The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic

I’ve just bought and watched this very informative documentary film about setting up and maintaining a “permaculture commercial orchard”, excellent for people wondering what permaculture looks like in a commerical sense then this is it. I really enjoyed the aspects on biodiversity, tree pruning, shrub and herbaceous planting, attracting beneficials etc. You might want to consider buying this one, I’m glad I did.

“The Permaculture Orchard : Beyond Organic is a feature-length educational film that will teach you how to set up your own permaculture orchard at any scale. We recognize the limitations of the organic model as a substitute to conventional fruit growing, and want to propose a more holistic, regenerative approach based on permaculture principles. Based on 20 years of applied theory and trial and error, biologist and educator Stefan Sobkowiak shares his experience transforming a conventional apple orchard into an abundance of biodiversity that virtually takes care of itself. The concepts, techniques and tips presented in this film will help you with your own project, whether it is just a few fruit trees in your urban backyard, or a full-scale multi-acre commercial orchard.”

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Our Food System Affects Biodiversity: Do We Want Monocultures?

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On the International Day of Biological Diversity, Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo exhorts us to move away from our current farming system

On today’s United Nations biodiversity day, we are being asked to focus on small islands and their unique ecology and fragility in times of globally pervasive threats such as climate change.

But, the whole planet is a small island in the vast sea of space, capable of producing food for all as a consequence of rich biodiversity. That diversity is under threat, our actions can strengthen it or weaken it. Our agriculture systems can help mitigate climate change and feed us, or they can accelerate the change and contribute to hunger.

The food system we choose has a direct impact on which type of world we will have. It’s the difference between a field that hums and is robust with life, or one which is dusty, dry and dead. It’s the difference between a place where ecological farming has been used or where a cocktail of industrial chemicals has soaked into the soil where the same crop is grown, decade after decade.

Our current food and farming system is creating more and more of these dry, dead ends. It is agriculture characterised by three things: the industrial-sized growing of a single plant, or “monoculture”, genetically engineered crops, and repeated toxic chemical infusions of pesticides and the application of synthetic fertilisers. All of these harm people and the farming ecosystems they depend on.
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United Nations Say Small-Scale Organic Farming Is The Future Of Food Production

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Farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers, and more locally focused production and consumption of food, a new UNCTAD report recommends.

The Trade and Environment Report 2013 warns that continuing rural poverty, persistent hunger around the world, growing populations, and mounting environmental concerns must be treated as a collective crisis. It says that urgent and far-reaching action is needed before climate change begins to cause major disruptions to agriculture, especially in developing countries.

The report, subtitled Wake up before it is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate, was released today. More than 60 international experts contributed to the report’s analysis of the topic. The study notes that the sheer scale at which production methods would have to be modified under these proposals would pose considerable challenges. In addition, it would be necessary to correct existing imbalances between where food is produced and where it is needed, to reduce the power asymmetries that exist in agricultural input and food-processing markets, and to adjust current trade rules for agriculture.

The Trade and Environment Report 2013 recommends a rapid and significant shift away from “conventional, monoculture-based… industrial production” of food that depends heavily on external inputs such as fertilizer, agro-chemicals, and concentrate feed. Instead, it says that the goal should be “mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers and foster rural development”. The report stresses that governments must find ways to factor in and reward farmers for currently unpaid public goods they provide – such as clean water, soil and landscape preservation, protection of biodiversity, and recreation.

Climate change will drastically impact on agriculture, the report forecasts, primarily in the developing regions with the highest future population growth, such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Much slower agricultural productivity growth in the future and fast-rising populations in the most vulnerable regions will almost certainly worsen current problems with hunger, drought, rising food prices, and access to land. These pressures may easily lead to massive migrations, and to international tensions and conflicts over food and resources such as soil and water.

The report cites a number of trends that collectively suggest a mounting crisis:
• Food prices from 2011 to mid-2013 were almost 80 per cent higher than for the period 2003–2008;
• Global fertilizer use has increased by eight times over the past 40 years, although global cereal production has only doubled during that period;
• Growth rates in agricultural productivity have recently declined from 2 per cent per year to below 1 cent;
• Two types of irreparable environmental damage have already been caused by agriculture: nitrogen contamination of soil and water, and loss of biodiversity;
• Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are the single biggest source of global warming in the South. They also the fastest growing (along with emissions from transport);
• Foreign land acquisition in developing countries (often termed “land grabbing”) in recent years has amounted, in value, to between five and ten times the level of official development assistance.

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Only ever tried an Orange Carrot? Why?

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In some regions of the world you can still naturally find white, yellow, red and purple carrots, this is the spectrum of colors carrots used to have but today in most countries carrots tend to be just orange. Why is that then?

Allegedly they are orange for entirely political reasons: in the 17th century, Dutch growers are thought to have cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange – who led the the struggle for Dutch independence – and the color stuck. A thousand years of yellow, white and purple carrot history, was wiped out in a generation.

Although some scholars doubt if orange carrots even existed prior to the 16th century, they now form the basis of most commercial cultivators around the world. Presumably crosses between Eastern (purple), Western (white, red) and perhaps wild carrots led to the formation of the orange rooted carrot sub species. Turkey is often cited as the original birthplace of the hybrids (or mutations) of the two groups.

Whatever the origins, the Long Orange Dutch carrot, first described in writing in 1721, is the forebear of the orange Horn carrot varieties so abundant nowadays. The Horn Carrot derives from the Netherlands town of Hoorn in the neighborhood of which it was presumably bred. All our modern, western carrots ultimately descend from these varieties.

In fact the different colour pigments have have different health benefits also, colours like Purple are reported to have more antioxidant effects (anthocyanins). I will post more on that soon but for now don’t just stick to what the supermarkets or veg shops are providing, create something new yourself.

So why not try something different next year, break the mold and get something you can’t just pick up somewhere. Brighten up that plate a bit and enjoy all the variety in colors on offer.

The Read Seed Catalogue may be somewhere to pick up those seeds (and support) but they are widely available now really.