Traditional agriculture is destroying our planet. Did you know that if we keep going as we are, planting massive monocrop fields, polluting the ground by adding a whole host of pesticides and herbicides and tilling the ground using dirty machines powered by finite fossil fuels, the useful and nourishing topsoil of our planet could be gone in as few as sixty years! Roughly a third of the world\’s topsoil has already been degraded. Meanwhile, forests are being decimated at an alarming rate, destroying useful flood barriers, shade, habitats and carbon sinks and allowing yet more harmful gases into our atmosphere. If aliens were to look down on us they would shake their heads in disbelief and say – \’what were they thinking?\’.
People worry. People tut tut at the disgusting things being done on our planet as though they were somehow nothing to do with them. Many people are simply so divorced from the natural food chain that they never think about where the food on their plates come from and what it costs to get there. Did you know that food production accounts for almost a quarter of all human emissions? Did you know that giving up beef would lower your carbon footprint more than giving up your car?! Agriculture is one of the biggest problems we will have to solve if we are to successfully transition to a sustainable future. Since fossil fuels are a finite resource and current agricultural practice depends so heavily on them, things will HAVE to change, whether we collectively want them to or not.
The good news is that there are alternative food production systems an these alternative systems have been proven to work. They are productive, non-polluting and harmonious with nature – working with rather than against the natural world. One such method of food production is forest gardening (or when on a large, commercial scale, agroforestry).
Agroforestry is all about mimicking and making more productive through human agency the most successful ecosystem on this planet – the forest. By learning lessons from the way a forest works in a self-sustaining way almost anywhere on the planet, people are able to grow food in far more sensible and sustainable ways. Layering crops means beneficial interactions can occur – larger fruit trees can be underplanted with smaller trees, bushes, smaller plants, a ground cover and root vegetables, creating a productive edge ecosystem like the edge of a forest glade. Companion planting can reduce pests, increase fertility and encourage strong growth while allowing waste such as fallen leaves to remain with ensure the continued health of the soil. This sort of agriculture can use land not suited to mono-culture crops. The sky is the limit. We can green the desert, we can grow without irrigation in hot, dry climates, we can feed the many, many hungry mouths of this world.
The first thing to say is that this system, though minimal input, does best when people do engage with their land and takes effort to implement in the first place. In order to make agriculture more sustainable we have to realise the importance and value of getting involved in growing our own food and food for our communities. Forest gardening is all about getting a high yield from a smaller area. It can be implemented on an individual scale, in your own garden or at a community-wide level, in allotments or community growing spaces. City people must stop seeing food production as something that happens elsewhere. Imagine your local park, garden, municipal space or even roadside verges turned into a productive food forest? You might think that sounds amazing but what you should be thinking is – how can I make it happen?
Imagine being in a forest where everything around you is food. Click here to read more about Forest Gardening.