By lambert strether of Corrente
Brian Fey is creating permacultural systems in the forest at the Bosque Village, in the Mexican highlands, a really interesting project that includes an intentional community. Bosque Village is “off the meat grid,” “off the egg grid,” and “working to get off the alchohol grid”! Here he describes some of his thinking. Very little visual interest, but you can listen to this instead of NPR, if you still listen to NPR.
This segment caught my attention:
BRIAN FEY (15:04): The most important [plants] are the trees. When you look at an oak tree it has more biomass than I don’t know how much of a cornfield. A cornfield is fallow most of the year. A cornfield is going to have dead earth, right, an oak tree is going to protect the earth, and so we don’t think of oak trees as what we would eat, but they’re really actually very important. We have oak here, we have pine, we have madrone, we have capaline [sp], there are some other native trees, and those are actually, coming back, since this land was logged awhile back, so we’re seeing trees returning.
Back to the oak trees. In traditional farming, in industrial farming, you pretty much cut everything down and just have a naked field. You really kill off the earth after awhile and then you have to dump chemicals on it and everything.
We’re looking for maximum biomass, and it does not have to be biomass that is directly useful to humans, because we’re also trying to feed a biosystem. And there’s going to be a lot of things in it that we don’t want to eat. Some of them may even bug us. I mean, we want more animal life. There’s foxes here, coyotes, ocelots, bobcats, armadillos, a lot of nocturnal life, lot of bird life, we’ve already seen bird life increasing radically, and that’s because we’re not cutting things down. We’re leaving trees where they fall, and that builds more fungus layer in the soil.
So when you talk about perennials, I don’t want to just talk about the food perennials we normally think of.
There’s a surprise here, though. The oak tree is actually food. One of the biggest sources of food for indigenous people in North America was flour made from oak acorns. So you’ve really got to get suspicious about the idea that we should cut down the oak trees and plant corn.
BRIAN FEY (27:00) The goal here is to have an old-growth forest with massive biodiversity that we can still get products out of. The biggest problem is the humans, then. If we just left this alone, if we just walled it in, and left it alone, it would naturally heal itself, it would naturally diversify. But we also want to learn how to get food. And so the question is, can we have humans near nature without the humans utterly obliterating it? …
If you look at the evolution of community and people, what do they do? They went to a place, they took resources from it, and then usually they went to another place, we started nomadic, they went to another place, often seasonally. That’s a really good strategy. But when we started staying in one place, and doing agriculture in a more intense way, we started stomping all the ground around it. And you just see death, radiating outward from all the humans. …
We’re smarter now, and we see the pattern. We see that when we show up in a place, we’re going to destroy the land. So the question here in the Bosque, is can we lower the actual literal human footprint? For example, the trails. We just don’t walk everywhere, because even our feet will compact the soil and we’ll get less mushrooms. Mushrooms are a great harvest here, and I don’t want to learn how to grow ’em in a building. I want to learn how to work with nature, so we’re supporting their own life. …
So reducing the human footprint, then, is about not having lots of… For example, I don’t want to divide the land up and have everybody have their own separate systems. I want to figure out what things we centralize and what we don’t, and how we can crush less of the land, and how we can harvest less of the stuff. We keep learning that … If we can really figure out how people can live in a forest, even a whole town, if a hundred, four hundred people, could live in a forest, and have all of their basic food needs met by that system, even their clothing needs, with rabbit furs, sure we would still import some things, and sure we could trade some things out. But if we could really figure that out, so that we have an old growth forest, sustainably, with a community of people, then we have solved the human problem on earth.
Makes the ambition on display at Davos look trivial.