The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Restoration Agriculture

Restoration AgricultureSeveral of you recommended that I check out Restoration Agriculture: Real-World Permaculture for Farmers by Mark Shepard, and I can see why since the book documents the rare example of an extensive food-forest system in its prime.  Unfortunately, the gems are deeply buried --- I barely found anything worth noting down until I was halfway through the book.  There are also lots of typos, and several glaring mis-statements that put the rest of his facts in question, along with pages of rants and regurgitation of other books.  So, I can't entirely recommend Restoration Agriculture, but if you're willing to skim and think critically, it can be a handy addition to your permaculture education.

I'll post more about the nitty-gritty of Mark Shepard's system later in the week, but for now, let me give you a quick run-down on his farm and vision.  Shepard's parents were hobby farmers, so he soon became familiar with the basics of growing his own vegetables.  However, as an adult, he rejected the conventional backyard system, realizing that most of us aren't growing anywhere near all of our own food since we continue buying staples from the grocery store (which equates to buying from factory farms).  Could he develop a system in which farmers can grow perennial staples (preventing erosion, providing wildlife habitat, etc.), so crops like chestnuts and hazelnuts replace corn and beans in the average American's diet?

Shepard put his dream to the test on a 106-acre farm in southwest Wisconsin, on the border between zone 3 and 4.  He developed methods of mixing tree, vine, and bush crops with livestock in such a way that some of the work could be done by conventional equipment that most medium-to-large-scale farmers already have.  Stay tuned for more on the design of New Forest Farm in later posts.

Want to learn to make simple changes in your life to become more self-sufficient?  The Weekend Homesteader shows how.

This post is part of our Restoration Agriculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I had the same experience with the book. Everybody kept telling me how great it was, but the first 2/3 conveyed very little useful info. The current system is unsustainable... we get it!

I guess it was aimed at convincing a global audience that his system could work on a large-scale, but all of my interests are pretty small-scale. Besides, what the heck would I do with all those chestnuts?!?!

Glad to hear it wasn't just me.

Comment by Ken Mon Nov 11 14:57:19 2013
The camaraderie amongst those in the gardening world is unique... even a haven for some of us. That is why it is foreign to me that you are often times overly critical of your own kind. If there is a post out there that disparages you or your husband, I haven't found it yet. Quite the opposite. If I did, I know that I'd have the same momma bear defensive posture. Everyone makes typos. But not everyone is kind.
Comment by KR Tue Nov 12 11:53:24 2013
KR --- I'm sorry if you feel I'm overly critical. I feel like it's important to share the good as well as the bad so that people can make informed decisions. What's the value to my readers if I glow about everything in the same way? Hopefully, though, people will realize that anything I consider worthy of a lunchtime series definitely has merit, even if it also has flaws. I'll be the first to admit that my books are flawed too!
Comment by anna Tue Nov 12 12:10:56 2013


I was wondering what mis-statements you noticed that were so glaring. I heard in a recent talk that Eric Toensmeier did that he highly disagrees with the numbers that Shepard included, saying that they were completely incorrect. I haven't read extensively enough or had enough hands on experience to know what assertions were wildly incorrect.

I thought his bit about using megafauna to build topsoil was interesting... Perhaps there's a permaculture elephant farm in one of your reader's future?


Comment by Stephen Tue Nov 12 13:36:00 2013
Right after I submitted that, I took the trash out and found your calendar in the mailbox! It looks beautiful. Thank you so much!
Comment by Stephen Tue Nov 12 13:49:50 2013

Stephen --- I probably should have held onto my copy of the book until after all of my lunchtime posts aired, but I gave it away last week. The mis-statement I remember off the top of my head (hopefully correctly, but I can't look it up now) was when the author asserted that all of our common livestock species evolved in savannah environments. I haven't looked up the other species, but I seem to recall that chickens came from a rainforest-type setting --- much more closed than what you would call a savannah.

I know there were other assertions that set off my "he's repeating things he heard but hasn't fact-checked" detector, but I can't recall them at the moment. None were really big deals, but after a certain point, you start to wonder what he has fact-checked? And how much of what he writes about is pure philosophy, without hands-on experimentation?

Thanks for your kind words about the calendar! Maybe mine's in my mailbox too? I'll have to go check. :-)

Comment by anna Tue Nov 12 14:21:34 2013

On the topic of hands on experience, I had a chance to attend a workshop and on-site consultation with Mark Shepard and I would have to say his level of experience in farming, plant breeding, and business is pretty solid.

In terms of stacked perennial food systems he's very knowledgeable, though Salatin is a better animal husbandry source. What I really enjoyed was how Shepard has moved permaculture ideas to a farm scale enterprise that understands profit and revenue. He's like a "permie" that grew up.

Shepard has a good understanding of keyline and applies it in a practical manner that is less ridged than other practitioners - something I really appreciated. One thing I noticed for sure was that he is VERY business focused, and unlike Salatin he is willing to participate in the commodity food system at commodity food prices. That's something that really seemed to rub some other attendees at the workshop the wrong way.

All and all though I'd agree that "Restoration Agriculture" could have used a bit more editorial polish, but I'll forgive it, Shepard wasn't a journalist in his past life like Salatin and a first edition of "You Can Farm" is pretty rough too.

Comment by Marcus Mon Jan 27 15:49:12 2014


Thanks for the awesome article, I would like to link back from our website Please let us know.

Thanks, Mark

Comment by Mark Tue Nov 3 12:24:21 2015

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