Restoration Agriculture: Balancing Agriculture and the Environment

Restoration agriculture posits that agriculture and natural environments do not have to be at odds—and that imitating nature may be the most efficient way to produce perennial food crops.

| January 2015

Restoration Agriculture (Acres U.S.A., 2013) by Mark Shepard reveals how to sustainably grow perennial food crops that can feed us in our resource-compromised future. The goal of a restoration agriculture system is to take advantage of all the benefits of natural, perennial ecosystems by creating agricultural systems that imitate nature in form and function while still providing for our food, building, fuel and other needs, and this book is a guide to creating such a system based on real-world practices. The following excerpt from chapter 7, “The Steps Toward Restoration Agriculture,” deals with identifying the natural system in your area.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Restoration Agriculture.

Identify Your Biome

In order to successfully create a restoration agriculture farm, you must first have a basic understanding of what the biome is where the farm is to be established.

Simply defined, a biome is a region on planet Earth that has similar communities of plants and animals, similar rainfall patterns, and relatively similar soil types. If you were to walk around and observe the plants and animals of your region, you would get a specific list for your area. If you live in coastal Georgia, you would expect to be surrounded by certain trees and shrubs. You would expect the temperature or humidity to be one particular way in early versus late summer and to be different in the winter. If you were to be transported instantly to New Mexico, you would realize that you are in a radically different place. The change in biomes would be quite different in this case.

Biomes are identified by particular patterns and arrangements of trees, shrubs and grasses, as well as which species of those plants live there. One species of wide-spaced trees growing with grasses of another, surrounded by particular shrubs might define one biome, while another biome might have close-growing trees creating deep shade, shrubs of another kind and grasses of yet a different species. The spruce, fir and pine woods of eastern Ontario are different than the oak, hickory and pecan forests of Arkansas. Even within the same state and region the difference in biomes is fairly obvious. The spruce, white pine and fir woods of northeastern Maine are different than the sugar maple, beech and birch region of central Maine, which in turn is different than the mixed hardwoods of southern Maine.

In addition to the particular species of a place, biomes are also defined by the particular successional pathway that occurs in that region. The particulars of succession in each biome are different. Different species play out the dance of succession differently in each region. Knowing your biome is important in order for you to choose the particular species for your restoration agriculture project. Knowing your biome and knowing the individual species that take part in the successional progression of your place will give you the highest likelihood of success. Think about it. If you plant trees, shrubs, canes, vines and forage that would naturally occur in your region anyways, don’t you think that they would have a greater chance of success than if you grew other plants that are not adapted to the region? Would I have much success establishing a saguaro cactus farm in the moist, snowy Upper Peninsula of Michigan instead of in sunny, warm Arizona? Would I have much success growing bananas at 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado? Although we could manipulate the microclimate and build facilities that would enable us to grow bananas in the Rockies (and there are those who are doing this), doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense to grow plants that are adapted to the Rocky Mountains instead, such as the piñon pine tree?

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