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Agroforestry or Permaculture for the Homestead
Agroforestry is a homestead landscaping and gardening methodology that uses scientific study and methods to build a self-sustaining ecosystem. It is governed by the Four I’s:
- Intentional Design – designed to create a specifically intended result
- Intensive Management – all components are controlled by the owner.
- Integrated Sciences – uses and integrates the sciences of agriculture, forestry, and the environment.
- Interactive Design – the design minimizes negative impact but maximizes positive interactions.
In other words, using the Four I’s, Agroforestry seeks to create a land management system that optimizes the interactions of landscape elements with livestock and crops to the greatest benefit. Landscape elements are more than just how you’re putting together your front yard. With agroforestry, its methods go as far as putting together living fences and building food forests.
While many people use agroforestry and permaculture interchangeably, they are actually two different, though similar, concepts. Consider the definition of Permaculture – “a harmonious integration of landscape with people providing foods, energy, shelter and other material sustainably.”There’s no science, no method.
Permaculture, as opposed to agroforestry, is more about a culture of sustainability rather than science. Agroforestry seeks to create the most efficient system of sustainability and profit. Permaculture seeks to preserve the natural state as much as possible while benefiting from the natural ecosystem already in place.
Building the Food Forest
Despite being different systems with different goals, homesteaders can use both agroforestry and permaculture together to create an optimal land ecosystem for your homestead. In fact, using them together on small homesteads can help homesteaders create an attractive edible landscape and fully functional eco-system with permaculture principles and increased productivity with improved sustainability via agroforestry.
Food forests are the best example of this co-method concept. Permaculture would have a landowner work with the land as it is naturally, even without trees. But with agroforestry, we recognize the importance of the windbreak for the farm or homestead. In agroforestry, there is no zone where interference is discouraged because integration can improve all zones. In creating and developing your food forest using both methods, you could prune and cull trees to improve aeration and productivity.
Using permaculture, you’ll focus on planting naturally occurring plants in the outer regions of your property and more ‘commercial’ varieties closer to the house. In both cases, you’ll follow the principles of guilding – planting varieties of plants around the trees’ base that provide benefits to the tree and one another to improve health, cut down on pests, and increase productivity.
Picking Your Plan
If you were to chose one system over the other, though I certainly recommend using the best ideas of both, agroforestry is the most useful for a self-sustaining homestead. With principles geared towards increased yields both in your garden and livestock, you will get the greatest benefit from these practices.
Permaculture, however, speaks to the heart, and the heart loves beauty. Choosing one method over the other could be a serious mistake. With agroforestry alone, it becomes more difficult to preserve the natural beauty of your parcel.