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Jono Neiger to present permaculture homestead design workshop

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2017 May Issue Newsletter

By Julie Rawson

On June 17 Jono Neiger, local agroecologist with a lifetime of experience in regenerative design, will present the following workshop: Permaculture Homestead Design: How to Assess and Plan Your Sustainable Homestead. It will run from 10am to 3pm at Wildside Cottage and Gardens in Conway.

According to Jono: “The work of building the dream homestead starts well before the first garden is dug or the greenhouse is built. Creating an efficient and flourishing home and garden, one that yields abundantly but needs few inputs, requires skillful planning. Each element must intelligently connect with every other element in the system.”

Jono incorporates permaculture into his life’s work but he also integrates agroforestry practices. He says: “Permaculture is a set of design principles and agroforestry is a subset of those strategies. The exciting part about agroforestry is that it connects food, protecting ecosystems, fragile water systems, and stores carbon. These are strategies that can happen from urban to broad scale landscapes - pulling the carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into short and long term storage.”

His business, Regenerative Design Group, works with urban farms, campuses, residences, and land management organizations. He asks how can we meet your goals and bring in sequestering carbon, growing more food, while improving water quality. Your personal land or a campus can become a learning landscape.

At the workshop Jono will demonstrate what they are doing at Wildside Cottage and Garden. They will share how it was planned, the considerations taken and what information gathering was needed. It is an educational center with a specific mission – taking advantage of the different areas around the home. It utilizes slope and how to catch and hold water. It is protecting sensitive areas like the wet meadow. There are old Christmas tree growing patches. They are planting additional plants to increase diversity, digging out a pond and adding in nut trees.

I asked Jono to define and explain a number of terms that one hears when discussing permaculture and agroforestry. Here are his explanations below.

Silvopasture is when you have a pasture area for livestock but it also has trees (grown for an additional crop) - lumber, fruit, nuts, fodder, biomass etc. The pasture, livestock, and trees work together to provide mutual support and multiple yields from the land. There is grazing at certain types of the year – it can be hot and livestock want some shade which will decrease stress on them.

This is a strategy that is used all over the world. In the Northeast it is getting more and more attention with the benefit of multiple yields off the land. Jono and his partners at the Regenerative Design Group in Greenfield have been working with a land owner in Petersham planting chestnuts, honey locust, alder, and mulberry in a small pasture. Trees are planted into the pasture with a very wide spacing. Some trees will take 5-10 years to get growing.

Riparian corridors – Practitioners of agroforestry think about the suitable uses of land along river ways and wetlands. These considerations are super important for wildlife and also water filtration toward waterways. Oftentimes farmers have cut right up to the edge of waterways to do whatever practice they are engaged in. And that bank sometimes becomes very marginal – there can be loss of banks into the waterways because of the loss of trees, for example. Agroforesters teach about suitable crops to be raised in that zone, called productive conservation. Suitable crops for these riparian corridors can be perennial crops like nut trees or blueberries, or a lot of medicinal herbs. The farmer can still get a yield, but just isn’t doing tillage agriculture, or clearing the land of the trees that were holding the ground and providing ecosystem services.

Says Jono: “In Masschusetts we have lost a lot of these areas, but farming does not have to be bad for the ecosystem. We are working with Grow Food Northampton on a Mill River Greenway Project that is in development. The area includes some farms, some residential and some industrial areas with buildings along it. And there are several colleges (Smith and the Northampton Tech School). There are different owners and many boundaries. We are hoping the corridor and animals will promote walking. Making this work is really a part of building community.”

Alley cropping involves any kind of combination of trees and perennials grown in widely spaced rows where an annual crop is grown in the space in between. For example, one can put in an orchard with small trees – using the space between until they mature. It can be used for wind protection, soil improvement and other benefits. This is a broad strategy used in a lot of different ways. Any combination of fruit trees and vegetables is appropriate.

Food forest and forest gardening involves developing a garden or production system that mimics that forest. This includes mixing in perennial species and plants amongst trees. Said Jono: “We will have a chance in the workshop to look at the forest garden at Wildside. There is a lot of diversity – heavy on fruit trees and small fruit including plum, currants, gooseberries, paw paws, American persimmons, Juneberry, and Quince. There are nitrogen fixing and pollinator plants in the understory. including Asters, Echinacea, Goldenrod, and other pollinators like Bee Balm, and Nitrogen fixers like Siberian Pea Shrub, and Lead plant, a tough hardy Nitrogen-fixing shrub. They use Clover, Alfalfa, and Black Locust also. There is Autumn Olive growing in these fields anyway, and they are cutting it back and use it as a mulch and as a support fence for the raspberries. They chop them back and use the branches for mulch. We used to do a talk on the invasive species – Dave Jacke and I. The conservation community needs to have some push back. We need to conserve land and habitat loss. We need to be encouraging whichever plants grow well in an area and begin sequestering carbon. We need to sequester carbon at much higher levels everywhere. There are large mowed areas and degraded urban landscapes we need to reforest. In some cases the trees that used to grow there won’t grow there now. Ginkos are planted in urban environments because they are really tough.”

I asked about barriers to the spreading of the word about the environmental benefits of agroforestry.

“In some ways it is that the people who have land aren’t always interested in these things, they aren’t open to these ideas,” said Jono. “But in many places people who would like to incorporate agroforestry or permaculture practices don’t have resources to do this and do more regenerative agriculture and carbon farming. There is a need to reach the right people, and find people who are excited about doing something in their community, on their property. We are challenged with getting the word out. You can do things on your land, in your home or in your community. There is a gap in what is out there. We need to translate for people how to do it. Agroforestry strategies are being implemented on millions of acres worldwide and have a huge potential to grow in this region. Some people who manage land have done so in a very compartmentalized way. Foresters want to grow trees. Grazers don’t want to see trees in their pasture. They can’t get their heads around the potential of integration of systems. We need to get more projects going on the ground to show what can be done and the multiple benefits. We need people like the folks in Petersham who are doing this on an 8-acre field. We need to do more demo projects. We all learn by seeing.”

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