I was an Organic farmer when Organic was not cool. In 1988, I managed the transition of 200 acres with 9 vegetable and fruit crops from Integrated Pest Management to certified Organic. When Organic gained national and world-wide attention in the 1990s, I was moving towards "eco-organic" system management on my own farm in Montana, experimenting with strategies to increase plant, insect, and microorganism diversity and year-round soil cover, using living mulches and green manures.
It means respecting the basic right of life for all things, from the soil microorganisms whom I try not to disturb with tillage, to the birds, butterflies, and insects whom I do not poison with insecticides, the weeds who are not killed with herbicides, and the animals who are not killed for food.
I came to this vision in British Columbia after a day in the greenhouse tending to plants. On the way back to the cabin, I sang to the sealions and they grunted and belched back. I danced on the rising cliffs with mossy tops and the moss felt sacred beneath my floating feet. What else do I need to teach and motivate me to wake up daily with a purpose to be of service to the natural world and all the organisms in it?
For me, forest gardening makes ecological sense and vegainc permaculture makes moral sense. About thirty percent of the surface of our earth is covered in temperate forest. Where people cut down forests for wood and to clear land for grain fields and livestock pasture, there is often erosion, soil loss, soil degradation, and certainly an enormous decrease in plant, animal, amphibian, microbe, and insect biodiversity. Many people in North America and Europe are designing and creating forest gardens now, based on northern hemisphere tree fruits and forest plants, such as cherries, apricots, wild and cultivated varieties of plums, pears, apples, mulberries, persimmons, walnuts, pecans, almonds, and chestnuts. Close your eyes and wander into this vision: small and large fruiting shrubs, such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, wild and cultivated varieties of currants, elderberries, serviceberries, buffaloberries, honeyberries, figs, and hazelnuts intermingle within the gaps of a fruit and nut tree canopy. Native wildflowers, wild edible greens (such as nettles), perennial herbs, edible mushrooms, annual vegetables, and perennial vegetables, such as Jerusalem artichokes, cover and shade the soil. Vines climb on trees and shrubs with fruits of hardy kiwis, grapes, and passionflower, hanging pendulous beneath the foliage. It is a 3-story food system, rather than an agriculture all on one plane, such as a grain or a tomato field. The main back bone of the garden is trees and shrubs, with ground covers of edible root, leaf, and annual fruit plants.
Many trees and shrubs from my past organic farm's orchard and native plant hedgerows flourish in all three forest gardens from California to British Columbia to Montana. There are also many new species! Some new species in my forest gardens include:
Mulberries. There are at least 8 species of mulberry from around the world and north America. The mulberries in my California forest garden produce berries all summer long and into fall. One cultivar of the black mulberry (Morus nigra) from southwest Asia, produces 5 inch long berries and many pounds of sweet, tasty fruit per tree.
Persimmon. There are 2 species of persimmon: a Japanese and an american species. The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is native to the eastern US and is higher in nutrients (like vitamin C and calcium) than the Japanese persimmon. There is no need to ask cows to produce dairy products for us if we can get calcium from fruits, nuts, and vegetables. In fact, there is good evidence that many plants provide enough calcium to give most humans all the calcium they need for good health. The persimmons in my forest garden fruit late and extend our fresh fruit into January along with apples and dried versions of these luscious peaches.
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