Though the work is easier together, we spread out in the darkest time of year to cozier burrows, diffusing the weight of winter, lighter on the land. Though it is dark, we are warmed to know there are familiar others nearby. Our struggles are tied up together, and while one faces scarcity, someone else has more than enough to share, so that we may survive together and work together in brighter times.
So it has been through the ages. So it is still in little ways in overdeveloped places where big systems eclipse mutual aid: we turn to neighbors for power during long outages, for tool shares, for relationship. So it is still in big ways in underdeveloped places where small systems are made sufficient by human relationships: cooperating to cultivate land, to maintain infrastructure for basic needs, for relationship.
The lessons of the seasons proceed before us, though we may be distracted by a house on fire, our own or our neighbors.
May we be there for each other, so that we may all meet our needs, in mutual benefit with the sources of that sustenance and satisfaction. May peace be upon you.
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.
The amazing abundance of trees from seed. Reforestation happens through a range of approaches, and from seed is one of the simplest, cheapest, and most time-tested of ways. It comes with pros and cons, the bad including relatively high loss and diversity of traits (such as shell thickness or fruiting time, which industrial operations seek consistency in). In such chaotic times diversity is good. This low-tech approach embraces loss en route to life. Life of the critters enjoying these trees & their seeds along the way, life that comes with the space and legacy of endings, life from letting life be as it will. Seed is a powerful source of sustenance, survival, and succession toward better local adaptation for chaotic futures.
Like the idea of trees and long-term improvement, enjoyment, environmental restoration, and if needed, sustenance? Hazelnuts are a tree you can trust to thrive easily and be enjoyable company. Measuring in at 18ft high and 15ft across, these beautiful bushes have been at the heart of our ancestors’ lives for many, many millennia. Food; some of the healthiest fats available to us. Fiber for homes and many essential crafts. Fuel as both coppice1 firewood and as-energy-dense-as-coal residues (shells and husks) for burning (is that true? nearly2).
Hazel is a gift in social resilience as well. A folk hero. How do all the gifts hazel offers sound as renewables, compared with other strategies for food, fiber, fuel, health and wellness? Fossil fuels and ‘renewable’ energy that depends on mining and toxic processing at industrial scales is degrading the foundations of life: water, soil, air, weather, ecosystems. How about a hedge of hazels instead?
How about a biocultural renewal? A deep adaptation? A relational agriculture that reciprocates and enhances nature’s gifts rather than degrading them.
Acorns have great potential as a staple food. This may seem like it takes a lot of processing, but compared with conventional staple food sources with similar nutritional profiles and palatability, this and many other tree crops require less energy overall to enjoy, potentially require less capital as a cost-of-entry, and have numerous co-benefits. This calls for a different culture however, as there’s a shift in where much of the energy is expended in enjoying regional nuts and trees for basic needs:
In conventional systems, energy use and negative externalities occur “Not In My Backyard“, in rural areas and in far away oil and fertilizer producing places. In systems offering greater food sovereignty, resilience, and positive externalities, energy use is brought closer to the point of consumption and after the point of sale.
Shelf stability of acorns highlights a trade-off of this shift in the point of energy use to enjoy the crop: acorns and many nuts are very shelf stable, but when they’re processed enough to be ready to eat (e.g. as acorn tortillas or roasted hazelnuts) they become less shelf stable. This is not a critical issue, as acorn flour and many value-added nut products can last for weeks dried or refrigerated and be preserved for months or maybe years frozen. This trade-off affects the culture of use and markets for local nut crops:
Tree nuts are long-lasting, resilient, more intimate staple foods which require more labor close-to-home, but
tree for basic needs also bring home closer with the source of one’s well-being and being well in ecological mutualism with that which supports oneself.
And with this in mind, I give thanks to Osker Brown and Living Web Farm for the information below about acorns for landscapes and livelihoods.
Distribution of time for tasks to enjoy acorns:
1/3 labor gathering and drying
1/3 labor cracking, leaching, processing
1/3 labor quality control, removing nuts with signs of mold
Gather & quality-control red oaks, dry, store in-shell . . . here is a very informative video series, starting specifically at part 5 which details home and community-scale acorn gathering.
Ready to prep for meals? De-shell red oak acorns using hammer, nut cracker, nut crucible…or for large home-scale (e.g. ‘5lbs batch weekly for two months’), Davebilt #43 nut mill has been found effective and robust.
Sort and quality-control, winnowing kernels from shells. Discard kernels that are not a shade of brown whether dark or cream colored, e.g. remove nut meat colored white, yellow, green, or blue), discard shells for mulch or fuel or tanning.
Leech (various methods) until astringent flavor is no longer noticeable when tasting nuts. Dry. Break down further into flour using food processor or similar methods. To begin with cut with 50:50 all-purpose flour and use as you would all-purpose flour. Acorn flour can replace all purpose flour for many recipes.
An improvement to this video’s recipe: the acorn mash/flour should have been dried (at least squeeze-dried in cloth) after final decanting, prior to cooking. That way the pancakes would not have fallen apart.
Awesome footage of Finger Lakes-based Edible Acres plant nursery and homestead:
@1:44 Cool contrast of the land cover texture at Edible Acres forest garden alongside neighboring sparsely-treed lawn. From sunshine to complex, interdependent and diverse self-regenerating life and succession.
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