen from air into plant-usable form in soil; it
offers leaves with similar nutritional value as alfalfa for animals; it
offers honeybees and humans sweet flowers; and it offers many other
co-benefits of trees.
Northeastern USA is incredibly fortunate. Much of the world is currently or soon to be in harsh conditions. Refugees are inevitable so we’re best to learn how to handle the situation best.
What paths can lead us to the least total suffering? For all humans, for ourselves, for all creatures, to what end? How about to the most ends? Who knows, but we have to move forward what will grow; better ways toward better days, regenerating the arrays of what we need.
One high-level aim could be mutually
beneficial solutions. Also, considering technological changes in our
workforce, returning to nature-based livelihoods could make the most of
human time, potential, opportunity. What activities, goods and services
are likely to continue being generated by humans when computers take
over? Crafts, art, farming, stewarding nature that sustains us –
foundations! And it’s a good way to go in times of peace as well as
In any case, mitigate yes necessary, but in any case woah we better learn to adapt.