When we first started Danyadara, we knew that our project needed an iconic landmark, a symbol that would be a source of inspiration and learning. We couldn’t think of anything more spectacular than to create a vibrant Food Forest. We are compelled to create a living demonstration of sustainable farming methods.
We dreamt that, in the near future, locals will drive by our site and will notice a large oasis that is permanently green and productive. It will be outstanding in a landscape that is sadly mostly made up of bare soil, scrubland and exposed rocky slopes. Here the pattern of farming consists of periods of intense food production (mostly wheat or sunflowers) followed by long periods of inactivity.
During those fallow periods, the Sun heavily punishes the bare soil for months on end, effectively killing any microbiology that is exposed through industrial methods of tilling.
Goals and challenges
The Food Forest aims to establish a production system that is not based on an extraction model, with only one crop dominating the landscape. Our Food Forest is a multi-species ecosystem that fosters biodiversity, not only above ground, but also regenerates the rich and diverse microbiology that thrives beneath the surface.
That universe beneath the surface had been exploited for decades on our land. The Food Forest is growing in what used to be a mono-culture of wheat. Following the trend in this area of the country, previous farmers spent years pumping chemical fertilizers and pesticides into the soil. Our first soil analysis gave us a near zero reading of organic matter. Plants would have a hard time getting any nutrients from our field. So we designed a few interventions to bring this soil back to life.
The first one was to create a keyline design. Species planted in a keyline design make more use of rainwater than other species planted in a traditional straight line. This is because a keyline cultivation pattern optimizes the way in which rainwater flows through the specific orography of a given plot of land. In Andalusia, with long summers and little rain, this is a technology that could be used to maximize existing resources.
Secondly, we needed to minimize the effect that the Sun was having on the soil surface. An exposed soil makes for low water retention, high temperatures, and difficult conditions for microbiology and insect life to thrive in any ecosystem, so before planting the trees, we seeded the entire field with cover crop. We will also not be tilling this land with machines.
The cover crop allows the soil to be protected from Sun and wind. It also allows for the moisture to be absorbed better, and less water runs off. Finally the roots of the cover crop serve as a first re-ignition of life beneath the surface. Our cover crop inserted nutrients into the soil, and those will accumulate more with time.
Our Food Forest uses biology as a fertilizer. We do not rely on external input to make the soil more productive.
Finally, after a crowdfunding campaign (we thank you, donors and sponsors!), we planted 5000 saplings in December 2017. After careful consideration, we chose seven species of pioneer trees. They were selected for their hardiness and functionality. They have high resistance to low water conditions, and they handle the long summers well.
Their mission is to kickstart a forest, which is no small feat. They are our first milestone of biodiversity and a tangible transition from monoculture to permaculture. The pioneer trees will start providing shade, wind protection, and enough soil regeneration so that other, less hardy species, will be able to take root in our soil a few years from now.
Two years in…
In only two years since December 2017, they have grown from 20cm to 1,50m. A big percentage of the trees have survived, although not all of them made it. At the time of writing, in 2019, we are very excited to see the first sketches of what a keyline, biodiverse, and edible tree forest will look like.
We know it is only the beginning. Our Farm Manager, Jacob Evans, is already pre-selecting fruit trees to be added to the forest in the near future. This is a 100-year project, and to think in decades instead of years connects us with a story that goes beyond just ourselves.
The video below shows our planting days, and communicates the spirit of the Food Forest. We have formed a lifelong alliance with these saplings, and we invite you to join us and participate in the inspiring creation of a food forest.
You can support our efforts with your contribution here.