Growing Food on Trees at LEF
Growing food on trees is by some measures the most benign form of agriculture. Trees have huge root systems compared to annual plants. Orchards sequester carbon, build
soil and have no erosion. And fruits and nuts taste good! Since we started LEF, we
have been trying to build or capacity to grow food on trees, and to figure out what works and what does not. We realized that a lot of the plants we wanted to grow will
not work in the new age of polar vortex oscillation. We have shifted to more cold resilient trees. We have also struggled to do so many things at once. Now we have an
orchard intern, Conner, who brings a most welcome energetic approach to life at LEF. Welcome Conner. We look forward to harvesting fruit this year!
Agricultural Choices at LEF
Now we’re in the final stages of finishing the house, which is an exciting time. We’ve been postponing other projects until basic infrastructure was done. Once the house is done we can hopefully build a few other smaller buildings we need (shop, greenhouse, root cellar). We hope to improve our food self-sufficiency. And we are working to connect with other groups to spread LEF’s ideas to other villages around the world.
Part of our expansion of food production will include bringing in a few farm animals. We’ve had more than a few visitors come out to the farm and ask (not in these exact words), “If you’re a farm, where are the animals?” Diets based around animal foods are so deeply ingrained in American culture that many people see farming as mostly about raising animals, without much thought about the plants that support them. At LEF, we believe that buying industrial GMO grain at the feed store and feeding it to animals isn’t a whole lot better than eating GMO grain ourselves (environmentally, it’s worse). We do like eating eggs, so we have been wanting to get some poultry; but first we needed to grow the grain to feed them. And we did, last year, grow a bumper crop of Florianni flint heirloom corn. We’ve been eating a lot of it, and we’ll use some of it to feed a small flock of ducks that we plan to get this year to supply us with eggs, meat, fertilizer and entertainment.
But what about grass-fed ruminants? We don’t plan to incorporate these animals into our farm any time soon, for two reasons. The first is that we don’t have much grass. Our land is a mixed hardwood and pine forest that was clearcut 6 years ago and is just starting to recover. (We did experiment with feeding goats out in the recovering forest, but the project consumed much more time than it was worth.) Clearing land for pasture and hay fields would be difficult and energy intensive, and we barely have enough cleared for annual crops and orchards, which take much less space than pasture
The second and more important reason is we want to demonstrate farming techniques that canfeed people sustainably with less land. For us this means growing food on trees, annual crops, and small scale poultry. We recognize that agricultural choices are always local, and grazing animals will always be an indispensable part of food production in lands marginal for agriculture, particularly for some indigenous cultures. But in land such as ours where rainfall and fertility are sufficient to support a plant-based diet, we believe it is better to feed people with less land instead of more. And while it is true that a well managed pasture can build fertility, well managed annually cropped farmland and orchards can do this as well with the use of cover crops, fallow periods and minimum tillage, with much more food produced per acre, and without the methane emissions of ruminant animals. Our goal at LEF is to create a model of sustainability that can be applied globally. The reality is that cattle, especially grassfed, can only be produced on a scale to feed the wealthy.
Our daughter, Rosa, is 5 years old and more than anything in the world, she loves wild animals. We have read her stacks of books about conservation and saving endangered species. Over and over the theme comes up of habitat loss. The sad reality is that animal life on earth, once stunning in its diversity, is now almost entirely made up of humans and our domestic animals. Globally today only 2-6% of terrestrial zoomass (weight of land animals) is wild; the rest is humans and our domestic animals, two thirds of which is cattle and other ruminants. The number one reason for loss of wild animals is land being converted to pasture and grainland to feed animals. Ninety percent of rainforest loss is directly attributable to expansions in animal agriculture, beef in particular. The planet Earth is now facing its sixth mass extinction in 4.5 billion years specifically because of our predilection to eat excessive amounts of meat. That is an incomprehensible theft from our children, from all future generations. So even though we eat wild animals sometimes at LEF (particularly the deer and rabbits who like to eat our vegetables and seed crops), when Rosa asks what we can do to help wild animals, we tell her that we eat mostly plants — and encourage others to do the same — so more land can be left wild.