Episode 26: Rooftop Gardens, Waste, Smallholders & Perennial Vegetables

This is the World Organic News Podcast for the week ending 1st of August 2016.

Jon Moore reporting!

Welcome to our six month anniversary podcast! Unfortunately we missed last week’s episode through illness and a voice which just didn’t work so here we are in August.

This week we begin with a post of hope and change. The blog Gemstars reports on a group of New York millennials who bailed from their desk jobs to take up the art of rooftop gardening in Brooklyn. Growing food where it’s eaten has many advantages. Freshness, lack of embedded CO2 from transportation and micro climate adaptation, over time, being some. Possible problems to be overcome include, the structural integrity of the rooftop being farmed, the ambient levels of pollution and, of course, the long hand of bureaucracy and municipal codes. 

As an example of what can be done, though, this post is inspiring. Link in the show notes. 

The blog The Life Project has an interesting post on waste, or more accurately that there is no such thing as waste. This is an idea which is counter intuitive to the industrialized west. We are used to seeing raw materials entering a factory, finished goods coming out the other end and “waste” as a by product. That nothing is waste is an understanding of the world through the permaculture lens.

To quote the post: “There is no such things as waste, just stuff in the wrong place.”

Let’s apply this to an agricultural setting: A small dairy farmer allows his stock to feed on paddocks, drop their “waste” in the paddock and then moves the cows to fresh grazing. The “waste” is biologically consumed and feeds the paddock. This is a self sustaining system. Now if we apply industrial methods to “improve” efficiency. We increase numbers of stock, we put them in sheds, bring their feed to them ‘cause who wants their stock to waste milk producing energy on walking? Right? Now with all these cows in a confined space, feed being poured in and the cows not walking in the paddocks, poo becomes a problem or maybe even a waste product. Clearly, poo is not waste, poo is poo and perfect for fertilising paddocks. In this case it’s called waste because it’s stuff in the wrong place. We could apply this analysis to any of the factory farmed animals: Chooks, pigs, beef cattle and, sadly but increasingly, sheep.

What this post by The Life Project is asking us to do is twofold. One, reimagine what we could be doing with “waste” and two,  reengineer systems so they do not produce any by putting stuff where it belongs not where it doesn’t!

Our next post is a podcast episode from Radiolab: “From Tree to Shining Tree.”  It follows on from our discussion in episode 25 on the nature of the fungal connections within forest communities. The tone of the episode I found difficult. It’s pitched, it would appear, at eight year olds and moves a little too slowly for me. Yet it does contain some excellent material. I recommend a listen just be aware of the style.

The main question it raised for me after the explanation of the interconnection of trees within a forest ecology was: Do these fungal communities exist in grassland ecologies? A little research and thought suggests they do. Let me backtrack a little. The episode describes how, in exchange for sugar from the trees, the fungal systems provide all the necessary minerals required by the trees. With such a system existing in grasslands, the steppe, the prairies, the pampas and so on, it becomes obvious why, one, these landscapes provided such good returns on cereals when first plowed under and why fertility declined over time. Over time, the remnants of the fungal ecosystem are used up and each year’s ploughing creates an environment where they cannot be re-established.

The key message then is: a sustainablely fertile system is a perennial system. This does not mean no annuals nor biennials but that a frame work of perennial plants should be maintained in perpetuity. 

To that end we have a few posts which support this hypothesis. The blog Agroforestry World posted on on restoration through agroforestry in Brazil, the blog Desertification posted on empowering smallholders and finally the blog Divine Greens explains how to transition to perennial vegetables.

Beginning with agroforestry in Brazil, the restoration of fertility, culture, society and food security is premised upon the notion of perennial structures of food producing trees. Given our increasing knowledge of the fungal networks within forests, maintaining food producing tree ecosystems seems the obvious place to start.

Empowering smallholders from the blog Desertification works at the other end of the problem. Maintaining existing forest cover, in particular, rainforest cover. It is easier to maintain a fungal ecosystem than it is to rebuild them. The key to this is the local landholders who also happen to be smallholders. These farmers are used to working together, they have a vested interest in maintaining the forest canopy which in turns protects the fungal communities linked to them.

Now this isn’t always possible so the Divine Greens post provides info on how to shift from annual vegetable production to perennial. This is an area ripe for research and experimentation. Currently the perennial versions of many vegetable crops do not produce to the same extent as do annuals. This is mostly due to lack of enquiry. Given the fungal network knowledge we are acquiring, I would suggest the time for this research is now. 

I remember reading up on perennial wheats ten years or so ago. This research was being pushed along by the millennial drought we experiencing at the time. The idea behind the perennial wheat was its root would drive deeper, find a lower water table, add stability to landscapes, plant once thereby removing the annual cost of ploughing and provide emergency sheep feed at a pinch.

The grain returns were considerably lower than annual production but the benefits looked promising. Then the drought broke and the research seemed to be abandoned. I think it’s time to have another look.

And that brings us to the end of this week’s podcast.

If you’ve liked what you heard, I’d really appreciate a review on iTunes. This helps others to find us. Thanks in advance!

Any suggestions, feedback or criticisms of the podcast or blog are most welcome. email me at podcast@worldorganicnews.com.

Thank you for listening and I’ll be back in a week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *