Here are a couple of drawings from this past winter, inspired by cooperative and integrative tree crop happenings throughout the Mid-Atlantic. I would like to draw a series in honor of the ‘five branch’ vertically-integrated nut supply chain pursued by Keystone Tree Crops Cooperative. For now, I am sharing two early drafts in honor of that same cooperative effort kicking off its first fundraiser (for gatherer payments and some basic equipment).
On a regional permaculture listserv, someone asked the great question of what trees are strategic to grow during these challenging and chaotic times. That thread received some good answers, including a shoutout to hickories, willows, cypress, hazels, the great book Trees of Power by Akiva Silver, and more. Of course, diversity is a strategic priority in itself, as are site specific selections. Here, I’m sharing an ode to hazelnuts as one such strategic tree:
Hazels have a long history of resilience themselves, surviving climate chaos in the past and being in the birch family who extend to the edges of where hardwoods can survive. There is evidence of hazelnuts being a resilient food source for our ancient ancestors. In terms of site suitability, hazelnuts can be a good fit in both urban and rural settings.
Hazels are botanically unique in that their beautiful flowers stay open for pollination for weeks (a grower recently told me they observed one open for 8 weeks!) Those flowers can also be cold hardy down to -20F, so they are less vulnerable to climate chaos.
There’s so much more to say, but the last bit of inspiration I will share to encourage learning and engaging with hazels is this.
Of all the ways trees can provide for our basic needs in mutualism, hazels offer many gifts.
- Food: can be eaten raw, can be used as a staple food in various ways, incredibly healthy, can be valuable for trade.
- Fodder: can be forage for animals, good for wildlife.
- Fuel: coppices provide a short-rotation source of dense firewood that does not require splitting, and the nut shells are also energy dense.
- Fiber: hazel rods were used to build early cool temperate-climate homes, and their strong, flexible wood is handy for many tools and applications (even boats!)
- Farmaceuticals: “Let food by thy medicine…”
- Fun: Hazels have deep roots in my ancestral culture and many others. They make lovely places for wildlife and can be used in all kinds of play. Their pink flowers softly announce the arrival of spring, and that kind of forward-looking positivity is needed with the challenges and metaphoric-winters we face.
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.
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“Tikkun Olam-the repair of the world.via https://www.facebook.com/lightsofkabbalah/posts/1678432628972544
If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it,then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete.But if you only see what is ugly in the world,then it is you yourself that needs repair.”
Rebbe Menachem M Schneerson (Lubavitcher Rebbe)
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.
Small-Scale Distributed Integrated Resilient Agroforest Ecosystems…Buzz words buzzin’ like bees and birds
“So here is a way to get a wet area to be a pond, well-drained raised garden beds, focused nutrient delivery system, and a propagation space for hardwood cuttings, in an area that was just kind of mucky and filled with grass and shrubs.”
Here’s a nice video on entropy and order. Is forest gardening lowering or increasing entropy in its local system, in our Earth system?
Among the regenerative and degenerative landscapes I’ve seen, diversity is a key factor in what kind of landscape one is. Agricultural landscapes annual (e.g. corn, soy) and perennial (e.g. almonds, hazelnuts) can restore or degrade ecosystem services depending on the diversity and complexity of the agro-life sytem. Eclectic interests keep one interested, diverse plant communities keep one resilient and rich (e.g. Biodiversity promotes primary productivity and growing season lengthening at the landscape scale – Oehri et al. 2017). Life itself is a diversity, an emanating Tree of Life with unique branches to each one’s own.
It’s true that great practice in one specific area brings great fruits. Whether an excellent organic farm operation or a kick practiced 1,000 times, a la:
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.Bruce Lee
Monopolies in business are a bitter-sweet example of this: bitter in how vulnerable and skewed the system can become; sweet in the fruits of specialization and the economies of scale if you’re on the good side of the skew.
However all the better that many kicks and maneuvers are practiced many times. On one level this applies to one’s own life in terms of adaptability and engagement with many aspects of life. On a spiritual level it is balance and vitality in the diverse branches of the Tree of Life. On another level this applies to the collection of many lives lived covering a diversity of ways: products in markets; species in ecosystems; geographies to live in; all the colors, shapes, sizes, and ways of life; forests.
Forests. What a vital instance of diversity in all our lives. Supporting, regulating, providing, and cultural. We humans are, after All, descended from arboreal creatures. Here’s to growing home!