Perennials vs. Annuals: “The battle to end all wars!”
Note: I take the title of this post from that of the video below. And it’s worth pondering. “The battle to end all wars!” rather than being hyperbole, may just be correct, if it’s true that annuals-based agriculture necessarily depletes soil and thus requires periodic migration or conquering of of new territory (land) in order to grow food.
Update: When I posted this to fb, I immediately received this insightful comment immediately. Thanks, Ray!
Ray Major The growing of annual crops in properly sized gardens and small fields doesn’t require migration or conquest of necessity. Proper crop rotations and carefully done manure management and waste management makes use of both annual and perennial plants without soil depletion. But these old fashioned methods (some of which have become new again in the hands of the young permaculturalists) are not regarded by industrial scale agriculture as productive or profitable. Part of the matter is that, in order to conserve and build soil, they must be done on a small scale and that they usually require a great deal more human physical labor than modern people are willing to do. The current agricultural methods don’t lend themselves to long crop rotations or complex mixes of plants and animals. Describing this problem in terms of warfare and battle and Us Versus Them doesn’t help solve the problem. We have all been awaiting Prof. Jackson’s perennial grains and beans for 50 years. I am prepared to wait longer, but in the meantime my garden contains both annuals and perennials growing together, if not in harmony, then at least not at war. Boys and Girls, sharpen up your spades and hoes and tend your garden.
Yesterday’s post, on the remarkable response of I presume an army of young, enthusiastic, imagination-fired permies to one woman’s question about how to eradicate a “pokewood forest” made me want to feature more on this subject of perennial vs. annual in thinking about how to grow food. It’s especially exciting to me to imagine the growing army of young people inspired by permaculture’s hope for the future responding to very real needs everywhere for a total transformation in our way of life. For example (and I think I’ve used it before): in Thailand, a country that is 95% Buddhist, the educational centers are the Buddhist monasteries. At least some of them have land that could be used to grow food. Voila! Imagine: young permaculturists from all over the world drifting like spores into monasteries to work side by side with young monks, hands in the dirt, faces in the sun, smiles all around.
Here’s one article (thanks, Keith):
And here’s a fun and extremely informative video that really gets into the “meat” of the whole question of how Nature manages to be so successful. As perennials pioneer Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute (Kansas), concludes:
“Here is a system that runs on sunlight, doesn’t have soil erosion, doesn’t seem to have the epidemic, just harvest, inputs zero. What are the primary characteristics? Well, most of them are perennials. If we can get agriculture in phase with nature’s economy, bring those processes of the wild to the farm, we will have a new set of metaphors for informing the economics in an ecological world view. If we don’t get sustainability in agriculture first, it’s not going to happen, because agriculture will ultimately have the discipline of ecology, evolutionary biology standing behind it.”
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