Europe's last truly sustainable farming?



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36 comments

  1. Slash and burn in scandinavia was a very carefully managed system. The timber was not burnt but harvested before carefully burning the branches. On a very good year you could harvest up to 200 times the seed.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head when you talked about closed loop systems. That is why we cannot totally throw the sustainable concept overboard in favor of regeneration. We need both. And you are correct; trees are one of the best ways to do that; including trees for forage. Mainly because they scavenge for some nutrients better than grasses and forbs.

  3. Nice video, very interesting! One question, as I understood it you define "Sustainable farming"=self sufficiency on one farm? Why, this very narrow definition? I guess the system boundaries could also be broader? Especially if the farm export something. Like a vegetable farm exporting vegetables can import human manur. Even if this is not the case right now it may be in the future. I guess any farm that export something will be deficient in the very long run, if nothing is imported (for example minerals)?

  4. A game should start with this tech tree, I'd watch a speedrun of that.
    5 people and a sickle giving it a good go over 3 years of otopmised Closed system independence.
    Could you draw it?
    If transported into the past or a parallel world I feel like this is the minimal survival knowledge. How small a size of land would allow for 5 people living isolated there need?

  5. Traditional crofting in Scotland and Ireland continued little changed until the 2nd world war. In place of trees, seaweed was dragged up from the shore, rinsed of its salt, rotted down, then used as fertiliser. This was true subsistence farming, just as it was in Sweden.
    I use rotten wood in Heugel culture beds, but most of the organic material in my soil is from local horses. Getting back to the real world, the alternatives for conventional farmers to using nitrogen fertilisers are limited and the whole subject is quite tricky. Those with easy access to manure are quick to take advantage of this resource, but when the logistics and finances make it easier and cheaper to use artificial additives they usually will.
    You asked at the end how we could apply modern practices to improve these processes, and two that instantly come to mind are bio-digesters and wood powered steam turbines. Rather than slash and burn, we could stack and feed a steam turbine, generating electricity, while lowering emissions, but still returning the ashes to the soil. A biogas generator would be a similar source of energy from animal and crop waste, while still returning the composted organic materials to the soil. Basically, the same kinds of simple, nature friendly agriculture could be practiced today, alongside green energy production from wood, biomass, micro hydro etc, feeding into the grid where possible, or at least providing all the power necessary for the homestead producing it. I am saying could, but I know things like this are being done on a small scale. The challenge might be for someone to scale this approach up to the size of a modern farm, and show the world's farmers that it can be done and is worth doing.

  6. But… … if you swapped out the "timber" trees when the pasture is allowed to return to forest you "plant" with a focus on food trees, (fruit and nut) and a portion of nitrogen fixing trees – you have food/income from the forest period, and it could also have a element of coppice to say give a part crop of 10 cycle of poles at some point there is a new balance to be found… … Great stuff

  7. Excellent and so interesting video! Slash and burn was widespread in North America, by most Native Americans who practiced any agriculture. Interestingly enough potatoes had already made it north to the Lake Abitibi region, (Northern Ontario, Canada, where I live), at point of European contact in the mid to late 1600's, as had wild rice (Zizania aquatica var.), and it's implication as a huge food source rich in protein and complex carbohydrates, propogated spread and traded by many Algonquin peoples. There is actually a "Stonehenge" type calendar that would not be here if agriculture was not part of the life pre-European contact. Of course so many people had died out from contact that much of the land was de-populated by estimations of as much as 90% because of diseases brought by Europeans at that point as well.
    We are only at the 49th parallel, but at a much colder climate, with the Arctic effect of James and Hudson's Bay being so close, (climatic zone 2).
    I find your topics fascinating and so true!!
    Cheers!

  8. Eigg crofter buy out on the west coast island Scotland is the best model of sustainable agro forestry in Europe that I know of. I'm not saying it's better than the model you are sharing on this presentation. First time I seen it. Great tutorial and insight. Thanks.

  9. How is it ‘sustainable’ if you need 1000s of volunteers to set it up and only a few people can draw an income from it? So tired of this hyperbole

  10. Nice video Richard, Thanks. We are working at establishing a regenerative community in Philippines, north of Mindoro Island, where lives in the hills an indigenous community who is still totally sustainable when it comes to food production. Still living away from any road and electricity, they traditionally practiced slash and burn agriculture, which is able to support about 20 people per km² (in tropical conditions. I would be curious to know how many people can live in Sweden per km² from slash and burn practice). But because their population was steadily out growing this limit, they transitioned about 30 years ago to organic rice production very successfully. Their production is steady and free from disease until now with absolutely no intrant/outside input, beside metal plow and blades. We intend to take inspiration and lessons from their practice attempting to develop a regenerative "modern" community. on the coastal area. Their traditional way of life as well as the transition they made toward sedentary agriculture remains to be documented. We are working on it, and you are very welcome to visit us, your knowledge and practice would be certainly very helpful. Some image of the place here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqodPPGlxdI

  11. Thanks for shating the Plato quote as part of the video. That is fascinating. The world has degraded over time. Doesn't speak well of humanity, though I know we are capable of being healing agents. But our default is destructive. The bible proves accurate in the last analysis.

  12. Mark Shepard of New Forest farm has pioneered a thought-provoking self-regenerative, organic, permaculture model that I find really inspiring. It looks like his only input is fuel – however his vehicles are bio-fuel ready. And, phew, no time-consuming market gardening. I think his book and YTs are very interesting. Love his STUN concept. https://newforestfarm.us/

  13. One idea that I haven't seen discussed much but find interesting is that of using fungi as an intermediate step instead (or alongside) of burning trees. So, the sequence might go something like this: Trees are cut to prepare land for cultivation. Wood is inoculated with an aggressive edible fungus, i.e. oyster mushroom. After harvesting fruiting bodies (FOOD!) the wood is reduced in size a bit by hand tools. Wildlife and livestock are permitted to feed on the spent media (high in protein due to mycelium). The remaining material plus manure and urine from feeding animals becomes the input. The stumps could also be inoculated with fungi, providing more food and speeding their decomposition. Has anyone seen something like this being done or tried it? Inspiration provided by Tradd Cotter and Paul Stamets.

  14. Human manure is the answer. Lets say manure to tree in the home forest/ orchard, sawdust, leafs from forest as fertilizer, also wood as energy source – ash from it as fertilizer, nitrogen from reach soil bacteria, legume. Perfect close loop…

  15. The quote from Plato was very illuminating. I remember Paul Gautschi (who uses his "back to Eden" style of agriculture which requires no outside inputs – somewhat similar to the ramial chipped wood concept) saying that the Hoh rainforest close to him can receive 14 feet of rain a year yet this does not cause undue disturbance because the very dense layer of leaves, needles and rotted tree branches and twigs simply absorbs the moisture, Rainfall where Gautschi himself is, is low, but he employs this concept in his orchard which has not been watered or fertilised in 40 years and yet fruits heavily – as numerous videos will attest – and enables him to grow vegetables and strawberries directly under the trees. A modified system is used in his huge vegetable garden because he has to find a way of using the compost produced by his poultry. However the result is a soil that is pH neutral and can grow an enormous range of food crops very successfully.

  16. Richard, Very interesting video and it's true that this type of model doesn't work well on a commercial basis. When I was growing up in the late 1950's & early 1960's I'd spend summers at my aunt and uncles subsistance farm and as you say it was a lot of manual labour. They had some laying hens, 1 cow, 1 horse and a few pigs as well as about 1 acre of market garden.
    The surplus produce was either used for bartering or sold at the farmers market on the weekends to buy essentials which they couldn't produce, such as coffee, sugar, flour, etc….
    During the off season home made bread, preserves, etc was sold at the market when the crops were finished for the year. No commercial fertilizers just the manure from the animals was used for the market garden.

  17. This needs a study. Because ashes brings more basic material, over this yet rocky bacis soil. Burning soil kills biological life of soil. In the other hand, snow brings nitrogen, added to manure, it allows to lower the pH. In short, I think this case doesn't allow animal biodiversity, and plants.

  18. Hi Richard, What was the source for those old videos of slash and burn (and would be good to show names of the artists of the paintings – masterpieces of Finnish 19th century art). I wrote an article of local farming history in Karjalohja – Finland last year: https://iso-orvokkiniitty.fi/blog/karjalohja-the-location-and-connecting-to-history/ Even here slash-and-burn was still practised in the 19th century even though most food was already grown on fields. Continue the good work!

  19. Here is one possible modern example of same kind of sustainable lifestyle: http://www.ymparistojakehitys.fi/susopapers/Lasse_Nordlund_Foundations_of_Our_Life.pdf

    Lasse Nordlung has some interesting thoughts, though not always practical for general puplic mindset. His experiment shows a need for about 10ha of forest and 100m2 of garden per person to live self sufficiently in Northern Karelia.

    He is now founding a self sufficiency college in Valtimo, Finland.

    It's worth checking out!

  20. Hi Richard and compagnie. Baba Bear here, from France. Thanks for amm you create and sharing your thoughts. I'm wondering if a truly sustainable farm is one that enters a symbiotic relationship with the nearby ecosystem -farms working together and feeding one another with their unique strengths. I like to be as autonomous as possible yet I realize how better my life is when I collaborate with my neighbors' talents. Some have lots of land while some have lots of ideas. So, instead of sustainable ag, could we head towards symbiotic living?
    Ps: loved ur book and ur work

    Love love love

  21. Liked your video. Purchased some lowbush blueberry fields this year and using fire to manage the fields is still a recommended technique for various reasons – thermal pruning, disease management, weed management, encourages blueberry colonization, ash minerals. There are some appropriate technologies for harvesting lowbush blueberries that don't have to be motorized. I acquired a push cart harvester ( http://acadianmachine.com/push-cart/ ) that allows you to harvest an acre of blueberries a day on relatively level and weed free fields. I also use a small mobile cleaner that is run by a lawn mower type engine but I think it could be replaced with a bicycle drive system if you needed it to be more sustainable. You can use the harvested blueberries to feed you while you are working so it closes that loop too. I think wild lowbush blueberries have the potential to be managed in a sustainable way which can produce surplus food. Because I am not currently proficient at managing burning I did opt to purchase a flail mower to start getting the fields into better production ( https://youtu.be/FYvL1pqpxzs ).

  22. Fascinating, of course I heard of this in school (I'm swedish) but interesting to hear your thoughts about this kind of farming. Did you know they grew a special kind of turnip, called "svedjerova". Apparently those turnips thrived in the ashes and the ash prevented the many diseases that usually hit the cabbage family!. Great video.

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