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THE MIRACLE OF GROWING FOOD SUSTAINABLY
Working with the soil, immersing your hands in healthy vibrant living soil, are at the same time, both grounding and a primal act. Hearing the wind stir the leaves of trees you have planted and watching seeds that you planted grow into healthy young plants is deeply satisfying. Always remember though, that nobody in the history of the human race has ever grown a plant; plants grow themselves with the help of soil micro-organisms, sunlight, carbon dioxide and water and much, much more. It is better to stand in awe than to claim ownership. In the words of Dr Vandana Shiva:
“We need to cultivate the humility that the soil makes us, we do not make the soil, and we can only serve her processes of making life.”
What we can do is understand the natural processes involved, learn how to nurture them, provide the ideal conditions for these natural processes to blossom, and above all provide love and care.
The purpose of this book is to inspire you, to enlighten you, but above all to instil a passion in you to grow food sustainably whether for you and your family in your garden, or for small holders, or growing with your local group or community, whilst at the same time revitalizing and reviving your soil’s life and vitality.
In this work I am concentrating on both the knowledge and the practical implementation necessary for producing sustainably grown food that is nutrient rich and healthier for you and at the same time creates and then maintains a vibrant healthy living soil. This should be our legacy for future generations.
The present horticultural and agricultural system is based on a completely outdated over simplified chemical approach to plant nutrition, which is extremely dependent on petrochemicals and as a result is extremely vulnerable as peak oil approaches. Those that are aware, recognise that the chemical approach has been self-perpetuating – the more you use, the more you lose and the higher your requirement for chemical intervention. In contrast, sustainable organic and biological approaches involve ever reducing inputs as the biology kicks in. What is replacing this outdated thinking is a wonderfully intricate biological understanding of living soils and plant nutrition that leads to healthy, dynamic balanced soil life, nutrient rich food and healthier animals and human beings.
One word keeps cropping up in this context – ‘Sustainable’. This word has unfortunately been hijacked and down graded. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “sustainability” as “keeping something going continuously.” and the need to “keep things going” (for future generations). However ‘sustainable’ in this context does not just mean a system that continues unchanged; this has never been the state of affairs in natural conditions. Any sustainable system’s strength comes from its flexibility, its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Most modern horticultural and agricultural systems (and indeed the present economic system) are unsustainable. ‘Unsustainable’ means they cannot and will not last; they will come to an end sooner or later. An even better definition comes from a friend who described ‘Sustainable Gardening’ as: “Gardening in a manner which supports ecological balance, avoids the depletion of natural resources and enhances and conserves natural processes”. I think this is the best description I have heard. Although I would not disagree with any part of his definition, the important word here for me is ‘enhances’.
It is certainly important that we try to grow food as sustainably as possible, but in the currant situation where soils around the world are more and more depleted of life giving organic matter, and indeed of life itself, not to mention accumulated poisons, more is needed than mere sustainability. Only when soils are regenerated back to vibrant health can we then use sustainable practices to keep things continuing at this new healthy level. When you come across the word ‘sustainable’ in this work – include the concept of ‘revitalising and regenerating, then maintaining’ the soil in which the food is grown and producing ‘nutrient dense food’, in other words –‘Regenerative Horticulture and Agriculture’ – healing our ecosystem, and enjoying the resulting abundance. Another good phrase is ‘Biodynamic’ as used by the Biodynamic Agricultural Association. Biodynamic is derived from two Greek words, bios life and dynamos energy, in other words to create a vibrant, energetic, living soil and subsequent plant life, that brings health and life forces to those who eat the produce.
I have not concentrated on the damaging effects of conventional agriculture and horticulture, as this is a given, and has been covered by thousands of others over the years, along with increasing scientific evidence of its destructive effects on soils, soil life and ecosystems.
I come from an organic background, farming and gardening for over thirty years in the UK in Shropshire on the Welsh border where in the last few years of farming I used biodynamic practices and more recently became interested in Albrecht’s and Reams’ ideas and the Biological approach to growing food, as well as the theory and the practice of Permaculture. We now live in Nelson, New Zealand where we have continued to garden using organic, biological, biodynamic, and permaculture gardening practices.
As a result I have not tried to promulgate any one form of sustainable food growing, but to consider as many aspects and approaches as possible. In my mind they all have something to offer and usually they are complimentary and what is more important, the result of using many approaches is more than the sum of its parts. There will always be fanatics who insist their particular approach is ‘the’ way, whether they are from the Organic school, or the Permaculture school, or the Biological school, or the Biodynamic school, etc. However I will be covering all these and more, because I have time for all these approaches. The problem with sticking to one method exclusively is that one misses out on the many good aspects of other approaches.
This work does not include animals for food. This is not because I am vegetarian, although my meat is restricted to the occasional fish and organic chicken liver, but because keeping and farming animals organically and sustainably has been so well covered by so many people, as a result I don’t think I can add anything new to the information already out there. On medium to larger properties, keeping animals as part of a permaculture design makes sense, even if just involves a few backyard chickens or a couple of hives of bees. For over thirty years we kept a whole range of animals on our farm as part of an integrated system of grain crops, vegetables, fruit and animals. My great interest, however, is in revitalising our soils and producing nutrient dense food for both animals and us.
There are sections on the theory, practical application, how to create a vibrant living, productive soil, compost making, green manures, mulching, seasonal advice, and sections on most of the different types of sustainable horticulture. There are sections on land use such as Land Share schemes, Community Gardens, Allotments and much more. There will be a section on glasshouses, cloches, cold frames and other garden and small holding infrastructure. There will be many links to suppliers, other connected useful sites and much, much more. Indeed we will attempt to provide you with as much information as you could possibly want in order to grow food sustainably for you, your family and your community.