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The Order and Chaos of a Permaculture Food Forest

In our Permaculture Food Forest project we have set out to establish 10 micro food forest sites that would demonstrate to conventional yet marginal tribal farmers, the benefits of regenerative agriculture, the benefits of working with nature, the benefits of mimicking the forest.

Six months into the project and three workshops later, we have facilitated seven farmers (five women and two men) to set up Food Forests on a small 2000 sq. ft. patch of their land. The farmers and their families were mostly enthusiastic through the setup phase, but as time went by, we noticed that maintaining the Food Forest was not on everyone’s priority list!

Things slowly started slipping for a few of the farmers. Between weddings, house repairs, gathering firewood, pregnancies, health issues, women’s household duties of filling water, cooking food, doing the dishes, washing clothes, their lives seemed “chaotic”. Amidst this, they still made time to prepare for their paddy fields and take on daily wage jobs to support the household. We couldn’t help but wonder why they wouldn’t slip in the simple tasks of shading the young fruit trees, repairing bed borders, sowing seeds at the right time, or in some cases, even harvesting the bounty of produce the food forest had begun to provide them with. Why were some farmers not taking complete ownership of their sites?

At first glance it seemed like they weren’t committed! But when one scratches the surface, a deeper insight emerges.

The ”order” of a regenerative farming system that works with nature by mimicking a biodiverse multilayered forest, is in essence, “chaotic” to most farmers. And instead the “chaos” of the neat and tidy monocultures of the conventional system is considered “order”. This is a deep rooted mindset, reflecting years of their on-ground practices. We realized that this psychological shift in the mindset of order /vs chaos was a really big challenge and one that anyone in the field of facilitating regenerative agricultural systems probably faces.

So, what is “order” and what is “chaos”?

Bill Mollisson, the founder of Permaculture Design defined it in this way:

“Order and harmony produce energy for other uses. Disorder consumes energy to no useful end.”

“Neatness, tidiness, uniformity, and straightness

signify an energy-maintained disorder in natural systems.”

And so an energy producing, natural Food Forest farming system, at its core, is very very very different from what the farmers are used to doing! Let’s break it down.

The seeming "chaos" of the food forest actually follows the “order” of nature, which continuously produces energy in the form of not only yields, but also manures and diverse life forms. Every energy is of regenerative use to the system.

The question now is, how can we shift from this mindset of “chaos” to “order”?

We must aim to strengthen the farmers conviction in this natural interconnected system, and their belief in the potential it holds for them. Some of the ways we can do this are:

  1. Demonstrate: Facilitate exposure visits to well-established (and profitable) regenerative agriculture based farms.

  2. Support: Provide support and share insights across several cycles of the growing seasons along with the farmer.

  3. Quantify: Compile data to quantify the yields and potential for income across the first to fifth year.

Working with farmers is a process that doesn’t just begin and end with a workshop or the provision of free resources. It involves a deep immersion into the mindset of the farmer. As a team that strives to inculcate regenerative farming practices among marginal farmers, the transformation of this mindset is one of our main endeavors.

It’s time to shift from “chaos” to natural “order”.

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