Book of the Week: Restoration Agriculture

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This week’s Book of the Week feature is Restoration Agricultureby Mark Shepard.

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Chapter 12: Nutrition & Perennial Agriculture

Our modern oak savanna replication consists of the following plant species: chestnuts, apples, hazelnuts, raspberries, grapes, currants, and forage. Unless you are a grass juicer, a maker of grass tofu (yes, you can make tofu from lawn clippings!), and consume acres of grass, human beings cannot digest grass very well. However, animals can. The animals most suited to eating grasses are the ruminants. Our simple oak savanna mimic can be home to an integrated animal system that consists of cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens. For this nutritional analysis, some of the chickens will be raised for meat and others for eggs. Some of the cattle will be used for meat and others for producing dairy products. Since I prefer to drink cow’s milk rather than sheep’s milk, I am only going to include cow’s milk in the nutritional analysis. (Sorry sheep people, I’m just trying to save space and not addle too many brains with too much information.)

Although the sheep dairy folks might initially take a little offense that I did not include sheep dairy in the nutritional analysis, and even though sheep milk may have way higher quantities of certain nutrients when compared to cow’s milk, I’m not comparing sheep’s milk to cow’s milk. I’m comparing oak savanna mimic restoration agriculture to monocropped corn.

Even my sheep dairy friends will see that by the time we get down to dairy products the evidence will be clear — an oak savanna-mimic, restoration agriculture farm produces a full and complete diet for the human being. The nutrition per acre under restoration agriculture outcompetes corn so much that it’s not even funny. In order to make this system less cumbersome, I am also leaving out turkeys which would work quite well in the system I have described. The system will include zero imported feed for the livestock and will be based on a very conservative number of animals that could be supported by it.

What we will need to do first is to lay out a simple, one-acre restoration agriculture farm “field.” It is based on one of many systems pioneered at New Forest Farm in Wisconsin and is similar to others around the country.

This one-acre field would look something like this:

  • 9 rows of edible woody plants with a 23-foot-wide alley between each row.

The rows would be planted as follows:

  • 5 rows of chestnuts planted 12 feet apart within the row. Beneath each chestnut tree would be a row of red currants planted 2 feet apart within the row and one grape vine trellised on each chestnut tree.
  • 4 of the 9 rows would be an apple and hazelnut row with apples planted every 24 feet and hazelnuts as an understory planted every 4 feet.
  • Raspberries would be planted on the south side of the entire row every 2 feet and one grape trellised on each apple tree.

This spatial arrangement would result in a total for each acre of:

  • 34 apple trees
  • 86 chestnut trees
  • 120 grape vines
  • 208 hazelnut bushes
  • 416 raspberry canes
  • 520 red currant bushes

As you can plainly see, on a nutrient-by-nutrient basis, an oak savanna- mimic restoration agriculture farm growing a perennial polyculture of chestnuts, apples, hazelnuts, raspberries, grapes, and currants provides superior nutrition to corn. There are only two measured nutritional elements, sodium, and selenium, that are available in lower quantities in the perennial polyculture. Sodium, although it is an essential nutrient, is available far in excess in the modern diet and has been accused of being the cause of hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes. Selenium, although it is essential for brain and nerve function, is a heavy metal and as such is a neurotoxin in even modest amounts. With corn being in so many of the foods we eat and comprising the base diet upon which most American livestock is fed is there any wonder why hypertension is such a large national health issue? With the deficiency of sodium naturally occurring in the “wild” human diet, is it any wonder that we developed to have such a strong desire for salt? It is an essential nutrient and it isn’t readily available in a natural, plant-based diet. The perennial polyculture as described above is nearly a perfect nutritional 

system for a vegan diet in North America. The system will be home to a huge variety of birds, amphibians, pollinating insects, and more, so animal habitat will be improved. Human beings can live healthy and well-fed and no animals need to be killed. Without livestock, however, the system would need to be mowed in order to favor the edible woody plants, so even a vegan would benefit from having some livestock in the system. For those who choose to eat the animals in their restoration agriculture system, they are lucky indeed.

Learn more about Restoration Agriculture here.

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About the Author:

Mark Shepard heads Forest Agriculture Enterprises and runs New Forest Farm, a 106-acre commercial-scale perennial agricultural ecosystem that was converted from a row-crop grain farm. Trained in mechanical engineering and ecology, Mark has combined these two passions to develop equipment and processes for the cultivation, harvesting, and processing of forest derived agricultural products for human foods and biofuel production. Mark is a certified permaculture designer and teaches agroforestry and permaculture around the world. 

Also by Mark Shepard:

Similar Books of Interest:

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Landby Gary Paul Nabhan

The Woodland Homesteadby Brett McLeod

Sepp Holzer’s Permacultureby Sepp Holzer