Video: Farming the way Tolkien's elves would have
This is a fascinating video tour of a farm in Viola, Wisconsin. The couple who own the farm follow the principles of permaculture. The farm is an ecosystem that requires almost no human labor. It produces a huge variety of crops, although the yield per acre is less than in commercially managed farms. The 2 chief advantages of permaculture 1) reduced costs make it easier to turn a profit (and stay profitable) and 2) the farm is both self-regulating and ecologically friendly.

As owner Mark Shepard leads the camera crew through the farm, he explains how they took barren land and gradually rehabilitated it over the course of 23 years. They apply some Old World coppicing techniques under the guidance of modern scientific theories about the area's ecological history, how natural farming works, and some basic engineering.

It's a fascinating tour that lasts 53 minutes. This is exactly the way I would imagine Tolkien's elves would farm. [And for those who are curious, yes, some of Tolkien's elves "farmed" - but they didn't have any great adventures on their farms so you don't read about them.]

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In the early 90s, Mark and Jen Shepard bought a degraded corn farm in Viola, Wisconsin, and began to slowly convert it from row-crops back to a native oak savanna that would become one of the most productive perennial farms in the country.

After 8 years of homesteading in Alaska (arriving just as the Homestead Act was expiring) where they had been forced by low-paying jobs to discover “which trees, shrubs, bushes, and vines we could get food from”, they arrived in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin ready to apply their knowledge of permaculture (“permanent agriculture”).

Over the past nearly three decades, Mark has planted an estimated 250,000 trees on the 106-acre farm. The main agroforestry crops are chestnuts, hazelnuts, and apples, followed by walnut, hickory, cherry, and pine (for the nuts). For short-term income, the couple planted annual crops, like grains and asparagus, in alleys between the fruit-and-nut-bearing trees. Cattle, pigs, lambs, turkeys, and chickens act as pest control and free composters as they roam the savannas of the farm.

Not content to rely on commercially-produced seeds, Mark does his own breeding to find the best-adapted trees to his region using the method he’s dubbed STUN (Sheer Total Utter Neglect). He plants trees at a higher density than recommended and with as much diversity as possible (at one point they were farming 219 varieties of apples) and then lets pests and disease run their course. He fells diseased trees or those that don’t bear enough, or early enough, fruit. The result is orchards hardy enough to survive even Chestnut Blight.

 As more and more of the alley crops have been replaced with trees and pocket ponds to help manage water on the farm, the land here has returned to the native savannas where the mastodon once grazed 12,000 years ago (in 1898 bones were discovered 5 miles down the road). 

New Forest Farm has inspired many other perennial farms, especially chestnut farmers in the region, and Mark hopes that every schoolchild will plant their own apple seeds (and perhaps subject them to STUN) and that every family can plant a backyard food forest.

Mark's restoring agriculture course:
New Forest Farm:
Mark’s book “Restoration Agriculture":

On *faircompanes:
This is so cool.
Don't insult the precious, my precious!:book:

MYCode Guide

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