Principle #5 – Diversity is the soul of a sustainable ecosystem
We have planted about 40 plus species of 8500 trees in 8.5 acres. It was a long drawn yet inspiring project. One of the first things a lot of neighbours and visitors asked us was how could we be foolish enough to plant trees so close to each other (we have planted the trees six feet apart between two trees and 25 feet apart between two rows). The prevailing notion is that trees need a lot of distance between them to grow well. Our response is a single word: Diversity.
When you plant two trees of the same kind close to each other, they fight for the sunlight as their growth rate is similar. But when you plant different trees near each other, they get the sunlight they need and not only grow well with each other but also in some cases help each other grow. One can walk around any forest and observe this fact.
But for most farmers, the idea of planting so many types of trees in one farm is intriguing. They ask us what might be the short term financial benefit. And they feel this sort of exercise is only for folks who have a lot of money and are seeking to create a charming surrounding full of trees and bees. We hold ourselves from rushing into telling anyone why this sort of farming is more sustainable. It is hard to fight mindsets and fears with words. Perhaps when we show them our year-end balance sheet, they will take interest. Our conviction in diversity came about not just from natural farming theories but also from numerous farm visits.
Diversity is the soul of a sustainable farm because it creates an ecosystem that protects and nourishes the soil (like reducing the temperature in the farm, providing abundant mulching). It attracts birds, insects and small animals (like frogs, rabbits, fox etc) that feed on harmful pests, drop new seeds from other places, drop their saliva and poop, help pollination etc. All of these entities that make up the diversity – trees, plants, shrubs, birds, insects, cattle and small animals help each other grow by simply taking what they need and giving away what they produce or don’t need. These synergies are well documented in permaculture literature from which one can learn how to situate the different entities of a farm so that one can increase mutual connections and benefits.
In contrast, a farm that is ploughed, weeded, fertilized, sprayed with pesticides and insecticides and sown with a mono crop does not allow any entity including millions of beneficial microorganisms to help the farm and create synergy.
From a resource perspective, diversity increases a family’s material security by protecting it from market or seasonal fluctuations. One can always find something of value in any condition if the farm has diversity. At the more basic level, a farm with diversity provides for all the food needs of the family and a healthy environment to live and grow.