Finally! A Technical Solution for Saving Dying Cropland!

HeenanDohertyPlanI have two careers – one which pays the bills and one which will save the world – Permaculture.  OK, well, maybe that’s a bit optimistic and simplistic, but one can wish and hope and dream, right? Lately, my “bill pay” job has been taking me through a lot of dying cropland … ground that is being plowed year after year, sprayed year after year, planted in monoculture year after year, left uncovered year after year, and, thus, is eroding year after year and slowly becoming a desert. (See note below)

I’ve spent lots of brain cells (there are precious few to spend LOL) in the past few years trying to figure out not only a technical solution for turning this problem around, but also an economic solution. I’m getting closer on the economic solution, but I think I have arrived at the technical solution. I say “I have arrived” but I really mean that I have stumbled across the solution developed by P.A. Yeomans, via the man who appears to me to be his leading practitioner, Darren Doherty, who also just happens to be the International Agent for … [drum roll] … Joel Salatin.  Heard that name a time or two in my writings? All I did was search and search and search and finally ran across his work. It’s fitting that Darren is Joel’s International Agent (Joel obviously thought so too) because I first read about “keyline planning” in Joel’s books. Let me tell you about Darren and what he’s doing. It’s exciting stuff!

First, P.A. Yeoman’s work is all about two extremely important things in our world today:

(1) maximizing water retention on farms via keyline planning and

(2) creating deep topsoil quickly by keyline plowing.

WATER – Keyline Planning. TOPSOIL – Keyline Plowing. Easy, right?

Water and topsoil (real, living topsoil) are foundationally important to everything else in life … without food and water, nothing else matters … at least with our physical life. (Spiritual life is another discussion) Yeomans recognized a long time ago that the problem with most farms is NOT “not getting enough rain.” The problem is that most farms don’t “holdCenterPivot onto” the rain they do receive long enough to do any good with respect to growing food. This is why millions of acres of farm ground now have those giant “center pivot” irrigation systems (pic at right). This is totally unnatural and enormously expensive and completely unnecessary for producing food … IF … the farm was planned correctly in the first place (most aren’t). As an aside (whole big topic for another day), planning farms correctly on a large enough scale can actually cause it to rain more, thus it is theoretically possible to “regreen” places like the Sahara desert. See link here.

Back to Darren. Darren has now taken P.A. Yeoman’s work and is using it to transform dying cropland (he calls it “broad acre agriculture”) into what I would call “Perennial Polyculture Paradise” similar to what Mark Sheppard has done. Click here for the page on Darren’s website entitled “Farm Design Process” which shows step by step what is done. The example given is a 570 acre farm called “Savannah” in Australia, the site where Joel Salatin appeared a couple weeks ago for a big event called “Tasting Australia.”

MobGrazingBeauty1Anyway, stumbling across Darren’s work has literally given me goosebumps about what is now possible! Keeping in mind the work of Dr. Michael Sands, showcased in the report “Building Communities With Farms” and work by others thinking along the same lines like Lee Foster and John Shreve with their remarkable project called “Prairie Commons” in Olathe, KS … how cool would it be if some wealthy, philanthropy minded investors got the bug to buy up dying cropland all over the country and plant “Perennial Polyculture Mob Grazing Paradises” complete with earth friendly housing / infrastructure for all ages and incomes. How cool would it be to live in a subdivision where virtually ALL your food is produced right inside the subdivision – super healthy pastured meats, milk, eggs, “beyond organic” garden produce – everything! Right there on site. Do it yourself and/or buy it from the on site farm because the “farm” is not “somewhere else.” It’s right there, integrated with dwellings and common buildings. As it should be. Farming done correctly is BEAUTIFUL! I know because I lived and worked on a farm like this for 6 months. It was one of the most soul restoring things I have ever done! I gave a tour to a visitor one time who was skeptical that standing in a cow pasture could be a beautiful thing. Cows are yucky right? Wrong. She stepped into that cow pasture and fell in love with the cows and the pasture right then and there! (I would post a picture of her face but she would be embarrassed)

How about food cost? Can you imagine what this sort of thing would do to the cost of food? It would drive it down. Significantly. With food being produced locally, trucking would not be needed. Subdivision residents could be involved with production and harvesting labor if they chose to be, driving cost down further under the right structure. What about cost to live there in the first place? Land cost and housing cost. Well, I don’t know yet, but my hunch is that this could be lowered significantly as well through innovative planning. More on this in another post.

Out of time for now. I hope Darren’s work gets your creative juices flowing as much as it has mine. In closing, please have a look at Darren’s short, information rich video here. Worth your time I promise you, if for no other reason that to be entertained by Darren’s Aussie accent!

Dream big dreams!

Dave Hawkins

[NOTE: In the article I linked entitled "Mother of All Problems" I used the word "rape" to describe what is happening to our cropland.  I'm now sorry I used that word and will not use it again because it could be taken offensively by cropland farmers.  I do NOT mean to imply that cropland farmers are "raping" land.  There is NO mal intent on the part of farmers that I am aware of at all.  Cropland farmers are just doing what has always been done for centuries - plowing, planting, harvesting.]

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