A whisper from the woods

Ask me (almost) anything, October 2023

Oct 17, 2023

World Food Day is celebrated on 16 October every year. Considering this, we wanted to hear from Mark about the intersection between tree planting and growing food.

Mark was asked, “How can we combine tree planting and growing food to maximize their benefits and efficiency?”

Before answering, Mark reminds us that this topic is quite complex to grasp, and that it requires a longer article:

In my last year of high school in 1970, the required reading list included a story about nature, chemicals, and our choices in agriculture and forestry production. Rachel Carson’s landmark book “Silent Spring”  issued a call for science and industry to reconsider its impact on the wider environment and the myriad of species, including us, that are dependently connected to each other.

Her research and observations about the impact of chemicals on our land, air, and water systems pointed to a new vision: an ecological approach. One based on multiple goals, not just output:
– a balanced system where naturally occurring checks and controls are applied
– where animals, birds, and insects can survive and assist with those production goals
– and where healthy soil and water environments can continue to support the diversity of creatures and plants for the benefit of all.

From these beginnings, the models of farming monoculture and industrial inputs have given way to more sophisticated and subtle forms of agriculture and forestry. Regenerative agriculture which has evolved from ‘agroforestry’, is an approach that uses long-lived over-storey trees such as orchard fruit varieties, underplanted with short rotation food crops.

These undercrops are used for seasonal harvest to improve incomes for small landholders, sometimes mixed with native species to enhance natural predators and beneficial insects. The uses of different types of plants can improve soil moisture retention, enhance nutrient cycling and availability, and reduce the need for artificial fertilizers which are expensive to buy and apply.

While the tree plantings can provide nuts, fruit, and sometimes fodder after a few years, ground cover crops can suppress weed growth that compete with nutrients and moisture, fix nitrogen into the soil, improve soil structure, and provide a harvest of useful food at the same time. In Australia, many vineyards grow broad beans between the vine rows in our mild winter for human and animal consumption. In Europe, vineyards use corn and french beans under pine trees in a similar way, while other farmers grow salad vegetables and leaf greens for the fresh market.


All the time, the undercrops can provide essential plants for pollinators and beneficial predator insects. In Africa, farmers are planting forest timber trees with pawpaws and root vegetables and then grazing with free-range chickens. The possibilities for these farming systems greatly outweigh the benefits of a single-function farming approach and are good for all species!

– – – – –

Thank you for helping us understand this topic better, Mark, and thank you for sharing the book by Rachel Carson. We appreciate hearing from you!

To our readers, if you have read Rachel Carson’s book, please tell us what you think in the comment section below. Or, if you have a question for Mark, you can also drop your question in the comment section below.


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