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In fairness, I’m just under a quarter of the way through the book, so keep that in mind.
The book reads very well. Well written, organized, conversational. A great deal of the beginning is the authors history with leaning towards the ideal of permaculture and discusses the history of civilizations that depended on annual crops (briefly) and how our current society does as well.
I am no new recruit in terms of the idea of permaculture, but I am a novice in the practical applications of it in a hands on sense. I purchased the book as I have recently purchased a property with an acre of woods and wanted to know what I can do to maintain its health and use it to produce food to my family.
As of about a quarter of the way through the book, I haven’t been provided with any practical knowledge in terms of what I can do and what will work in my woods, but I’ve really enjoyed the read.
If you’re buying this book for a step by step guide or to give you guidance of what to do specifically, from what I’ve read and what I’ve flipped ahead through, it doesn’t appear to be that type of book, but i recommend it as a read to accompany a guide book, as it will help give you plenty of things to think about and consider.
I have to admit that until recently I thought that permaculture was something that frustrated city people did under the pretense of feeding themselves from a few trees and bushes. But I came across it on a farm scale while exploring better things to plant in chicken runs. And then I watched a few videos by Mark Shepard! He's realistic, very holistic in his ideas and decision making, and this book is beautifully written to persuade readers to regenerate soils and habitat by planting perennials that can produce food or fibre, or nurture the soil. Maybe humans can survive the damage that has been done to the earth, and live well with eachother. With leaders like Mark and Allan Savory, I think we can.
I have read several permaculture books (Holmgren, Holzer, Hemenway, Jacke, Bane, etc.), and Mark Shepard's 'Restoration Agriculture' is worthy of its subtitle 'Real-World Permaculture for Farmers'. He has combined his hard-nosed practicality from his engineering background with a hefty dose of permacultural idealism to successfully realize his dream of 'New Forest Farm'. Shepard has been doing broad-scale permaculture/agroforestry since the mid 1990's, and has turned an old eroding cornfield into a productive property with fruit trees, nut trees, fruit shrubs, berries, vines, mushrooms, animals, bees, and annual (squash) and perennial (asparagus) vegetables as cash crops to help pay bills until the perennials start bearing more heavily.
Of special interest to me were chapters 11 and 12, in which he deals with questions about the capacity of a perennial agriculture to provide enough calories to feed people. Can 'permaculture' really feed people or must we subsidize the permaculture fantasy with destructive annual tillage and a diet based on annual crops? Shepard admits his figures are a bit rough (yields for polycultures will change as trees mature), but corn produces about 13 million calories per acre annually, and Mr. Shepard suggests that a perennial system with perhaps a few annuals alley-cropped, can produce 6 million calories per acre. He says nutritionally there is simply no comparison between a monocrop of corn and the variety of a perennial system - the nutrition of the perennial system is vastly superior to a corn-based diet. The benefits of a perennial system are reduced cost in seed, gasoline or diesel fuel, and tractor maintenance, along with drastically improved soil, minimal tillage, greater capacity for photosynthesis, and an astonishing diversity of yields over a greater period of time. His findings give me hope that there truly is a different way to feed large numbers of people in a way that builds rather than destroys soil, is comparable to annual agriculture in caloric yields, is superior nutritionally, requires FAR fewer fossil-fuel based inputs, and is better for people. The type of thing he is doing seems to be the foundation of a relocalized economy that empowers the everyman rather than enriching elites. To top it all off, the 'New Forest Farm' is a giant informal research station for new varieties of fruits, nuts, and for appropriate-scale nut processing equipment.
This book comes highly recommended if you have already been introduced to some of the ideas of permaculture and are interested to see how it really does work on a large scale. Even if you're unfamiliar with permaculture it could serve as a decent introduction to some key concepts as long as you have a bit of farming experience already. If someone you know seems to think permaculture is a joke, lend them this book. The icing on the cake is the book itself is well bound, has a beautiful cover, has the right margins so you don't have to break the spine to read it, and the book just 'feels right' when you hold it. Mark Shepard seems to be the real deal. I really enjoyed this book.
P.S. - He is based in Wisconsin, so obviously the species one might incorporate into something like he is doing will vary from climate to climate.
Many permaculture books and people seem to lean towards paranoia and wishful thinking.
That is why I am always very thankful for down to earth approaches like the road Mark Shepard is walking on.
This is certainly not a text book on which alone you can errect your farm.
BUT: the points he works through are very thoroughly worked through and one can learn a lot from this „Real-World Permaculture for Farmers“ as the subtitle claims.
A wonderful story-driven book with a great reading flow and an inspiring abundance of useful information whether you want to errect your own farm or only dream and talk about it. After reading this book you know what Permaculture is, what problems it might face and how it compares to classical annual agriculture.
This richly deserves to take its place alongside classics like works by J Russell Smith (Tree Crops), George Henderson (Farming Ladder), James Sholto Douglas and Robert de Hart (Forest Farming; and Forest Gardening), Masanobu Fukuoka (One Straw Revolution) P A Yeomans (The Keyline Plan etc), Takao Furuno (The Power of Duck), Mollison & Holmgren (Permaculture, various), Geoff Lawton (Permaculture dvds, various), Holzer (Sepp Holzer's Permaculture etc).
A remarkable contribution to creating profitable farm-scale sustainable permaculture systems to produce healthy and wholesome foods. Highly recommended.