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Exploring the Ancient Practice of Agroforestry


On warm summer mornings on the North Shore of Kauai, I'd awake from my yurt and feed and rotate the chickens before breaking fast. Later I'd prune tree species and by evening as golden hour lit the surrounding mountain valleys, I'd watch as the two cows were moved to another pasture. I was spending days observing this intricate web of multi-species integration - all working collectively to create a thriving ecosystem.

This in essence is agroforestry. 

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Sugarcane Growing at  Common Ground Kauai

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John Pariziale, Director of Agroecology 

Rooted in many Indigenous cultures worldwide - agroforestry is the practice (or art) of growing vegetables, trees and shrubs together in the same place, essentially mimicking a forest ecosystem. It brings the word co-dependence and interconnectedness to being - as all species within the ecosystem serve a purpose and contribute to the flourishing, growth, and production of the entire agro-forest. These systems are rich in biodiversity and are sequesters of carbon.

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Rather than monocultures; a common practice used in big agriculture where one crop is grown individually, agro-forestry mimics the natural world's climate smart technology of having an array of multiple species growing together. Such diversity of species supports a thriving eco-system with benefits such as healthier soil, reduced potential of  disease between crops,  increased biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration. 

While staying at Common Ground Kauai, I’d walk through the rows of the forest seeing shade tolerant veggies growing close to the soil while fruit tree canopies stretched high above soaking up the sun and other species of shrub fitting in-between the two - receiving both shade and sunlight.

John harvesting ripe fruit from a papaya tree, North Shore Kauai

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Pineapple plant growing in the agro-forest

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Cows & chickens are part of it all too, making their rotations around the land and fertilizing the soil as they go.

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Soil in the agro-forest ~ Earthworms are often an indicator of healthy soil.

Through farm tour and community events Common Ground Kauai immerses people into the agro-forest - to taste, feel, see, smell, and hear the workings of the system. They engage with farmers, community members, and chefs to promote local food production, farm-to-table eats, and regenerative models of growing food. 

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The forest at Common Ground was a visual representation of species weaved together - all receiving their individual needs while also providing a purpose to the collective. 


Can we too practice the ways of the agro-forest? Embracing what each of us can give, seeking health for the whole, letting go of individualism and working in cooperation to co-create a more resilient, thriving, bountiful and just world.

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Ch: Black Gold by Leah Penniman in All We Can Save 

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