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The challenge of food and land use: the number of plant species used for food and other purposes has decreased from 100,000 to about 30. (UN Food and Agriculture Organization)
Agriculture takes up 1/3 of the land on earth and 38% of that arable land has become degraded. "Land is a finite resource, we need to become more efficient in the ways we produce, supply and consume." (UN report 2014)
How do we better use scarce arable land against growing demand? How do we restore fragile ecosystems destroyed by farming? How do we broaden our sources of healthy food?
The wild farm is one step towards healthy and sustainable agriculture.
This spring I plan to plant 500+ wild sumac trees on about an acre of unusable farmland preserved and owned by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
What makes it wild?
Changing the way we think about a "crop": The crop on a wild farm is an indigenous species that grows without much human tampering. Instead of trying to force nature to make way for the crops we want to plant where we decide to plant them, we could instead work with what would naturally grow on that site and make nature's own crops delicious. Wild plants typically thrive in "poor" soils that have not been amended or graded. Native plants, such as sumac, have a greater connection with pollinators and ecology than nonnative transplants.
Reducing human inputs: The wild farm crop will exist not only as part of a natural landscape that supports the health of the soil, water, air, pollinators and larger community but also actively restores it, without the need for irrigation, fertilizer, tillage or pesticides. The site is situated between two wooded parcels and thus will create a greenway corridor for nature where now there is only lawn and hayfield. Native plants, such as sumac, have a greater connection with pollinators, wildlife and ecology of the landscape than transplants.
This is what I envision for sustainable agriculture of our future.
Revaluing "forgotten" foods: Many wild plants have a rich history of culinary use. The farm will begin by producing sumac spices from the fruit of our native sumac trees, propagated by the American Native Nursery from wild sourced seed and native seedling sumac trees.
WHY SUMAC? Sumac is popular now. But the fruit clusters have also been enjoyed by Native Americans to make refreshing drinks. Sumac, as a spice, is prized around the world for its fresh lemony flavor and also as the primary ingredient in za'atar, a great Middle Eastern spice. Sumac fruit and seed are incredibly high in antioxidants, Vitamins A and C.
Although the sumac in the grocery store is imported, staghorn sumac grows wild in North America. Local sumac that I forage today from my own property is in high demand by chefs and the public, because it is superior in freshness, color, and flavor brightness. Sumac spice is also highly versatile and can be used in both savory and sweet dishes or incorporated in za'atar spice to add flavor on top eggs, potatoes, meat, fish and pasta.
What funds will be used for: I have leased under 2 acres of farmland preserved and owned by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation who received state approval to plant crop trees there. Funds will be used to:
(1) purchase and plant 500+ local sumac trees ranging in size from seed to 3 feet. (If we receive more than our goal we will expand the plantings and area.)
(2) deer fence installation. White-tailed deer are a severe threat to tree saplings and are particularly fond of the emerging leaves of young sumac trees. Due to human changes to the landscape, the white tailed deer population have exploded to problematic numbers in New Jersey as well as many parts of North America.
(3) study and development of research protocols, methodology and baseline of results
(4) purchase a custom designed 3x5 foot commercial scale sumac processor (specifications already determined) with the capability of processing over 10 pounds an hour of sumac into spice
I envision a world that reintegrates wildness and conservation practices into farming and ranching our food. Lets build a wild farm to bring a new paradigm to sustainable agriculture and revalue our forgotten indigenous foods.
The booklet "Meadows on the Menu," co-authored by NJ Audubon, inspiring you to convert part of your lawn into a beautiful natural area.
Signed and inscribed copy of our Foraged Flavor cookbook and field guide, nominated for a 2013 James Beard award. Additional insert of some of our favorite sumac recipes from around the world.
Za'atar spice: the last stash of our own 2013 blend with foraged wild sumac, organic sesame seeds and thyme.
Risks and challenges
Fruit production and growth can vary and not many studies have been done on sumac. In 2014, Meadowsandmore will commercially produce foraged sumac using the grinder as we await the farm to begin producing fruit.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)