If healthy farms need biodiversity at all scales (genetic to botanical family) and structural complexity (from herbaceous annual to shrub to tree), then aren’t we all sunk? I mean really, how is a farmer- already a walking encyclopedia of soil nutrition and climatology and a litany of pests for the crops they are already raising- supposed to add even more crops with entirely other life cycles to their “specialty”?
Picture an organic vegetable farm: I’ve written here about Common Good Farm, neck deep in amazing vegetables and pastured poultry and a host of other projects I’ve not even mentioned here yet. How are they supposed to add a fruit orchard to that mix? There is so much knowledge and in-depth specialized insight already in play on that organic and biodynamic farm; at some point, enough is too much.
Picture an organic farm trying to figure out season extension: I’ve written here about Shadow Brook Farm, who raises goats for
amazing cheeses and farms under both high tunnel and sky for the longest CSA season in the area. They already have at least one perennial crop with that field of asparagus. How are they supposed to add the specialized needs of nut trees, the pest potentials of plum trees to their already enormous workload?
At the other end of the spectrum, picture an apple orchard. I haven’t written one up yet, but they’ll be here soon enough. An apple orchard can diversify, vary the types of apples, their harvest times, add pears, plums, peaches, even add raspberry brambles and kiwi vines, but what about herbaceous plants? What about herbs and flowers? How is an orchard going to take on that project, too?
Question: does one farmer (family) need to know it all?
Or could they have friends? I can picture a new class of farmer- the landless farmer- as a valuable addition to the local food movement. Neither Ruth and Evrett or Kevin and Charuth need to learn fruit trees. Ebony (my fictitious landless orchardist) knows them.
Because her fruit trees don’t need daily attention the bulk of the year, Ebony is able to work with several local organic farmers to find a smattering of sites on each farm where a little shade might be welcome and a few tree trunks not in the way of the tractor.
She plants a range of fruit trees on each farm. In each case, they are spaced out, which is helpful for thwarting pests, but close enough to cross pollinate enough other. In no place does Ebony end up with the monoculture rows so prevalent in contemporary orchards.
She plants a windbreak of nut trees (perhaps into that 30 foot buffer the organic farms must have if a conventional farm is next door. The nuts wouldn’t be certifiably organic, but Ebony might be okay with that). She adds berry bushes to existing on-farm hedgerows.
Ebony visits her crops at each farm on a regular basis. The fruits benefit from the farmers’ chickens eating bugs. The trees provide nesting sites for the predators of the pests that eat the farm’s vegetables. Ebony adds some of her bounty to the farm’s CSA offerings in ‘rent’, and takes the rest to market. She owns no land, but has 50 year contracts that spell out her claim on 300 fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs.
Simon, on the other hand, is equally fictitious and equally landless, but knows his herbs and cut flowers with a passion. Could he work something out with a local orchard? Planting herbs under the trees for local restaurants and flowers for local markets. He supplements these with other plantings intentionally allowed to seed. The seeds are sold to an organic seed catalog.
In my own garden, I can be all these farmers at once, but I don’t have market pressures hanging on my success or failure. My explorations of permaculture-inspired biodiversity in the garden are not the pinnacle of knowledge; I want to learn how to scale these ideas, move them onto bigger stages. We need more new farmers and more new styles of farming, perhaps even more than we need more new farms.