What is Forest Farming?
The current agriculture is largely based on the single planting of annual crops. The entire farmland is wheat, corn or rice. Fruits are also often planted individually. There are rows of fruit trees in the orchard, bearing the same varieties of apples and oranges, peaches, etc.; the greenhouse is full of the same vegetables. There is no doubt that when only one crop is planted on a piece of land, a wonderful figure will be obtained when calculating the yield, but this also means that we have discarded many plants that could have been planted together and promote each other. When different crops are grown on the same piece of land, what we harvest is a basket of rich variety of food, even throughout the seasons. Through multi-level and multi-species ecological design, forest agriculture can maximize the use of sunlight and realize the circulation of water and nutrients. The cooperation between different creatures exerts the power of nature, replacing human input and management.
A simple forest ecological agriculture can have three layers: trees, shrubs and surface plants. The more complex forest ecological agriculture can have seven levels, including: large tree layer, small tree layer, shrub layer, climbing plants, herbaceous plant layer, ground cover layer, and rhizosphere plants. Different levels can support the planting of different plants to maximize space utilization.
Nature is diverse, and this diversity is the key to helping farmers prevent and resist natural disasters and market fluctuations. Simplified planting often causes huge economic losses for farmers due to seasons, climate, outbreaks of diseases and pests, etc. For example, a plant infected with a disease may spread to the entire farm. Forest agriculture has greatly reduced risks by planting a variety of different crops. In the spring of 2016, the eastern United States was suddenly hit by a cold current, and the apple trees at Forested Forest Farm also suffered frost damage. Fortunately, among several different varieties, some are able to withstand frost and bear fruit in autumn, and the vegetables and mushrooms on the farm are not affected. The overall economic loss of the farm is very small. The nearby orchards that planted a single species were hit hard, and some even lost 90% of their income. The diversified planting model of forest ecological agriculture greatly reduces agricultural risks and protects farmers’ economic benefits.
Nature is collaborative. This kind of collaboration can help farmers reduce water, fertilizer, and pesticide inputs and save money. A forest ecological agriculture system not only has the plant world that we can see above the surface, but also the microcosm that we can’t see below the surface. A small spoonful of healthy soil contains about 75,000 different fungi and 25,000 different bacteria, and the total number of microorganisms exceeds the total number of people on the earth. The microbes in the soil (especially fungi) and the roots of plants constitute a huge material and information network, just like our nervous system. It closely monitors the location of nutrients, the amount of water, and the invasion of pests, and coordinates the network. All lives cope together. The size of this mycorrhizal network, the fine division of labor, and the flexibility of the roles of the members far exceed the imagination of scientists. In recent years, scientists have only begun to understand the huge network of life in the soil and understand that plants can communicate with each other. The young saplings in the dense forest can’t get sunlight, let alone water and fertilize them, but they can still grow up, relying on the mycorrhizal network in this forest.
Nature nourishes all things, and of course we humans. At present, 2 billion people in the world are implicitly hungry. Although they are full or even obese, they still lack certain mineral elements. This is not only related to changes in the diet, but also to the reduction of food nutrition content caused by simplification of agriculture. The nutrition of food comes from the soil. In forest farms with healthy soil and high diversity, microorganisms decompose minerals in the soil into forms that plants can absorb, and continuously transport nutrients to crops through mycorrhizal network, making the nutrient density of agricultural products higher. The taste is also richer. In contrast, simplification of agriculture relies on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, resulting in a greatly reduced soil microbial viability and poor soil fertility. The fruits and vegetables grown are not only tasteless, but also unable to allow us to obtain sufficient nutrients. Cooperating with nature to produce food is good for our health.
Climate change caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions has increased extreme weather-winter is not cold, but there are blizzards; summer is hotter, either drought or flood. For agricultural production, unpredictable weather can be regarded as the biggest threat. But one of the antidote to climate change is also agriculture. The microorganisms in the soil nourish the crops through the mycorrhizal network. In return, the crops will distribute the sugars produced by photosynthesis to the microorganisms to multiply more microorganisms and strengthen the mycorrhizal network. These sugars are synthesized from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Therefore, restoring soil health is also reducing greenhouse gases, mitigating or even reversing climate change. What we need to do is to speed up natural self-healing by making compost, reducing plowing, and increasing the diversity of crops, so as to protect our own survival.
Originally published at https://www.tlw.com.