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Converting fallow land in New York into biomass and silvopasture

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I’m continuously amazed when witnessing the tenacity of life in the world around me. In particular is the viewscape along the highway between Western Massachusetts and Central New York. While driving along the highway, the scenic beauty and hundreds of years of agricultural history is obviously there, what strikes me particularly is how extensive the shrubland has become in these communities. New York estimates there’s nearly 3 million acres of unused and underutilized non-forest land in the State.

And there’s a confluence creating this enormous fallowing, including high tax rates, changing demographics, and socio-economic instability etc. So, what I’m witnessing on that drive is hundreds of miles of mid-succession in the northeast temperate forest biome, or more simply fields turning back to forest.

You might be asking why is this so interesting or striking? I could answer, what I am, you are witnessing, is the collapse of New York’s farm economy. You can find other indicators from increasing unemployment, to a rising opioid epidemic, political disfunction (I’m talking about you Mr. T), the constant threat from the hydraulic fracking industry, and there are many other signs.

So, what might a regenerative agricultural practitioner, like myself, offer in such a situation? How might these “problems” point to a solution?

I think it is important to connect this regional observation to the larger web of disruptions throughout the globe. One of the largest being the rise in global CO2, from 280 ppm in the interglacial period to 407 ppm today. There is no doubt, clearing of forests, destruction of soil, and the burning of fossil fuels, all human disturbances, have gotten us to this accumulation. One that is creating a wildly undulating global weather situation, with a difficult to predict outcome (although it is now pretty clear the outcome will be dire if business as usual continues.)

What comes out from this analysis is not only is our global socio-economic system, and humanity for that matter, under overwhelming stress, but, from a scientific perspective the carbon cycle is, well, TOTALLY FUCKED UP!

YYYEEET, at the same time, the old fields, like the picture above, continue to grow into shrubland.

What are those fallow field shrubs, perennial grasses, and soil their roots are in made of?


The same carbon in the C of CO2. Carbon as problem becomes carbon as solution.

More and more this realization is leaking into the halls of power. We need this solution to move up to the top of the priority list. We need communities throughout New York and everywhere to see underutilized, degraded, and fallow land as an opportunity for healing, an opportunity for economic renewal, and an opportunity for regeneration.

What I’m proposing is a grand project for New York, what I’m calling reNewLand.

Picture by Jonathan Bates of Shelterbelt Farm (example of what could be)

reNewLand draft mission statement:

"We are a one gigaton carbon drawdown project that covers millions of acres over multiple Northeastern states leveraging biomass and silvopasture to renew marginal and underutilized non-timber agriculture lands. This project is a jobs program starting in New York that plants millions of trees for energizing a cascade of regeneration, manifesting true wealth for local economies, including clean water and food, healthy soil, increased biodiversity and real work."

Below I've included a mindmap that generally outlines the different parts of the project

This project is not about bringing us back to some golden bygone age of economic prosperity and industrial agricultural growth. The pinnacle of the 20th century was “better living through chemistry”, in the 21st century BIOLOGY is remembered as the driver of a clean, healthy food system. Food being the foundation of any human endeavor, might a redesign of the local, regional and global food system be a creative way to meld a more thoughtful, kind, and rational society?

This project will need lots of money, land, hands and minds. Call me to get involved 413-588-8435

You may also enjoy these ideas put to story...

"Imagine walking into a warm, vibrant, supportive space where people come together to celebrate themselves, their families, and the community, land and animals around them. People are laughing, drinking and eating and gathering the foods and other life supporting needs for the week… fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, companionship, fresh air, inspiring beverages, and many other goods.

You go outside to enjoy the abundant fruit and nuts dripping from orchard branches, see happy sheep munching breakfast, and watch bees making their golden honey. You meet up with a few folks gathered around an artesian spring, drinking down the sweet refreshing water together. You remembered to make one last stop inside and see that the space is heated with prunings from the orchard and woodlot.

Waving goodbye to your friends on your way out you grab a few bags of biochar to take home for the garden. Following you on the bike ride home is a co-operatively owned bio-oil truck caring the carbon negative fuel you and your neighbors will need to stay cozy during the coming winter."

Two Months Until Spring (Food Forest Farm Newsletter: Regenerative Living Guide)

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Check out a sample of our newsletter the "Regenerative Living Guide" Winter 2017, below. If you like what you read, find "Get Farm News" on the bottom of every page to sign up. This month's newsletter includes our spring plant sale announcement; read (re)Generation: A monthly article by Jonathan Bates; and links to inspiring and useful topics:

"It's well into January and in the last two days the temperature has swung from 2 degrees to 50 degrees in Western Massachusetts (not normal even for New England standards). Currently I am typing this newsletter while comfortably sitting inside our four-year-old backyard bioshelter permaculture greenhouse. We harvested the last of the calamondin citrus and are excited to see the lettuce just getting big enough to eat. Fresh salad for dinner tonight!

Like many of you, I'm drooling over the plant and seed catalogs, excited for the coming growing season. The sun is coming up earlier each day and setting later each evening. Even though we have our bioshelter, which provides a small amount of citrus, herbs and greens this time of year, I still yearn for those long summer nights when I can put my hands in warm soil, and eat perennial vegetables or pick the ripe hanging fruit, like my favorite paw paw.

For those that are new to Food Forest Farm, along with monthly tours, seasonal workshops, and many other fun, tasty educational events, we run a nationally known useful and edible plant nursery. The process for preparing plants for spring shipping begins during the month of November, and ends with your plants arriving in March or April. At our production farm, we have "mother" plants that we dig up and propagate from. The cuttings done from those mother plants are carefully cataloged and put in burlap bags which are overwintered underground in a trench. Those plants stay at the perfect temperature, naturally, without using global climate damaging refrigeration.

Throughout the winter, while you place your pre-orders at, the plants are snuggled in tight just waiting to be shipped to you and their new home.

Now is the time to get your order in. Each year we sell out, so get the orders in now while you can! Those buried jewels of deliciousness are waiting for you. You'll be putting your hands in that warm luscious soil before you know it :)

The Revolutionary Moment
(re)Generation: A monthly article by Jonathan Bates

I'm not going to talk about Donald Trump. I am going to speak to the current state of the human condition we find ourselves in here in the U.S.A.

My Mom grew up in the Deep South, living on a farm with a vegetable business that her Mom started in 1936. Depending on "truck farming", as it was called then, they would all get up early, harvest the vegetables for that day, and bring them to market. Not so different then what's done on countless small farms today. What was different back then was the MAJORITY of people in North America were farmers! Now, with less then 2 percent of the population growing most of the food we (and our meat) eats, the world is a different place.

Since the most recent election, I've been reflecting on this socio-economic sea change that occurred over the last 70 years. What happened to the 95 percent of the USA that doesn't farm any more? Did they all move to the city? Well, many of them did, including my Mom. But, something else happened. Those that stayed hold onto their culture, they get off farm jobs so they can stay on their land, they work in factories just outside of town, maybe even jobs that are connected to farm life: ranching, horse farms, slaughterhouses, feedlots, grain storage and production, dairy, transportation, refrigeration, machine manufacturing, forestry and landscape jobs, and even somewhere along the thousands of miles of rural and suburban strip malls in every town, everywhere.

So, millions of Americans stayed "rural", even though they aren't farming. Those rural folks have a culture, family and friends around them that believe a set of values and view of the world. I do realize that I am over simplifying their situation. And the most recent political era we have entered into is way more complex and nuanced then what I am laying out with this "rural" perspective. But, what I am doing is bringing light to the fact that there are wide gaps that have formed between many who live rural, and people who have grown up urban. Many urbanites have been in the "city" for many generations, and only know life in the city, which has it's own culture, values and world view (I should know, I grew up sub-urban... which I am considering city here).

Now, onto the Revolutionary Moment... We know there is some kind of divide among people in this Country. Much of it is cultural. Yet, there is an opportunity in what seems like a vast, unsolvable problem... Rural folks and urban folks are still bound by the common principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I'm not talking here about the life, liberty and happiness of our Constitution, although that is an important historical document. What I mean is, we are all human beings, we all want clean water, food and air, to be in communities and families that are nurturing, healthy and loving. All of us also make decisions every day, doing our best, striving, and many of us fight every day for those things.

Some of you reading this may not internalize that some people have more, and some have less. This phenomenon happens in rural places and urban places, and has been used to divide people everywhere for a long time. But, it is a phenomenon that is changeable, and not inevitable. If folks can come together realizing we all have common needs, we can reach across Party, culture, race, lifestyle, and identity. Move towards a new paradigm, a paradigm free of the entanglement of "World View" towards an organization of humanity that values life, abundance, and true freedom. If we can work hard together for real every day decision making power, in and for our neighborhoods, communities, towns and cities, we might just turn this Revolutionary Moment into the Utopia we've always longed for.

P.S. (We don't need Trump or Hillary for the freedom of which I speak.)"

NEWSLETTER INSPIRING AND USEFUL TOPIC LINKS: Portland Assembly | Order Spring Plants | Cherán. 5 Years of Self-government


Call to Action: hardy kiwi may be illegal to grow in New England

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The Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group (MIPAG) has voted to designate a locally-produced species of kiwifruit (Actinidia arguta; a.k.a. the kiwiberry) as "likely invasive" in the state and has petitioned to have it added to the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources (MADR) statewide prohibited plant list – on questionable grounds, according to Dr. Iago Hale, assistant professor of specialty crop improvement at the University of New Hampshire. Such an unprecedented listing of a commercialized fruit crop will, says Hale, prohibit Massachusetts farmers from growing kiwiberries, a low-input perennial specialty crop with a profit value exceeding $20,000/acre; and will deny Massachusetts residents the ability to buy kiwiberries from their grocery stores and farmers' markets, even if the berries are produced out of state. Much of the evidence provided by MIPAG in this case is anecdotal or speculative, says Hale, adding that in many instances the claims are false.

Before the January 10 deadline (5 PM), please email Taryn LaScola ( and request that MDAR not include the kiwiberry on its list of prohibited plants. Or, even better, show up in Westborough to give oral testimony in person: link for Call to action letter, and more details about giving oral testimony:


1) Genetic testing to determine whether individually dispersed naturalized growth of kiwi vine is speculative, due to the fact that many of these vines were likely planted over 100 years ago and at that time all vines planted as ornamentals where seedlings, thus they cannot be tracked back to known varieties, thus they are incorrectly assumed to be wildlife dispersed seedlings and labelled "invasive".

2) If this legislation was in place 200 years ago, apples would have been banned, and the entire New England apple and cider industry would be illegal. Sorry Johnny Appleseed.

3) Invasive Biology is a Pseudo Science.

4) People will grow and eat hardy kiwi despite the passing of this legislation.

5) The time, effort and resources spent on disparaging this plant, and the people growing it, is wasting all of our time. Global Climate Chaos won't wait for confused people to wake up and realize their ignorance.

6) If hardy kiwi would have been growing during the Great Depression, millions of people in cold temperate climates would have had access to an easy to grow, delicious fall fruit easily stored and preserved, filled with life giving nutrients including more vitamin C then oranges. Don't kid yourself that socio-economic food scarcity is a thing of the past.

7) Most of the Northeastern temperate climate forest biome is a patchwork of human created novel ecosystems. Actinidia arguta has already been established in this patchwork and cannot be eradicated.

8) If hardy kiwi is banned in Massachusetts there is a reasonable probability that all New England States will also restrict the cultivation and sale of this fruit.

9) As of 2017 Stephen Breyer at Tripple Brook Farm has a 30 year old kiwi vine that is at the top of a 100 year old maple tree. A wild concord grape is smothering the kiwi vine and killing it. Grape vines are sooooo invasive ;) 

10) Based on geologic fossil evidence, Actinidia were once native to North America and likely were present on various parts of the continent for nearly 80 million years (Late Cretaceous into the Tertiary Period). Fossilized Actinidia seeds have been identified in north-central Oregon (Dillhoff et al., 2009) and in Arctic Canada (Matthews and Ovenden, 1990), where the vines grew in a forest composed of pines, spruce, redwood, and tamarack, at a paleolatitude of 74 degrees (well north of the Arctic Circle). Changes in climate and repeated glaciations during the Late Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene eliminated Actinidia and many other plants from North America. 

DON'T LET OUR EYES BE DECEIVED BY HISTORY (pictures of the most cited "invasive" hardy kiwi vine, the vine that started it all):
kennedy park hardy kiwi.jpg
Same hardy kiwi vine 100 years later? Kennedy Park, Lenox MA (guess they forgot to prune this one).

Global Climate Change, Food Trees, and the Mushrooms That Orchestrate It All

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Earth ball mushroom with sweet chestnut and husk.

Six years ago a squirrel planted a sweet chestnut seed in my plant nursery and forgot about it. The tree grew, and grew and grew. Today I harvested the first nuts from that tree (and roasted them for dinner, mmm yum). While harvesting the nuts I noticed a few puffball mushrooms growing on the soil scattered around the tree. I didn't think anything about them, other than they were some of the first mushrooms I'd seen since establishing the perennial nursery many years ago. Later that day I reconsidered what I had seen, because...

A few weeks ago I came across a scientific article that compared the ecological function of two groups of soil mycorrhiza (mushrooms). The paper suggests that "Ectomycorrhizal and ericoid mycorrhizal (EEM) fungi produce nitrogen-degrading enzymes, allowing them greater access to organic nitrogen sources than arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. This leads to the theoretical prediction that soil carbon storage is greater in ecosystems dominated by EEM fungi than in those dominated by AM fungi." (Colin Averill

These mushrooms typically have associations with plants, and when I read this, I immediately did a search to find out which families of trees associated with the high "soil carbon storage" EEMs. The family Fagaceae, which includes the sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa, associates with EEM fungus. And it is interesting to note almost all of the EEM tree hosts include the best hard wood trees on the planet like chestnut, oak, and mahogany! (I don't know the science involved here, but it is an interesting correlation, carbon sequestering fungal host=really hard wood full of lots of carbon.)

Then a light bulb lite up in my head. The puffball fungus I saw growing under my chestnut tree is the common earth ball, Scleroderma citrinum, one of the EEM fungus that both associates with chestnuts and it turns out is a carbon sequestering power house!

Thus, a delicious, staple crop food tree fights climate change by way of it's carbon accumulating mushroom partner... How cool is that! And wait till you consider some of the other EEMs that grow under food trees... did someone say Porchini!

Common earth ball, Scleroderma citrinum (unfortunately not edible :(

Looking for Farm Land in Western Massachusetts?

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Regenerative Agriculture Resource Opportunities
Invitation to Participate

February 2016

We are a small group of regenerative agriculture and permaculture activists, land owners, and community organizers offering a small farm in Franklin County, Massachusetts as a base for regenerative agriculture projects. The farm is on the bank of the Connecticut River and has over ten acres of fertile, class A soils, seven of which have been in organic annuals production for almost 20 years and are currently fallow. There are farm buildings, other infrastructure and some equipment.

If you are interested in this opportunity, please contact us with questions, to arrange farm tours and for preliminary discussions. We envision project selection and development as a multi-stakeholder conversation and we encourage you to become involved and get in touch with us as early as possible, at any stage in your project planning.

Our goals and purposes are intentionally general to encourage innovation and imagination. We are seeking proposals that

  • Center around the development of an economically viable, working regenerative agriculture farm
  • Involve some form of community education about regenerative agriculture, for example
    • principles and concepts
    • achieving short and long term viability
    • environmental and community sustainability
    • responses to climate trends and diminishing resources
    • production and use of permaculture crops
  • Seek to improve social and economic equity, for example
    • developing a collaborative, commons-based approach to land use
    • creating job opportunities in marginalized communities
    • fostering resilience, health and wellness in low income communities
    • addressing food system shortcomings

In the abstract, our conception of “regenerative” includes:

  • Co-creative relationships between people, land, plants and animals on the farm
  • Co-creative relationships between the farm and the wider community
  • Social impacts as important as biological impacts
  • Holding long term, whole system health at higher priority than short term yields
  • Means as important as ends
  • Mostly-closed systems: minimizing inputs, minimizing internal resource losses, minimizing resources for delivering outputs

We invite you to develop exciting concrete examples of these concepts. We encourage the submission of multi-stakeholder collaborative projects or projects with collaborative aspirations. We will evaluate project ideas and proposals based on the following criteria:

  • Integration of regenerative agriculture principles
  • Social and community impacts
  • Start-up feasibility
  • Short and long term viability

In outlining your plan and vision, please address the following questions:

  • Who will benefit from your project and what form will those benefits take?
  • How will your project promote social justice?
  • Will your project have impacts on economically marginalized communities? If so, please explain.
  • What resources are you bringing to the project?
  • What resources will you be seeking to acquire through community support and collaboration?

The land owners will negotiate with project(s) selected by the team to establish affordable, permanent or semi-permanent tenure through long term leases or ownership.

Send inquiries and proposals to:

In solidarity,
Jonathan Bates, Ferdene Chin-Yee, Cynthia Marie Espinosa, Kyra Kristof, Scott Reed, Will Szal

Paradise Lot and Eric Toensmeier Join the Carbon Farming Revolution

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Eric Toensmeier, our garden partner from Paradise Lot, just released his new book: "The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security"

Also, listen to this podcast with Eric Toensmeier about his book, including information about how to support a crowdfunding campaign for Crops to Stop Climate Change, A Global Wiki

Eric Toensmeier and Paradise Lot characters in new INHABIT permaculture film

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Yekra Player


Humanity is more than ever threatened by its own actions; we hear a lot about the need to minimize footprints and to reduce our impact. But what if our footprints were beneficial? What if we could meet human needs while increasing the health and well-being of our planet? This is the premise behind permaculture: a design process based on the replication of patterns found in nature. INHABIT explores the many environmental issues facing us today and examines solutions that are being applied using the ecological design lens of permaculture. Focused mostly on the Northeastern and Midwestern regions of the United States, Inhabit provides an intimate look at permaculture peoples and practices ranging from rural, suburban, and urban landscapes.

We at Food Forest Farm have been anticipating INHABIT for months (we love Costa's work and in fact have hired him for three of our videos). It's filled with our friends and acquaintances: Eric Toensmeier, Lisa DePiano, Lisa Fernandes, Steve Gabriel, Ben Faulk, Steve Witman, Dave Jacke, Geoff Lawton, Keith Morris, Andrew Faust, and Mark Shepard. Watch the trailer and then pay to watch the movie in the comfort of your own living situation. Or, go watch it with your friends at one of the showings near you. If you get inspired by what you see, and want to learn more about the power of permaculture, register for: "Create your own Paradise Lot: Food Tasting and Workshop", and learn within Food Forest Farms' Paradise Lot garden, showcased in the INHABIT film.

Edible and Useful Plants for Your Landscape

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As the days become longer, and we enjoy the remaining days of the winter season, we have this important time to reflect on the past year, and what the warmer days of spring and summer hold. Winter is a wonderful time to contemplate our lives, and consider the abundance around us, particularly how are gardens grow! What will you be planting and eating from the garden this year?

Food Forest Farm has a fantastic lineup of familiar and not so familiar perennial edibles for you to try in your garden this year. 

Choose from our most popular favorites like Sea Kale, Pawpaw, and Russian Comfrey. Or, how about enjoying some up-and-coming goodies: Perennial Leek, Mint Root, or Turkish Rocket! If the past years hold true, most of the plants will be sold out by March, so get them while supplies last. Alternatively, save time, money and gas organizing a group order, and picking up the plants in person. 

Learn More About Our Plants

If your garden is already full of plants, but you're looking for new and exciting learning opportunities, we have a wonderful lineup of Tours, Workshops, and Garden Help Days.

Learn More About Our Events

We continue to be blessed by all the interest and support we've received in the last five years of running an ecological regenerative, permaculturally rooted business. If you've supported us in the past, thank you! If you are new to Food Forest Farm, we'd love to have you as a part of our expanding network, and using our services. To keep up to date on our Farm News…

Sign up for Farm News Here

Happy Solstice, and New Year!

Jonathan, Megan and Jesse
Food Forest Farm
Holyoke, MA

Photos by Eric Toensmeier and others.

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