Badgersett: Woody Agriculture Research and Development

Badgersett is one of the largest forest gardens in the US. “With roots going back to 1978, Badgersett Research Corporation works on bringing “Woody Agriculture” into the mainstream world of full scale staple food production.” In summary, their ideas show how farmers and homesteaders can transition to sustainable agriculture and still make an income.

Notes from video: Badgersett promotes woody agriculture research to help mainstream farmers switch to more sustainable crops and still earn money. They’re trying to find transition crops such as hazelnuts, hickory, chestnuts to feed the cities. Hazels also produce a high % of oil as well as nuts for food. These trees only have to be planted every 50-80 years. They are bush scale hybrids not full size trees so they’re easier to work with machinery, and easier and faster to grow than full size trees. Soybeans and other mono crops leave bare soil most of the year. The hazels create cover/habitat year-round as well as an enormous root system that goes at least 12’ deep. They encourage birds in the trees because they eat the insects.

After 40 years of research in this area they’ve learned how to create a very sustainable ecosystem that doesn’t need any sprays. Greater biodiversity creates greater stability. They allow volunteer trees to grow. Sometimes a new pest will appear and cause a scare, but soon a new bird will move in and eat the pests. That’s how nature works. After a big rain the nearby forest got washed down to bedrock from neighbor’s farms that grow mono crops, while their farm pond barely filled. Goes to show how his soil is now able to hold massive amounts of water even during 1,000 year floods. Some of the woody trees are flood tolerant – they can grow under 3’ of water for months! They produce in drought years and flood years.

These shrubby/woody perennial crops capture 3x more sunlight and carbon than typical annual crops. Grown on a global scale (replace ½ of the annual crops in the world), would capture an extra 10 gigatons of carbon. Because the fields are not plowed, a lot of wildlife lives there including field mice that dig tunnels. Melting snow and ice drain into the tunnels instead of running off. Hazels make great snow fence that capture snow drifts and the snow melts at their feet. They also capture blowing topsoil from neighboring farms. Sometimes they can see a black layer of topsoil in the snow that’s blown from another state.

Far less farm machinery is needed when growing these woody crops. Farmers don’t even need a tractor, just a combine for harvesting the nuts. No plows. No pesticides. In just 50 years of row cropping corn, beans, etc. his farm topsoil went from 18” deep to less than 6”. That’s the dark side of modern agriculture many never hear about. Ironically modern agriculture was invented in Mesopotamia. Look how that experiment turned out. Northern Africa was the wheat breadbasket for Rome. The failure of modern agriculture there probably contributed to the fall of Rome. Annual row crops mine the soil (deplete the nutrients in soil). Woody crops build soil like in forests.

Many natural builders live in rural areas and grow a portion of their food. This blog post is intended to help promote more sustainable ways of growing food.

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