TM&A has worked on a number of initiatives that seek to increase agricultural productivity while building the soil and restoring ecosystem health. Below are a few examples.
Permaculture is a philosophy of design that seeks to develop sustainable landscapes that provide for human needs and foster biodiversity and resilience. TM&A has been involved with the permaculture movement since 1985, and has incorporated many of its design techniques into our ecological engineering work (see the section on design principles). Permaculture design is really a way of thinking based on a protracted observation and inspiration from nature. It can be applied to systems as different as a desert and an urban garden to increase their productivity. We consider permaculture to be one of the best examples of regenerativity that is active in the world today.
Permaculture developed out of a belief that almost all tillage agriculture is destructive to the soil, and so permaculture minimizes plowing. Visionaries who have spent decades developing non-tillage agricultural systems include Wes Jackson & friends at the Land institute in Salinas, Kansas, and Masanobu Fukuoka as described in his inspirational book The One Straw Revolution which inspired a whole new mode of farming.
Much of the work of TM&A in the realm of permaculture has been documented on the website of the Brattleboro Permaculture Guild, which falls under the auspices of the Brattleboro Transition Town Initiative. Visit us there to see what’s happening locally.
Nutrient Dense Food & Farming
From 2009 & 2011 TM&A worked on the development of the Real Food Campaign, aka the Bionutrient Food Association and the new movement called, among other things, biological farming. TM&A coordinated research for the RFC in 2010 with the intention of proving that fruits and vegetables can be grown with much higher levels of nutrients than even the best organic agriculture offers. The implications of this new biological farming extend way deeper than just increased nutrient density, however. Other agricultural factors that are affected include weed suppression, drought resistance, decreased fertilizer requirements, and decreased pest damage.
The basis of the Real Food Campaign is an assessment of the health of the soil – what minerals are lacking of the 72+ that plants needs for proper metabolism, and what microbial inoculants would be beneficial for the particular crops being grown. This research was coordinated with the University of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Natural Organic Farming Association and the RFC, and involved over 20 farmers and gardeners in on-farm research.
Rudolf Steiner was a visionary and social philosopher who developed over 12 separate social movements from Waldorf Schools to Eurythmy dance, from Anthroposophic medicine and the threefold social/economic order to biodynamic farming. Biodynamics has been called ‘farming in harmony with the cosmos,’ and has shown dramatic results in terms of the health of the people and animals that are raised with it. While we cannot say that we understand all of the tenants of biodynamics, TM&A is inspired by the cases of it that we have seen implemented. In the months and years ahead we will present research and reports of people working with this new form of farming and gardening.
Biochar, aka Terra Preta
In the Amazon basin of Brazil and Peru, starting over 2,000 years ago, an indigenous people developed a ‘slash and char’ mode of agriculture. This system, as described in the book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, is said by anthropologists to have allowed for a very high level of agricultural production in this region and a dramatic flourishing of culture before Columbus. Biochar has the potential in the 21st century to dramatically increase soil fertility at the same time sequestering carbon for very long periods of time, thus helping to remediate global climate change. TM&A is very excited about working to develop biochar production systems that also capture heat from the pyrolysis process that is used to produce biochar, as well as researching its agricultural applications in this region.