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Planting an Agroforest

An agroforest might be best described by explaining what it is not. It is not rows and rows of evenly spaced mono-crops. It is not livestock and crops partitioned off from one another. It is not extractive to the soil nor reliant on chemical means of pest and disease control. Unlike most conventional agriculture, it is not a driver of climate change but part of the solution to mitigate it. An agroforest looks a lot like… a wild forest. A tall canopy of trees, an understory beneath that, nurse species that facilitate the growth of other plants, then annual vegetables, livestock, or both at ground level. 

Agroforestry, in perhaps the most simple terms, is the interaction of agriculture and trees on a single piece of land. The trees support the agriculture. The intent is not solely tree production, but a greater food yield and regeneration of the soil. And in our present reality of definite and looming climate change, the practice of agroforestry gives farmers and communities increased resilience and food sovereignty.

Although the term “agroforestry” is relatively new, the concept has been around for as long as humans have tilled the soil. In fact, there is evidence of the tandem production of trees and agriculture throughout the world dating back millennia. Perhaps humans understood then what we are being reminded of now: agroforestry is a regenerative agricultural model with considerable benefits both in terms of food yield and environmental preservation. 

An agroforest is beginning to grow on Common Ground. Marrying centuries-old production models with innovative biological farming applications, CG’s agroforest is being planted on a designed rotation schedule. The sowing of the agroforest will be spread out over the course of several years, allowing for the annually planted species to adapt to the evolving needs of the venture as a whole.  

John Parziale, Director of Agroecology

“In the wild, forests are created by the natural succession of species, each occupying a niche in time and space. By employing nature’s model of succession in the establishment phase of the agroforestry design, it is not just the end result of an intact food forest that is regenerative, but also the pathway to get there.

Some species currently growing are ʻulu, avocado and banana trees; coffee, kava, māmaki and taro in the understory; nitrogen-fixing pigeon pea and inga as nurse species; and peppers, cabbage and broccoli as annual vegetables. Chickens, dairy cows and honeybees commingle with it all. Parziale says, “All of these elements interrelate, support and feed each other, building resilience into the model, providing food security to communities untethered to outside inputs.”  

Because agroforestry is ecology-based, it builds on the individual practices of agriculture and forestry to emphasize the integration and interrelation of all elements of the living system. It equates to greater food yields, more stable communities and economies as well as the regeneration of land. It is a practice worth pursuing and at Common Ground, it’s already underway.
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