Joined: Feb 23, 2012
Location: Kingston, Canada (USDA zone 5a)
Credit: Summary written by Dale Bunger.
Restoration Agriculture gives us a glimpse into the future of large scale, sustainable agriculture.
In his book, Mark Shepard discusses the myth of feeding the world with annual crops and provides an alternative that is not only practical, but can be used as a transitional blueprint. He weaves his wealth of experience with scientific facts and technical knowledge, providing answers to some of the most discussed topics in Permaculture today.
Restoration Agriculture tackles the myth that our current agricultural system is the only way to feed our planet and provides an intelligent counterpoint to the typical arguments against large scale Permaculture. Mark explains how many of the so called advances in modern agriculture have actually contributed to our current dilemma and offers practical ways that Permaculture can be implemented into large scale, productive food systems.
Joined: Nov 11, 2011
Location: Reno, NV
Awesome book Mark!!!
We're excited to use the information and precedents in it, in your work in Wisconsin and Illinois, and other examples of AgroEcology to implement experiments and demonstrations in Nevada. Thanks for sharing your depth and breadth of practical experience.
I thought that this was really a great book. Some permaculture books just say all the same stuff that you've heard a million times before. Mark has a real, distinctive take on permaculture. He is a little oriented toward real farming, whereas "gaia's garden" by TOby Hemenway applies really well to people who have gardens and other jobs more. They're both great books but different.
Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers by Mark Shepard
Publisher: Acres U.S.A., www.acres.com
Reviewed by Craig Soderberg
This book offers a healthy, easy, economically viable option to families who want to live a more self-sustainable lifestyle by growing their own food. Shepard defines restoration agriculture as the process by which we accomplish ecological restoration and agricultural production simultaneously. Shepard also demonstrates the viability of a farm based on permaculture principles by providing some helpful information on tree spacing, plant yields, and grazing techniques. He also suggests a recommended number of cows, hogs, turkey, sheep, chicken, and geese per acre.
Shepard has been doing permaculture since the mid 1990's, and has turned an old deteriorating cornfield into a productive property with fruit trees, nut trees, fruit shrubs, berries, vines, mushrooms, animals, and bees. 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 localized economy that empowers the common person rather than enriching elites.
I have always felt that perennial agriculture (farming which focuses on plants that don't need to be replanted each year) would be easier since it would not require as much work as traditional conventional agriculture which does require continual replanting. Shepard calls conventional agriculture "agriculture of eradication" since the entire plot or field needs to be continually dug up and replanted.
Farming has changed drastically recently. In less than one lifetime, farms went from being self-contained ecological production systems, to debt-ridden, input-dependent "agri-businesses" that soon required massive government subsidies to keep them afloat.
Conventional agriculture is plagued with the following problems: the need for continual tillage, reapplying herbicide, pesticide, fungicide and fertilizer. All of this makes more work for the farmer. Other problems with conventional agriculture include: soil compaction, loss of organic matter, erosion, chemical contamination, flash floods, and the rising cost of fossil fuel for farm equipment.
The benefits of a perennial system (permaculture) 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. Permaculture still produces all the carbohydrates, proteins and oils that we need for our food. But it is much easier to manage and maintain since it does not require repeated tillage, replanting, reapplying fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides etc which are necessary with conventional agriculture. Once established, the input costs of a perennial restoration agriculture system approach zero.
The first six chapters of Shepard's book outline the present reality of conventional agriculture and why permaculture is needed. The remaining ten chapters get into the specifics of how to establish and manage restoration agriculture.
One interesting part of the book was Shepard's description of how Monsanto creates genetically modified food and the dangers of the whole process. Shepard notes that when spraying insecticides on crops, not all of the insects will die. A very small number will survive. The ones that don't die could possibly have the genetic make up that renders them immune to the poison being used. They could then reproduce and pass on this pesticide resistance to their offspring. Continued insecticide use kills the insects that aren't resistant and all that are left are the pesticide resistant insects, the superbugs. The same process applies to bacteria in livestock. Antibiotics that were perfectly effective at "controlling" disease a few decades ago are no longer effective because of the developed resistance and new antibiotics need to be invented. Similarly weeds become immune to herbicides.
Our modern agriculture that relies on annual plants, planted into an eradicated ecosystem in vast seas of uniformity, actually creates new strains of insects, viruses, and new forms of herbicide-resistant weeds. It is actually creating weaker food plants and stronger pests and diseases. Modern agriculture has forced the breeding of plants that can only exist in weed-free environments that will only thrive when bathed in dangerous chemicals.
Joined: Feb 10, 2015
Location: Niort, France
Im just winding down to the end of this book and feel compelled to go ahead and announce that it is my new 'go to' bible for inspiration. I am looking at buying some 20ha soon (in france) and this book has evolved and refined my philosophical approach to how permaculture principals can meet for-profit farming and take care of the earth all the while. Mark is intelligent, well read, well spoken, insightful, goes into adequate detail when needed, but his biggest advantage is that he is down to earth. he's the guy next door who experimented to do something different and i believe his project at New Forest Farm is a super beautiful example of how we can all be successful land-managers and earth caregivers if only we strive with ingenuity and creativity.
He broadly defines his plan for a new agricultural system, and he speaks to everyone, using his farm only as an example at select times, providing ample suggestions for those living in regions and temperate zones different from his own. this is KEY, i believe, in a successful book. He is, in one hand, trying to sell you on the idea of land conversion (giving background and historical information as to why the current system doesnt work and how his -our- system can change that), and on the other hand he is giving you all the keys you need, even as a novice farmer, to learn how to 'experiment' on your own land and using your own given resources. This is a book for everybody.
His book is not one of recipes, hard data, charts and graphs (ok some charts and nutritional info yes, but its not heavy with too many numbers, and they are all listed in the appendix), but rather taste-tests of very useful tips and hints in getting you started in your own RA project. He is excited to teach you and he makes you excited to learn more. This book is a jumping board for those ready to dive into the deep end of the pool.
I rate it 10 out of 10 apples (my first 10x!) this book holds a special place on my shelf next too One Straw Revolution and Gaia's Garden.
Joined: Jan 20, 2014
Location: Italy, Siena, Gaiole in Chianti zone 9
I give this book 9 out of 10 acorns
I read this book in one breath, and found it great. Mark Shepard is a farmer that makes a living from his land, he's come round to teaching after years of hard work in the field. This is of great importance.
I like the fact that he's walked the path the other way round, from practice to theory.
Mark started as an organic farmer and then moved on when he realized theat even organic wasn't enough. He moved on with observation and passed from organic to permaculture designed restoration agriculture.
The book is well constructed, it's not a recollection of notes as sometimes happens with field authors, no Mark has well worked on many ideas in a direct and clear way.
The book explains how we must stop immediatly to exploit the soil and how we must change from an annual based diet to a perennial nut based diet.
The author is very passionate about the shift we have to do, and I loved the way he gives historic examples of evolution of agricultural practices. The subtitle is explicit: real-world permaculture for farmers. Thats a highlighted concept for readers. You wont find great theoretical work, no, here the author will take us in a journey in real life experience and work. The book is intended as a guide for big acreage farmers, here we're not speaking of garden's or urban spaces, but acre's of land that have to be put to income. It's a guide to transition from normal farming to restoration farming, from depleting the soil to giving back fertility and earning a living at the same time. To speak of income in permaculture for someone for sure is a sort of blasphemy, but maybe they should read the book, beacuse a good income, a living is not something that goes in contradiction with permaculture base design, but sets life back in our hands, farmers are always more tied to subsidy from the state, and the only way to shift from this situation is to gain control of our land again, taking a decision. We have to think about the fact that in the States today the percentage of people that are farmers is about 3% and 50 years ago was nearly 60% or more.
Mark takes us down the pathe of getting our work back in our hands, it's hard work but at the end fo the day when you look at what you have achieved it's worth the sweat.
The decision is to change the view we have of natural systems and learn from nature, first of all switching to perennial based systems.
The book is a milestone in the growing set of published work that comes out always more often.
I think the book maybe read even from those that have small plots, or live in cities, go out get the book from the library but read it, everyone can find very interesting information on many subjects, and keep on thinking.
Joined: Nov 30, 2012
Location: northwest Missouri, USA
I have also read Restoration Agriculture and found it to be very useful in planning processes.
Yet, I think the best idea from the book is that if we're going to change agriculture in any real near-time framework, we have to start applying regenerative principles at the broadacre scale ... and earn a living while doing it.
As Lorenzo mentioned, Shepard's text is reasonably well informed from both a practical experience standpoint as well as the theoretical. I also enjoy his interludes of historical context. Are we all going to start hazel nut farms in every part of the world? No. But what we learn from Shepard's example is broader than the specifics of what his farm is growing. I think too often people just want a list of what to do and, in our case, what to plant where. However, the real lessons of Shepard's book is how to think.
I'll be as bold as to say this is the second most valuable permaculture book to have in your library (and in your head) behind only the PDM.