An agroforest is growing on Common Ground. Follow the process of how we marry centuries-old production models with innovative biological farming applications, which will spread out over the course of several years, allowing the annual plantings to adapt to the evolving needs of the venture as a whole.
Agroforestry Connections (Part 1)
Agroforestry is the integration of crops and animals with trees to create the natural structure of a forest. Forests are formed in nature by the process of succession, which is how a community of plants, animals and fungi evolve and replace themselves over time. Managing this process of succession in an agroforestry system allows for intricate relationships and symbiosis to unfold and strengthen over time leading to resilient, biodiverse, productive, and climate-friendly agricultural ecosystems.
In an ongoing series our Agroforest team will share some background about the interconnectedness of elements that are part of the farm.
One of the core principles that guides regenerative agriculture is creating biodiversity. Planting many different kinds of plants together helps keep pests and diseases at bay. In the first years of an agroforest, before the trees develop their full canopy, there’s enough sunlight to plant many annual vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, peppers, leeks or tomatoes. By planting vegetable in the tree rows we are taking full advantage of the space used for growing while also providing food quickly while the trees mature. Vegetables, especially big ones like the purple cabbage, also block weeds from growing.
In the early stages of an agroforest if there is one plant that John Parziale, Common Ground's agroforest manager, always swears by its the pigeon pea. Within the agroforest system the pigeon pea plays so many roles. As a legume, its leaves absorb nitrogen out of the air. When its pruned it then releases the nitrogen into the soil through its roots, fertilizing the plants around it. The plant material that was pruned can then be used as food for livestock or mulch. Its canopy shelters young delicate plants, acting as a windbreak and blocking potential pests. Plus its peas are protein rich and nutritious.
Cows and Chickens
What relationship do cows and chickens have in this agroforestry ecosystem? Creating onsite soil fertility is one of the core principles of regenerative agriculture. Chickens and cows provide a huge amount of fertility for our system.
When the chicken tractors make their way through the rows of pasture in the agroforest, the nutrients are cycled through the soil creating a bloom of vibrantly growing grass rich in sugar and protein. The cows are then moved through the rows of pasture to graze on the high quality grass. The grass is essentially fermented through their digestive system creating a manure that is not only a source of nutrient fertility but also a rich inoculant of microbes for the soil. The cycle is repeated once the chicken tractors are again cycled through the paddocks. Their natural tendency to scratch and peck help break up the cow manure making it more accessible to decomposing organisms in the soil. The chickens receive a protein supplement from the fly larvae in the cow manure and in turn help control the fly population.
A less obvious connection between cows and chickens lies in the lacto-fermented breadfruit the chickens were fed as the foundation of their 100% farm sourced diet for the first 6 months of life. The lactobacillus culture used to ferment the breadfruit is derived from raw cow’s milk. A lactobacillus mist is sprayed over the organic feed which is known to significantly increase nutrient uptake.
Chickens and Ulu
Our chicken tractors are mobile coops that are moved daily. Chickens play an important role in the nutrient cycle. They leave behind a nitrogen dense gift for the soil that gets decomposed by microorganisms to feed the Ulu, papaya, bananas, coffee, peas, taro and other plants situated alongside the coop. As chicks they were fed a diet of lacto-fermented breadfruit for a prebiotic-rich starch and black soldier fly larvae for protein. The breadfruit is grown on site to keep the chicks happy and healthy, contributing to a circular economy. This chicken coop resting under a young Ulu tree among the agroforest perfectly exemplifies one of many trophic interactions taking place within this newly forming ecosystem. Ulu feeding chickens and chickens feeding Ulu!
Gliricidia wood chips
Covering top soil with mulch helps to hold moisture, discourages weeds, and protects beneficial organisms in the soil from UV rays. Our mulch is created on sight from Gliricidia trees lining the agroforest. They are fast growing biomass producers with many purposes. Gliricidia is part of the legume family, which makes it both high in protein content and a nitrogen fixing plant. The leaves are fed to our cattle, adding a protein boost to their diet and the branches are cut back and processed through the wood chipper to create a nitrogen rich mulch. The trees spring back quickly after trimming and can be continuously used for mulch and fodder year round. All the while, their living root systems continue to cycle nitrogen into the soil and they provide a wind barrier to the young agroforest.