Turn arid lands into profitable self-sufficiency

by Kirsten Dirksen

In the early 1990s, Mark and Jane Shepherd bought a degraded corn plantation in Viola, Wisconsin, and began slowly converting it from row crops to native oak plains that would become one of the most productive perennial farms in the country.

After 8 years of staying in a home in Alaska (they arrived as soon as the Homestead Act expired) where they were forced by low-paying jobs to discover “which trees, shrubs, shrubs, and vines we can get food from”, they arrive in a drift-free area in Wisconsin on Willingness to apply their knowledge of sustainable agriculture (“permaculture”).

Over the last roughly three decades, Mark has planted an estimated 250,000 trees on his 106-acre farm. The main agro-forest crops are chestnuts, hazelnuts and apples, followed by walnuts, walnuts, cherries and pine nuts (for nuts). To earn a short-term income, the couple planted annual crops, such as grains and asparagus, in the alleys between fruit trees and acorns. Cattle, pigs, lambs, turkeys, and chickens act as pest control and compost as they roam the savannah on the farm.

Not only does Mark rely on commercially produced seeds, he also raises his own to find the best-suited trees for his area using the method he dubbed STUN (Total Neglect). It grows trees at densities higher than recommended and with as much variety as possible (at one point they grew 219 varieties of apples) and then let pests and diseases run their course. Felling diseased trees or those that do not bear enough fruit, or early enough. The result is that the orchards are stiff enough to survive even blight chestnuts.

As more and more alley crops are replaced by trees and pocket ponds to help manage the water on the farm, the land here has reverted to the original savannah where mastodons were grazing 12,000 years ago (in 1898 bones were discovered 5 miles down the road).

New Forest Farm has inspired many other perennial farms, especially chestnut growers in the area, and Mark hopes that each pupil will grow their own apple seed (and perhaps subject it to STUN) and that each family can grow a backyard food forest.

Free PDF: 10 Best Books for Surviving Food Shortages and Famine

New jungle farm:

Mark’s book “Restoring Agriculture”:

At * Faircompanes:

What do you think?

Written by Joseph

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