“THE MOTHER WHO PLANTS TREES.” An Indiegogo Restorative Agroforestry Project in India by Permaculturist Charlotte Anthony. Plus an Interview with Charlotte by Willi Paul Planetshifter.com Magazine
Charlotte: As I was traveling in India I met many farmers who could only continue farming by digging new bore wells every 2 years or switching over to dry land farming. Some had switched to dry land farming and were not getting enough rain for their crops. New bore wells cost thousands of dollars and so not doable by subsistence farmers. This problem extends across many states in India.
The problem stems from several things (among many others I am sure):
1) cutting down the trees for thousands of years to cook their food,
2) dams that were built that divert the ground water,
3) the green revolution where thousands and thousands of acres of agroforestry were taken out to make way for monoculture, hybrid plants fed by chemicals which take 3 – 4 times the amount of water used for open pollinated, diversicultured organically grown plants.
Permaculture water solutions combined with restorative agroforestry was the perfect solution. I had seen in a U tube about Don Tipping’s farm in Williams, Oregon, that when he built his ponds, the wells of his neighbors filled up. And the question then became how to get the farmers to adopt what worked. The answer seemed simple. It is to make it financially worthwhile for them to plant the trees and replenish the water.
The farmers like our ideas, interplanting the existing trees with medicinal herbs, vegetables, and fruits, planting diversified new trees on key lines along with open water sources etc. They want a demonstration. The chemical establishment still holds sway telling them that any auxiliary crops will take away from the main crop and moreover will steal their expensive chemical fertilizer from their crops.
We are cataloging the many demonstrations already available here in India in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and making posters of them for our presentations. There is a long history here of diversified tree plantings mixed with herbs, spices, vegetables and fruits. Unfortunately these magnificent food forests that remain are being undermined by the chemical industries need to find markets for their products. This long term will kill the soil, the goose that lays the golden egg.
How do we find the villagers who want to work with us. We based our model on Navdanya (Vandanna Shiva’s organization): We are doing presentations in the surrounding villages looking especially for subsistence farmers who are willing to convert to permaculture and natural farming practices combined with agroforestry. We are also contacting government offices, NGO’s and local networks for contacts with subsistence farmers.
We will provide information and consultations about their crop and water needs and we will and buy their produce from them as incentive. This is a great opportunity to do restorative agroforestry. For these Indian farmers the rubber is meeting the road. They are not in the theoretical phase where if they do nothing, they will continue to have food.
To see more about our project please go to our crowd funding site.
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Interview with Charlotte by Willi
Tell us about your history of interplanting crops with trees?
In permaculture we routinely use polyculture. For example, we might take one plant, say kale in a 20 x 20 area, planting kale at the typical 24 inch spacing for kale and then filling in between the kale with lettuce, onions, beets, peas (examples, the specifics vary with what we need at the time). We like to mix nitrogen fixing plants, roots with green leafy plants. Rather than taking away from the kale the diverse plants actually nurture each other. Different plant roots feed from different root zones. Most plants bring up some minerals and the plants can circulate the minerals as needed, especially if there are mycorhizzals in the soil. In a viable ecosystem there will always be mycorhizzals in the soil. In Eugene we imported mycorhizzals from Paul Stamets, Fungi Perfecti. Here we will just make mulch piles which will attract the mycorhizzals, just as laying out compost in Eugene attracted red worms. A soil rich in microbes creates the NPK which allows the plants to grow.
The NPK story is a story of our culture. Scientists look at beautiful vegetables and think they can analyze the soil ingredients and then proclaim that it was the NPK that made the beautiful plants, when in fact it was all the microbes that made the NPK which made the beautiful plants. Of course this is the innocent version. We know that there were chemicals left over after World War II and rather than destroying them someone came up with the idea to use them for food.
In my food forest plantings we put in trees and then put in herbs, clovers, annual fruit and vegetables to feed the soil which feeds the trees. The food forest concept as taught in permaculture comes from food forests around the world especially in tropical and subtropical climates. Organic matter in the soils in these climates are used up quickly by the soil life. Trees put down leaves which continually feed the soil life. The interplants bring up minerals. In permaculture we would also plant nitrogen fixing trees, in the northwest maybe autumn olive, or alder to use as chop and drop, meaning to make sure that we can keep a mulch on the ground without the hassle of collecting it from outside the food forest. This mulch promotes the soil life which again nurtures the trees.
Bashkir Save is India’s Gandhi of agriculture. Fukuoka visited his farm and said it was better than his own. A Vision of Natural Farming was written about him. I recommend this book highly. Mr. Save says that the soil is the goose that lays the golden egg. Except for sun and a little water, everything the plants needs come from the soil. When you use tilling, chemical fertilizers, too much water and mono cropping, you deplete the minerals those plants need. When you use no till or very light tilling, organic materials, little water, and polycultures you do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. He also believes that well established trees do not need feeding, just like your adult children do not need feeding.
How does your Northwest USA Permaculture influence your work with Indian farmers?
In the PNW there is a long tradition of dry land farming especially in the eastern section of the Oregon and Washington. If you can get crops such as beans, tomatoes, potatoes, established before the rains stop in April or May, they will produce. In India there are two monsoon seasons, and so you can grow 2 crops a year with dry land farming. Using minimum water, as with minimums of everything else is an ongoing interest of mine. I worked as a chiropractor before this farming stent and working with people, I found minimums worked best for healing. We respect the living ecosystem by interfering as little as possible.
When you look at a forest, driving along the road in Eastern Washington, you see lots of young trees, growing from seed where there are 10-15 inches of rainfall a year and no rain in the summer. There is a lot of water hydrology to explain how these trees get their water, (covered in The Vision of Natural Farming), but the one I like best is that the mycorhizzals that interconnect throughout the forest distribute the water to the baby trees.
Is a food forest a new concept in India?
India has a 10,000 year history of sustainable agriculture. Food forests or agroforestry was their primary way to farm until the British colonization came along followed by the green revolution. Farmers were told that if they cut down their trees and planted field crops in monoculture with chemical fertilizers they would make more money. They were told the NPK story line which is that NPK and not the soil fed the plants. The corporations got to off load their chemicals, many of which were being banned due to toxicity in the U.S. and Europe. Mostly they did not make the expected money. Many had borrowed money from the banks in order to buy the new hybrid plants, the chemicals, the machinery and they lost their land. Most of you know about the hundreds of thousands of farmer suicides that this caused.
There is a 1000 year old food forest on tribal lands in Kerala. I am excited to be visiting this. In the rest of Kerala, though there are very old food forests everywhere, mainly they are now using chemicals all through them. The reason these food forests still exist in Kerala are that the land is too steep to do traditional mono cropping and also a lot of the herbs and spices that they grow need to have a shade. Like own Native Americans the old ways have been mainly lost here in India just in the last 60 years or so.
Your Indiegogo site touts the benefits of reservoirs to restore ground water and rainfall? Please explain this?
Long before I came to India, I looked at Andrew Millison’s YouTube video of the water conservation work of Tom Ward and Don Tipping in Southern Oregon. The thing that struck me the most was that Don Tipping’s neighbors reported their well levels rising after Don had put in his ponds. Simply put, having some water and organic material in the air, actually is needed for rain to coalesce. In my conversations with farmers here who have the ponds, it looks like a small reservoir (40 ft. x 40 ft.) works for a 20 acre area. 2 farmers have told me that they have seen the edges of the rain at the outside of the 20 acre areas. The interrelationship between rain, groundwater and reservoirs is complicated. There are simple explanations of how this works in The Vision of Natural Farming.
I understand that your outreach program is based on demonstration or pilots to overcome the farmer’s fear of something they do not understand. How is this proceeding?
It is very difficult in India to find farmers to let us use their land, mainly because leases are limited to less than 5 years. The chemical consultants have drummed into them that this much fertilizer must be used to get this much crop. So they believe that interplants will steal the food from their trees, rather than as we know interplants or any kind of diversity, actually increase the yield of the trees. Also there is a law in India that says if you lease a property for 5 years it is essentially yours (after legal maneuverings). No one will let us have a 5 year or more lease. Everyone assures me that folks are greedy here, so even the best of them if they see we are making good money on the land for the first 5 years, will want to not renew the lease and keep our profits from the perennial plantings for themselves.
Navdanya, (Vandanna Shiva’s group) has found many hundreds of farmers to convert to organic by giving them seeds which they then pay it forward when they harvest their crops, a lot of advice and hand holding. We are now following this model, looking especially for folks who do not have enough water to continue with chemicals. We want them to convert to organic to save water, to plant trees and do what they call here water conservation strategies, ponds, swales, etc. Our goal is to have 100 of these farmers before the monsoon starts in June. We have only one farmer so far. He owns 6 acres of land and has water for only 2 acres. He is excited to try our approach. We are looking to partner with other organizations, such as BAIF who I found today has many of our similar goals and practices. They are working in other states and hopefully they will help us find the water starved farmers who want to work with us.
Joshua my overall coordinator needs to make an income and today we came up with the idea that he would be our marketing agent, buying the organic crops and selling them for a little more so he can pay for his living expenses.
What is the role of women in your vision?
In India women and men are fairly separate. we would like to have separate farm workshops for women. One of my teammates is a woman who wants to teach other women to farm. When I ask the mainly men farmers what will happen to their land if the water keeps going down, a man who said he is now earning a great income, almost 8,000 an acre, said that he would sell his land and do something else. I said wow this land has been in your family for hundreds of years and you would just sell it. He said yes if he could not make money from it. Many of the men are saying this to me.
I expect that women with children would better understand the need to grow food and do what has to be done to bring in the water, rather than moving on.
Tell us about the status of organic farms and foods in the region that you are working in?
There was a man here, Nammalvar, who has brought a lot of awareness about organic farming to the area. He has left the body, but still many people are following his vision. Several organic shops have sprung up here. There are a group of organic farmers who meet to talk about how to get better results, by that I mean especially how to make the same amount of money that the chemical people are making. Organic farming per se is very new here. Very few people have heard of permaculture or natural farming. They do not know about hedgerows to allow havens for the insect predators and consequently have a lot of insects coming in from their neighbor’s chemical fields. Again like in Pennsylvania, there are hedgerows all over India, but the knowledge seems to have been lost about their purpose.
When I say organic farming is new here, I mean folks who would know about these particular words and the particular practices we associate with it, like worm castings. Many people who cannot afford the chemicals are still farming organically. And again, there is a 10,000 year history of sustainable agriculture. By setting up a marketing arm, we hope to give these folks a better price for their produce. We will also be establishing a food processing plant so that we can make some organic powders for which there is a demand in some of the cities. (And old people like me who have moved to India need to take to keep healthy).
I do have to warm people about organic food in India. There are organic certifications and these are very hard to get, taking months of paperwork and lots of money. The people that get them according to my sources have a lot of political pull. the practice usually is that they have an acre or two or solid organic plantation and then get that certified and then sell from their other nonorganic thousand acres as though it is organic.
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Charlotte Anthony started out as a biodynamic farmer more than 45 years ago. Currently she is spearheading The Mother Who Plants Trees in Tamil Nadu India. Charlotte’s philosophy is that most of us long for connection. “I live with the earth, the plants, the trees, the animals the people around me. They tell me what they need and, by providing it as I can, I receive a sense of belonging.” In 1974, she planted a biodynamic fruit orchard at a farm in New Hampshire which is now in prime production 40 years later. Soon after working with Charlotte on her organic orchard, her mentor, a commercial apple grower who learned from his trees, became one of the first commercial apple growers to use integrated pest management, with good returns. She was asked to present on organic apple growing at several events of the New England Apple Growers Association and the New Hampshire Extension Service.
In 1975 she was called to diversify her skills by attending chiropractic school and learning to work with human ecosystems. In 1980 just before she started practice as a chiropractor, she did a landmark project at a farm in New Hampshire for her spiritual community where she fed 5000 people with most of their food in July after starting that spring. Having all this food ready in July which was unheard of in New England where common wisdom says no gardening until June. Charlotte started her chiropractic practice in 1980 in Oregon. She had great success rates in chiropractic, receiving referrals from medical doctors and helping people with end stage cancer. She had a strong sense that patients would do better if they learned to listen to their intuition and not yield authority to a doctor.
Charlotte did a large CSA in Paonia, Collorado. In 2004 she went to New Orleans to serve after Hurricane Katrina. In addition to working on a bioremediation project, she became the on-site coordinator for the permaculture gardens which had been severely damaged after Katrina, working with as many as 80 volunteers a day. Charlotte began the Victory Gardens for All project in Eugene, Oregon in 2008. It was a volunteer based group based on a pay it forward system, the people who received gardens planted the next ones. A no till gardening system was used. Compost, all the plant starts and seeds needed to be eating out of the garden within 3 weeks were brought in and 4-6 hours later the garden was finished. Through November of 2011, 650 gardens in the Eugene area were completed as well as 7 food forests in Oregon. Charlotte has written two books: Surviving Health Care in America and 101 Ways to Supercharge Your Energy.
The Mother Who Plants Trees
Just before my 69th birthday I awakened in the night hearing a message which said I was to be in India by November 22, 2013. I had less than a month to get ready. One miracle following another I got on the plane for India on November 25,2013. Once here, I was led on an odyssey crisscrossing India many times leading me to farmers who were running out of water to farm. I realized that my whole life had led me to this point where I had what they needed. They could stop using chemicals, use permaculture and natural farming, plant trees, and practice what is called water conservation here (swales, key lines, ponds, etc.) This is called restorative agroforestry. I joined up with a local Tamil Nadu person, Joshua who is an amazing being, with English translator skills, marketing skills and a passion for the mission of helping India grow healthy food. Together we have created an organization, the Mother Who Plants Trees…
victorygardensforall at gmail.com
+91 7639468062 (India)