What does restoration agriculture look like for those of us who live in USDA Zone 3? According to Mark Shepard, founder of New Forest Farm and keynote speaker at this year’s Iron Range Earth Fest, we should look in our ditches. “What it would look like in USDA Zone 3 is a lot like the brush on the side of the road, except it would be a lot more consciously chosen; a lot more intentionally designed.
“You can imitate the natural plant community and these plants will survive. So if you can imagine what hunter gatherers would have eaten…and then if you can imagine what modern-day foragers go looking for…if you were to take all the things that the hunter gatherers and the foragers look for, and plant them where you know where they are…now you’ve got a system that’s almost a natural system. It’s based on the natural plants and animals of the area. It’s just heavily weighted. If we were to use asparagus as an example, instead of one sprig here and there on the side of the road…I’ve got a 2-acre patch surrounded by trees, shrubs, bushes and vines that are also producing fruit—from chestnuts, to mulberries, to grapes, to raspberries, and so on.”
Mark Shepard wrote a book called Restoration Agriculture, published in 2013. “Restoration agriculture is an intentional combination of two different phrases. One is ‘restoration’ from ecological restoration and the other, obviously, is from agriculture, which is the production of food. So many times, we’re told that you can’t do ecological restoration. If you do it, you have to take the land out of food production. Well that’s entirely not true and it causes fights that don’t need to happen. We can actually do ecological restoration on pieces of ground and produce food at the same time.”
Mark will be talking about restoration agriculture at Iron Range Earth Fest on April 12th and 13th in Mountain Iron MN. His workshops include “Restoration Agriculture in USDA Zone 3a”, “Restoring Iron Range Farmland to Feed Ourselves”, and a “Round Table with Area Farmers and Growers”.
“If anyone wants to have a hard core, gloves off, design-it-on-the-ground nuts and bolts, that’s the Friday night session; the 3-hour session. We’ll really go into detail on that.”
The interview below describes much more about restoration agriculture, helps us picture New Forest Farm, and tells the story of how Mark Shepard became interested in sustainable agricultural practices.