Yesterday, while doing the dishes, I listened to/watched an awesome presentation by Mark Shepard of New Forest Farms. It was a long talk, over 2 1/2 hours, given at an Acres USA conference, but it was solid permaculture gold.
He begins with a look at the unsustainability of our modern agricultural system that relies on annual crops (corn, soy, wheat, etc.) and finishes with a description of his farm in Wisconsin that uses agroforestry techniques and permaculture principles to produce an abundance of perennial staples and livestock. Mark is a history buff, and he talks about the roles of annual agriculture and soil loss in the collapse of civilizations throughout time.
He draws much of the inspiration for his farm from the naturally occurring oak savannah biome, where large mast bearing oak, beech, and chestnut trees tower over scattered shrubs (hazelnut, apple, cherry etc.) and grasslands. This ecosystem captures much more solar energy than a corn field, and has the ability to sustain more pounds of mammal flesh than any other biome in the world. By grazing hogs, cattle, sheep, geese, turkeys, and chickens through his contour based, polyculture hedges, Mark Shepard has built, and continues to build a system with the potential to change farming history.
This talk was particularly exciting because Mark is actually doing it. He is producing food at the level necessary to supply grocery stores and urban centers. His entire point is that his method of farming, called Restoration Agriculture, is one that increases in yields and fertility over time, indefinitely, while decreasing in expenses. He argues that this is the only way to sustainably feed the world, and shows that permaculture can be profitable on a large scale commercial farm.
Check out the video if you have time and are into this kind of thing. The images are just stills of either Mark or his slides from the presentation, but he’s an engaging and funny speaker, and won’t disappoint.