Living Forest Farm is located on 10 acres of diverse ecosystems: oak forests mingle with thriving permaculture gardens near the town of Montignac in South-western France. The site overlooks the Vézère Valley, sometimes called the cradle of humankind due its many traces of prehistoric and early settlements. Just down the road are a series of prehistoric rock dwellings from the Paleolithic period, some dating back to some 200,000 years ago. An area rich in stories and anthropological insight, the Vézère Valley contains altogether 147 prehistoric sites and 25 painted caves, including the famous Lascaux caves. This long-held history of self-sufficient communities provides an interesting setting within which to explore both old and new sustainable systems of living.
Our original goal in establishing the farm was to become self-sufficient through home-scale permaculture. As we began to reach that goal, Kali became interested in developing what she likes to call “interdependent self-sufficiency”. She is aspiring to help create sustainable self-sufficient communities, where all the needs of a village or town can be met through local resources and creative cooperation.
As a step in that direction, we will be developing in the coming year a community supported market garden that follows Linda Windrow’s interconnected circular gardens or “mandala” design. The original Sanskrit term refers to any plan, chart, or geometric pattern which represents the universe metaphysically or symbolically. In this way, a mandala garden can be seen as a microcosm of nature.
A mandala garden allows the gardener to gain surface area for cultivation by reducing by half the area allocated to paths. It also incorporates guilds, a symbiotic grouping of plants that promote greater biodiversity, multifunctional use of plants, and natural plant protection. Nature not only abhors a vacuum (naked earth), it also abhors large blocks of one plant type. Polyculture, on the other hand, increases the health and the yield of crops while transferring much of the labour to nature. Employing these time-tested principles of nature will allow our community supported agriculture system to flourish with greater efficiency and balance than would be possible with organic methods alone.
In addition to applying permaculture design principles, we also practise biodynamic gardening, which uses a lunar planting and harvesting calendar.
Immediate plans for the future
We are gearing up for many engaging new projects and workshops for spring and summer 2016, which I wrote all about in this blog post: Exciting New Learning Opportunities at LFF
This October, we will begin establishing our rockin’ design for an edible forest garden in the south-facing prairies. It is on this same site that grape vines historically provided some of the country’s best wine from the 15th century until the end of the 19th century when the phylloxera (American green fly) infestation destroyed most of the wine vineyards in Europe, resulting in rural exodus. It feels good to be restoring these lands to their productivity, while making use of history’s warning against monoculture. We will be planting a great variety of wildlife- and human-sustaining trees, shrubs and low growing food crops in highly interactive, beneficial groupings. A well-thought-out design maximizes biodiversity and naturally protects crops from the introduction of new pest species and other challenging forces.
“For me the idea of a system of land use capable of supplying all basic human needs, consisting mainly of trees and other perennial plants with no livestock component, was a case of gradual evolution.” —Robert Hart, forest gardening pioneer.
Long-term Plans for the Future
Through her study of natural medicine and through her ongoing recovery from a neurological illness (which has as one of its roots pesticide poisoning), Kali has discovered the importance and wholeness of community. She also realized that the health of each individual and of the planet cannot be separated, but are inextricably interconnected. With those social and planetary levels of health in mind, she fully supports the Transition Initiative, which embodies a dedication to creating stronger, happier, and more resilient communities. She is currently helping to organize small-scale local responses to the global challenges of climate change, economic hardship and shrinking supplies of cheap energy. These small-scale responses are taking place all over the world through well over a thousand Transition communities and other groups, creating something much greater than the sum of their parts. Through each individual and group effort, it is becoming increasingly possible for our local and global villages to transition from an industrial growth society to a life-sustaining society – a possibility she finds truly worth honouring.