We are so excited to host this online event with Monica Ibacache on November 21! Learn more and join us!
By Shira Lynn
After attending a talk by an edible-perennial-landscape-farmer, my pro-pollinator friend was beside herself with concern. “That farmer is doing so much good,” she exclaimed, “but she’s not using native plants!”
I started to trot out my usual counterpoints to the native plant hysteria: In climate change conditions we no longer know what will thrive. We are suffering from global toxification and habitat fragmentation that are broader causes of insect population collapse. “Bad” plants are presently bio-indicators of micro and macro conditions more often than the cause of native plant decline. While native plants have co-evolved with local fauna, many non-native plants are also reliable medicine and food sources. The emphasis on native plants at this moment in history is perhaps subconsciously an attempt to make amends for the devastation of native peoples and their cultures while doing so in a way that doesn’t threaten the private land ownership model…
Then I had a revelation.
I realized that I don’t know anyone who goes to the store, even if seeking to eat organic, non-gmo, or in-season, and thinks, “I’m not going to eat hybrids because they are not native.” We don’t generally question the validity of annual vegetables that would not readily fruit here if not started in greenhouses ahead of exterior temperatures and then transplanted into highly-prepared, mono-crop contexts. Many of these staples cannot successfully reproduce themselves in farm conditions. And although many rely on wild insect pollination, most do not support insect or bird population lifecycles.
Enter permaculture-based agroforestry, the junction of market-scale food and habitat.
At Big River Chestnuts, a proof-of-concept agroforestry site in Sunderland, MA, Jono Neiger has been seeding a regional chestnut hub. The lush 8-acre farm is surrounded by miles of flat, dusty fields, many organic, with many others that display pesticide application warning signs. Jono has interplanted his perennial tree crops (that began to fruit within five years) with blocks of improved elderberry, aronia and currants, and with food forest plants throughout such as Rutger’s hazelnuts. Matt Kaminsky and Rachel Haas of Carr’s Ciderhouse now rotate their sheep through the field in a symbiotic relationship that feeds, mows and fertilizes while Gregory Mori of Forestopia edible tree products works out of the site as well. Collective processing machinery is being obtained for Big River and for the New York Tree Crop Alliance in Cortland, NY.
Jono loves cultivars — and the first thing everyone wants to know when they hear about chestnuts is, Are they American? Well no, they are not. Jono believes that if we are going to cultivate viable, staple food production for our region asap, we need to be experimenting with the best stock available no matter where it comes from.
Because intentional intensive farming of these crops in this region is new, we start with cultivated clonal stock where it exists in order to hit the ground running. In the meanwhile, we also densely plant out open-pollinated seed from our best known trees to cull over time based on performance. This affords us a strong starting point from which to experiment for a diversity of conditions within an unpredictable climate.
Seva Water of Nutwood (hazelnut) Farm in Cummington, MA, says that by collecting seed, we are participating in the seed sovereignty ethic rather than handing over control of our food system to global corporate trademarking. We keep diversity alive by opting out of the narrow offerings of a crazy food system that decides what we eat by what can be packed and shipped distances. So we plant out lots and lots of seedlings to increase the chances of finding the most exciting ones for our region. We keep selecting, and when we find something really amazing, that’s when we start grafting clones.
Jesse Marksohn and Eric Cornell of Yellowbud Farm in Northfield, MA, have been traveling the countryside gathering nuts from champion trees which they cultivate into seedling stock for bulk planting projects such as those of Big River and Breadtree (below). They are growing mulberry and persimmon for human and livestock fodder and cultivating hickories for cooking oil. The founders see themselves as, “contributing to a new agricultural system that honors the earth instead of degrading it.”
In the meanwhile, Breadtree in Greenwich, NY, has been swiftly planting out acres of chestnuts. One site where I helped plant was a steep abandoned quarry a year ago and is already a vibrant meadow dotted with hundreds of trees. The founders, Noah, Bug and Russell see their mission as working to, “counter climate change, build soil and improve soil health, enhance food security & climate adaptiveness, reduce agricultural pollution and resource extraction, improve water cycling & watershed health, increase biodiversity & wildlife habitat, and improve livestock health. We do this to restore land, to support a healthy climate, and to build food security for future generations.”
Shira Lynn is a food forest farmer. She currently sits on the NOFA MA Policy Committee and is the founder of the Leaf Blower Hater Club.
We are excited to announce this new community connection event! Let’s get cozy, have some food amongst friends, and enjoy a harvest-themed show and tell. MORE INFO HERE.
We are so excited to have Elyssa Serrilli (MA) of Northeast Biogas Initiative and Kathy Puffer (NY) of Biogas Education Hub share this introduction to biogas. Learn more and register here.
by Shira Lynn
“If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”
The old adage has never seemed more apt.
When I was growing up in Boston, we could count on an early spring heavy snow, a wet spring, and a dry August. The air was crisp and cold by Halloween. Common practice was to plant the annual garden Memorial Day weekend and to put it all to bed on Labor Day. Snow covered the ground for the winter and throughout the sugaring season.
That was the expected within the unexpected.
This year in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, we had a dry early spring with sustained high temperatures that caused most trees to leaf out early. A frost then zapped the tender leaves of the late awakening trees as well as the blossoms of the early awakening ones. So much for favoring late-awakening varieties to insure against late frost.
Just as our grapes and peaches were successfully replacing their damaged leaves, we had a localized hail storm that shredded the regrowth as well as some of the young annual vegetables.
Cycles of haze from the Canadian fires set in next, cleared by welcomed rains that turned into flooding. Leaves have regenerated. Plants are lush, but the ground is saturated. We’re back to hot and hazy. What will August hold?
As growers, we know that each year is different and that what excels in any given year varies — within a range. Our permaculture design principles set us up well. Our toolkit for working with predictable variability has included:
For water, from drought to flooding — swales, berms, terracing, trenching, water bars, rain gardens, water features, rain barrels, greywater processing, cultivars, varying rooting types within a soil community, drip lines, pervious surfacing, container planting of various heights and permeability (raised beds, boxes, pots).
For temperature highs and lows and sun exposure modulation: greenhouses, cold and hot frames, black plastic, mulching, compass and slope facing, thermal mass (bodies and tanks of water, rocks), growing in multistoried communities, coppicing.
For physical protection from hazards from above and from below: row cover, greenhouses and tunnels, wind breaks, misting, growing in multistoried communities, infrastructure that allows coverage to happen quickly (posts, hoops and frames for affixing coverings).
For soil creation and structure: amendments, cover cropping, avoiding compaction and bare soil, no-till, scything, mulching, hugelkultur, humanure, composting.
How are we simultaneously designing for drought and flooding, heatwaves and frost, wind and hail in an overlapping fashion that is responsive to short but significant timeframes? How much leeway might we have in terms of space, materials, finances and labor to allow for experimentation? Are mature food forests in fact faring okay?
It seems that our most dependable strategies for the present moment rely on perennial shrubs and herbaceous plants for a better chance at recovery, a redundancy of similar plants in various locations, multistoried diversity, experimenting with cultivars, and embracing what is flourishing with a forager’s mindset. Furthermore, we are fortunate to be part of a community that relishes experimenting and sharing.
I’m curious if we might additionally try amplifying microclimates. When I lived in Montreal, we would visit the Biodome indoor zoo in the winter. They support five large ecosystem rooms: rainforest, coast, sub-arctic island, maple forest and gulf. What if we looked to our driest microclimate and planted for drought? What if at the same time, we looked to our wettest microclimate and kept it flooded for example? Would that increase our chances that something would survive each month, or are the durations of events and quick changes such that the middle path is still a better option? What gambles can and must we take?
What are you trying in the face of swinging weather? Write in and let us know.
Unlawnful Action Spring Workday
When: 10am-4pm Saturday, June 24th
Come for as much as you want to!
Where: 98 Rogers Road Troy, Maine 04987
Spaces are limited, please RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
Come to this spring Unlawful workday to learn about transitioning grassy yard space into lush perennial ecosystems with opportunities for hands-on participation, observation of multiple grass removal or suppression strategies, perennial plantings and community building. This workday will blend community action and education. We’ll have a realistic amount of work for participants to engage in, with the primary goal of building a learning community within the context of the Unlawnful Campaign’s wider objective of critically reassessing our yards.
Throughout the day, a series of work groups will be led focused on different steps in the unlawning process, with demonstration areas prepared to showcase these steps. Participants can choose to join in a broad fork working group, or choose to observe a planting of small perennials and natives. There will be opportunities to engage in a full day of hands-on work, or step back and engage through observation and dialogue, or anywhere in between. Come with any level of skill and ability and leave with new connections, experiences, and information.
Also check out our new “Uncolonization and Anti-Oppression” sessions.