Written by Doug Crouch

Imagine that tree, that one tree when you were young that you connected with.  Maybe you climbed it, maybe you picked its delicious fruit, maybe you held its enormous leaves when they fell in the autumn.  Imagine it, give yourself back to that moment and time to realize the great importance that trees have in the lives of humans.  Find reverence for it and seek its wisdom for trees are more than just trunks, branches, and leaves.  They are energy transformers, living pumps, living power stations, living rain makers, living soil builders, and living habitat providers for so many including us in our edge dwelling habit.


Trees give energy quite often through food and fodder for animals of many life kingdoms. We employ annuals such as soy and corn to supplement animals feeds yet in our yester-year we used acorns, hickory nuts, and chestnuts to thicken our fat layers both on ourselves and on our animals- wild and domesticated.  It is now through large scale reforestation, which hinges upon hydrological cycle and soil food web acceleration, that will feed the world in sustainable way just as J. Russell Smith suggested mid last century with his book Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture.

Holm Oak acorns from the montado of Southern Portugal

The above picture from Alentejo, Portugal near the Spanish border, shows a rich history of feeding animals with more permanent tree cover rather than the till agriculture of annuals.  The oak of this region can be the canopy species for a bio-diverse food forest when the montado, black pig interaction, is fully expressed.  Trees lay the foundation and as permaculture designers, it is our duty to create more bio-diversity and functional interconnections.  Just because we have a forest of these Holm Oaks doesn’t necessarily mean great stewardship as this is very obvious on any road trip in the drying region.  Rather it hinges upon employing the patterns of nature, in time and space, to creatively cycle carbon.  The black pigs are one of those brilliant cyclers and when finished with acorns and chestnuts they are given a higher price on the market.  This is due to the unique flavors that flow when the animal was fed on wild foods not malnourished, conventional corn and soy.

Tagasaste, great mediterranean tree from the Canaries that is a great animal and bee fodder, very hot burning fuelwood, and a nitrogen fixing small tree, brilliant permaculture addition- plugs for reforestation

One of our main missions on earth is to restore forested areas and bring natural capitol back and the ecosystem services that come from trees and improved soil.  Trees function as rain makers and climate stabilizers which makes it paramount in this age to do this good work.  Many of these areas that have been affected tremendously are linked to the colonial era and intertwined in it is a dramatic social/economic conundrum of development.  It is our role as Permaculturists to try and reinvigorate village scale food production, providing safe and thrivable communities , as well as dependable water sources.  The debt ridden cycles of aid no longer serve this function and it will be through creative tree based economy approaches that forests will be valued again for something other than exploitation.

Atamai Village, New Zealand Reforestation project on a steep hillside where some of those Tagasaste plugs ended up, rebuilding the legacy of clear-cutting and overgrazing

When we use species like Tagasaste to speed succession and incorporate multi-function approach to reforestation, the effectiveness of the long term viability of the project is immense.  This is why an understanding of a global pallet of plants is important.  Tagasaste might not be native to New Zealand, but neither are the 40 million sheep and Canopy with roots sectionnow untold number of cows that inhabit its deforested countryside.  If we are to reforest this completely altered and somewhat destroyed ecosystem it is wise to utilize plants that are more adapted to drought then the native vegetation.  Why-because the result of the clearing of the land wiped out the organic material in the soil and the resilience to withstand the Mediterranean like drought that occurs naturally there in the region of the pictures.  So by inserting this tough pioneer from a drier place we can reafforest more effectively and get the multi-functional return.  It was brilliantly used at Edible Tree Crop Farm as well in Nelson, New Zealand as a supplemental feed for sheep during the summer and winter months when grass growth was low.  It also was a chop and drop species for the surrounding tree crops while the bees loved its twice flowering cycle.  The native pigeon loved its flowers as well and its soft and flowing branches were simply nice to gaze upon and run through a semi-closed palm.  This shows the energy transactions and it is through patterned based design that allows us to restore ecosystems and abundance using trees.

A Redwood tree from Costal Northern California, trees have a way to awe inspire especially when they are so large and tall

Written by Doug Crouch

Header Art Maya Mor


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