Sunday, September 19, 2010

Forest Garden project in Devon, UK

Prajnaparamita in the Sanctuary
Back in 2008 Triratna News reported on the Prajnaparamita Sanctuary in Devon, created by Sagaravajra and friends. It’s adjacent to Buddhafield’s land at Broadhembury in Devon, UK. Now it’s been extended with the purchase of a second piece of land, this time to create a Forest Garden.

Sagaravajra writes to say -

“Karen, my partner, has recently bought three acres of land within walking distance from the Prajnaparamita Sanctuary which has been evolving over the past five years or so. The vision for Karen's land is to create an 'Edible Forest Garden'. The background and motivation for this project is not easy to explain. However one strand of this for us is finding a response to the pressures that we as humans are so clearly placing on the environment and the other living beings with which we share this world. Some of the issues are brilliantly explored in a Rebecca Hosking's BBC documentary film 'Farm for a Future'  .

“Put starkly, our current methods of food production are not sustainable – we currently use ten units of petroleum for every one unit of food that we eat! It has been said that we don't eat food so much as that we eat oil! The field next door to Karen’s land is intensively farmed, its surface two to three feet below Karen’s land (which has been pasture for many years.) This is an alarming demonstration of how present agricultural practices deplete the top soil – while it has taken many tens of thousands of years of natural processes to build it up , just a few short years can lose it! The methods by which we, Buddhists included, supply much of our food simply cannot be sustained in the long term.

showing the location of the Sanctuary and the new
Forest Garden land
“A system has been developed over the past few decades which we believe is a creative response to these problems: an edible forest garden. Any piece of land in this country will be in the process of becoming a forest, through a process of succession– so-called “weeds” being the first stage in this process. Rather than fighting against succession (constantly going back to 'ground zero', the state which much energy/work in conventional systems is devoted to reaching) in creating a forest garden we try instead 'to go with it' and fast-track towards a mid-succession forest. The resulting forest system has many benefits over conventional systems. By designing a forest of trees shrubs and perennial plants on multiple levels we can mimic the stable, complex, symbiotic, self-maintaining, abundant relationships of a natural forest. However in a forest garden we substitute non-edible/productive species with a high diversity of productive and useful ones: in addition to edible plants we design in other functional plants which work for us. Therefore some plants supply or recycle fertility, others attract beneficial insects, others repel pests, suppress weeds, and so on. Many plants of course can fulfil multiple functions.

“To give an example - a very interesting and little understood component of forest system is the role of mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhiza extend as a network throughout the forest soil where they become intimately linked with, and provide an extension to, plant roots. These mycorrhiza become conduits through which minerals and moisture are regulated and redistributed throughout the whole forest, demonstrating how a forest is an interconnected living system with a high degree of self regulation and arguably almost a degree of sentience. Conventional agricultural systems entirely lack these mycorrhiza.

“By designing all of these elements into a complex self-sustaining forest system we are at the same time designing out all external inputs. This translates into less work (and hydro carbons!) for you and me! The resulting effect is a massively efficient diverse and abundant system which is largely self maintaining. The resulting diversity and complexity it can create a very stable system which is resistant to environmental extremes and stresses such as drought and flooding (eg climate change!) pests and diseases - plus being beneficial to the environment as a whole, ie birds and other wildlife. A forest is the only system of agriculture that naturally creates top soil by the production and circulation of a huge amount organic matter. That’s the theory, the challenge is of course putting this theory in to practice

“Over and above these characteristics, for me a forest offers a striking metaphor for aspects of the Three Jewels revered by all Buddhists . A forest is literally a living whole comprising a collection of symbiotically interconnected and interdependent parts and processes – anyone who has ever tried to grow anything knows that we do not make plants, we simply create the best possible conditions and they will grow, as a natural response, of their own accord. Creating a forest garden invites us to engage with the processes of conditionality on a grand scale in a conscious and intentional way.

“I think the creation of a forest garden system mimics the Dharma's skilful attitude to change. Rather than trying to fight and resist change (which is simply another word for succession), with its associated dukkha, we co- operate with it to produce an augmentative complex, creative, dynamically stable, self-maintaining, efficient productive, symbiotic, system. I have known for a long time that for me, the principles of the Dharma need metaphorical as well as physical embodiments and grounding.

“What better way than creating an edible forest within which to interact with the nature of reality on so many levels? Its yummy too!


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Anonymous Rachel Barnes said...

I would very much like to come and see Prajna Paramita - and I would be interested to see how the forest garden has been coming along too. Is is possible to get in touch with Sagaravajra to arrange a visit?
Thanks, Rachel


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