For over 20 years, one farmer in the southwest of England has been curating 500 different varieties of food plants. He does so in his temperate forest and claims that he only puts in a couple of hours of work each month to keep his crops growing. Using what is called "agroforestry,” Martin Crawford’s farm is able to produce several tons of food. The untamed garden is actually a result of careful organization and science perfected over the last two decades.
Crawford recently appeared in a National Geographic video covering his impressive yet confusing garden-scape.
"What we think of as normal in terms of food production is actually not normal at all,” he explains in the short clip, "Annual plants are very rare in nature, and yet most of our agricultural fields are full of annual plants. What’s normal is a forested or semi-forested system."
This means that while most farming tends to focus on mastering one plant or natural system, it can be much more fruitful to expand these horizons into fully developed ecosystems.
Crawford has a wide array of plants, and not all of them are simply for creating foods. He says that there are 7 types of plants in his yard. Namely, tall trees, small trees, shrubs, perennials, ground cover, root crops, and climbers. These other natural sources can be useful for keeping away pests, nitrogen distribution, mineral accumulation, attracting pollinators.
"It can seem a bit overwhelming, there’s just so many different species,” says the farmer. "You shouldn’t let that stop you from beginning a project [...] just start, plant some trees, and go from there."