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Restoration Agriculture

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Around the globe most people get their calories from annual agriculture - plants that grow fast for one season, produce lots of seeds, then die. Every single human society that has relied on annual crops for staple foods has collapsed. Restoration Agriculture explains how we can have all of the benefits of natural, perennial ecosystems and create agricultural systems that imitate nature in form and function while still providing for our food, building, fuel and many other needs - in your own backyard, farm or ranch. This book, based on real-world practices, presents an alternative to the agriculture system of eradication and offers exciting hope for our future.

313 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2013

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Mark Shepard

2 books19 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 115 reviews
Profile Image for Adam.
996 reviews197 followers
March 7, 2013
Mark Shepard's presentation at 2013's MOSES organic farming conference was among the most influential, rousing, and revelatory moments of the past few years of my life. He said nothing I didn't already know, but he put all the pieces together in a way that seemed new and showed me that the oft-discussed but rarely practiced ideal of a perennial polyculture could feed people really, really well, and restore ecosystem functions, and be a phenomenally successful restoration ecology project. A farm could heal the land and create nutritious diets in a totally ethical way at the same time, with little compromise.

It was everything I had ever wanted, and it was finally a real option on the table. I am presently about to graduate, I have no debt, and I benefit from an unusually strong support network. I have the opportunity to make Mark's dream my reality. It was also clear that every goal I planned to attend graduate school to accomplish would be simple to do on the farm: fulfilling curiosity by reading academic papers and books, but also by looking and watching and taking pictures: learning to understand ecology by doing it, trying to put the complex system back together and tune it up.

Mark's book, in consequence, was a rather large disappointment. I'd imagined that the presentation was sort of a teaser for the book, but having read it, it's clear Mark is a much better speaker than a writer, and more importantly that his book is nothing like the practical how-to manual he made it out to be. It's essentially an extended explanation of the system and an advertisement for it, with only the most cursory advice for an aspiring practitioner (though of course there were plenty of interesting ideas I took away - I'll get to that in a bit).

Restoration Agriculture is sorely in need of an editor, or a flock of them (in leader-follower mob grazing rotation, perhaps!). It is rife with typos, embarrassing things like "it's" instead of "its" or "compliment" instead of "complement." The prose is invariably clumsy and unpleasant to read. You can see Mark typing it out in Word or something - it doesn't feel polished from that point at all.

Worst of all, he just butchers native bee taxonomy. He implies that all N. American natives are Megachilids, while all Eurasian natives are Apids - ignoring the other families entirely. He goes on to speculate that there is "something about North America" that discourages sociality in bees - dismissing the achievements of all bumblebees and a few Halictids who have been doing just fine at social living here for millions of years.

Mark's treatment of scholarship is upsetting. He constantly throws out claims (most of which I'm sure are true and backed by at least a fair amount of research, since most of it is stuff I'm familiar with from more responsible sources) with clauses like "scientists claim" or "there is reason to believe." He essentially doesn't cite anyone but Paul Martin, and that case feels more like a recommendation than a citation. This betrays not only a lack of respect for the scientists whose work he is taking advantage of, but also a relatively ideological and thin understanding of the material in general.

This is symptomatic of Mark's conflicted relationship with science and research overall. His claims are based in a complex and rich body of work. At many points throughout the book he bemoans the lack of research and development on restoration agriculture systems. This is right - part of the reason perennial polyculture systems are perceived as financially unfeasible is because none of the efficiency-increasing equipment for them has been designed yet. But often he seems to scorn "science" and "scientific theories" and in his presentation he actively encouraged the audience to go plant trees instead of going into research.

This hits close to home for me, of course, because right now I'm essentially trying to decide between going into doing restoration agriculture or being paid to research it (and of course practicing it on the side). Mark makes two things clear that definitely support the latter option: farmers, even those with low input costs, diverse crops, and high-value products, don't make enough money to support themselves, so there's no shame or failure in seeking off-farm work to support yourself; and research is desperately needed, and is still so rare that any new entries would be extremely helpful in guiding new practitioners. Yet in his presentation and speaking to him in person, he constantly heckled (it seemed like) me to not wait, to plant the trees now! Very stressful, confusing, annoying.

While it's clear that literally anything is better than an industrial cornfield (even parking lots are accompanied by drainage ponds, and have lower pesticide loads) and Mark's system is substantially better than any other agricultural system I know of, I'm interested in doing him one better. He has a cavalier disregard for invasives, going so far as encouraging people to plant the Siberian Peashrub because of its vigor. His system probably reproduces many of the ecosystem services we might expect from such a plot. But it doesn't go as far as it could in actually monetizing restoration of modified native ecosystems. The system is advocated for its benefits to the farmer and to society, and the "restoration" aspect is only vaguely referred to with some handwaving about bird species and tree frogs. Mark seems to be implying that if you put together something that resembles an ecosystem, the self-repairing aspects of ecology will take care of the rest.

Thus Restoration Agriculture lacks the flavor of deep ecology, bioregionalism, of love of place, that, for instance, Richard Manning communicates so beautifully in Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics and Promise of the American Prairie. There's a little too much of the engineer. Members of each canopy layer are interchangeable parts, altering the hydrology is a water harvesting strategy, not a return to free meandering rivers and the “story the land calls forth.” In some ways it's still an organic machine. This isn't just a sentimentalist complaint tied to a misled vision of wilderness – it's pragmatic: it influences the choices you make and the results you get.

On the flip side, this pragmatic lens is a clear advantage. Mark is far more interested in monetizing good practices and achieving financial sustainability than in remaking the pre-Columbian Exchange oak savannah. This is a really, really important line of thinking because it unlocks a wonderfully appealing transition path. With restoration ag, we can restore cornfields to functioning ecosystems resilient to climate change, produce enough food to not only feed urban populations, but feed them in a way that solves serious nutritional issues, and at the same time engage in a restoration agriculture project that pays for itself in cold, hard dollars. Mark makes a number of suggestions that make this track seem feasible, but most of them boil down to putting in every niche an organism that yields marketable products. Large animals in the system are completely replaced with livestock; trees are chosen for their growth rate, timber quality, and edible bits; trees are laid out in patterns that facilitate mechanical harvesting and soil management. Even most of the ecosystem services are meant to reduce work and investment by bootstrapping themselves into perpetuity.

I've been ragging on the book quite a bit, so I want to emphasize the quiet enormity of Mark's idea. He doesn't express it very well (hopefully I can write a better book a few years down the road ;) but it really is totally revolutionary.

Mark does what sustainable agriculture practitioners have been saying they want to do for ages but have never thought they could really get away with. He uses ecological means to manage weeds, pests, diseases, and fertility. He makes food production compatible with wildlife – theoretically all of it. Mainstream organic farmers, on the advice of the Xerces Society, install hedgerows and insectary plantings and windbreaks that provide marginal habitat for insects on the borders of fields. The fields themselves are still essentially “sacrifice zones.” Mark builds the solutions into the system. It's organic farming that finally makes sense, that finally fulfills its promises.

It's the same in nutrition. Organic farmers play up the lack of poison and the nutritional density of fresh vegetables. They're marketing a product that is easy for them to produce, and they're right about those claims, but they aren't actually putting themselves in a position to solve global nutrition issues. Mark instead looks at what people eat and want to eat, and asks how he can supply that in a restoration agriculture system. Unlike most organic growers, he is attempting to create a nutritionally complete diet. Of course, this is the only way the movement can ever fulfill its goals. We can only end the devastating reign of industrial agriculture by replacing it completely.

So Mark's brilliant, incomparable, and endlessly worthwhile contribution is simply the explication and proof of concept of a great idea – perennial polyculture food ecosystems – but there were a few other great ideas in the book as well. His concept of on-farm plant breeding is empowering and exciting, and likely a necessity in dealing with the vicissitudes of catastrophic climate change. It takes the long view of diverse outcomes in succession, acknowledging that if we are going to shape artificial but permanent food-producing ecosystems, we will need to shape the genetics of each component as well, mimicking the locally specific and therefore regionally diverse gene pools found in nature.

While he wasn't particularly good at focusing on deep ecology and his particular place, he did make great strides in integrating environmental history into his design. He brings it back to pre-Clovis North America, to the Pleistocene megafauna, and uses that lens to translate functioning ecosystem traits (like what I saw in Tanzania) into lessons for the farm. I think a lot of the problems organic farmers have when implementing solutions stem from the fact that few people have a grasp of what truly rich and healthy ecosystems are actually like. This insight made me appreciate my lessons in Tanzania much more. It really puts the lie to the zero-sum thinking that encourages specialization and simplification of agroecosystems, showing that many different plant and animal species can coexist productively together. It is the norm in natural ecosystems.
Profile Image for Anna.
Author 48 books95 followers
November 21, 2013
I hate to be the nay-sayer to this book. Mark Shepard has a fascinating story to tell about his 106-acre food forest. Unfortunately, he doesn't tell it! Instead, he titillates us with tidbits of hands-on information (which might cover about 20 pages), then rants and regurgitates for the rest of the book.

Luckily for you, I've written a lunchtime series with those useful tidbits in it, so you don't have to go gold-mining in this book.
165 reviews4 followers
January 20, 2017
I really enjoyed the discussion of what crops could be used for perennial agriculture in temperate regions. The author, however, fails to address the problem of the huge amounts of physical labor necessary to harvest the diverse fruit, nut, and root crops that would replace the fields of corn, wheat, and beans that commercial farmers are now producing.
10 reviews
October 21, 2022
Restoration Agriculture is truly a revolutionary idea. I don't know what else to say about this book other than if you have any interest in becoming a farmer this book is essential and will change the way you think about how we produce our food. Now all I want to do is pick up a shovel and start planting some chestnuts and hazelnuts.
Profile Image for Melanie Gillman.
Author 36 books247 followers
December 1, 2022
Ohhhhh I loved this, it’ll make you want to drop everything and become a nut farmer out in the woods.
Profile Image for -Me.
18 reviews1 follower
March 15, 2015
This is a fabulous book about permaculture principals and why a perennial, polyculture farm is more productive and healthier than an annual, monoculture counterpart. The descriptions are clear and concise.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.
Profile Image for Danni.
124 reviews69 followers
January 15, 2018
Every year there are more and more books published about Permaculture. Some of these new books show lovely example sites and explain a hundred inspiring techniques for using Permaculture. It's getting harder to tell which books are worth your time to read, though. Restoration Agriculture stands out in this ever increasingly crowded topic area. I've yet to read such a easy and exciting treatise that really addresses the "Why" of Permaculture like Restoration Agriculture.

Readers are treated to chapters that clearly outline what brought the author to Permaculture and how he uses it on his farm and in consulting practice. In every chapter he shows respect and admiration for his conventional neighbors and the dying agricultural communities throughout the country. This book is really meant for those folks. It is meant for the countless farmers looking for real ways to feed the world and survive in the communities they love. I adored reading his chapters laying out how conventional agriculture "feeds" the world and how restoration agriculture can nourish the wold.

If you are looking for a Permaculture book to really kick you into high gear for the new year, this is it! I don't think I've read a nonfiction book so fast and loved so much of it before!
Profile Image for Laura Clawson.
94 reviews
March 31, 2022
Helpful intro to some of the ground level ideas in permaculture - the ideal savannah system landscape, prioritizing perennials for food crops, managing watershed to move slowly across land. I was intrigued by the idea of hazelnuts and chestnuts as becoming a staple replacement for corn. 3 stars because the writing lacked coherence and could have used quite a bit of paring down. Felt like 17 different essays smushed together and the author spent too many words stating his intentions for the book and not enough with his actual argument.

I thought the argument to pay attention to what actually grows and flourishes in your space with the least amount of added input was gold. "Modern farming is all about keeping things alive that want to die, and killing things that want to stay alive." Oi.

Would love to read more about his watershed management and how he uses his quick growing birch trees as a wind/pesticide barrier around his property. Glad I read it.
Profile Image for Mary.
59 reviews
June 23, 2022
I listened to the audiobook version of Restoration Agriculture. I am very interested in the topic and had high hopes for this book. First up, it needs editing. Lots of editing. I considered bailing on this book many times while reading it because it gets redundant and some of the evidence presented seems anecdotal. The author erases the history of Indigenous land management pretty thoroughly, when it seems to me like a critical piece of the puzzle.
Profile Image for Warren.
89 reviews
July 16, 2018
It is an inspirational book - not only does Mark explain restoration agriculture but only offers methods to practically set up such a system.
Profile Image for Katherine Stevick.
92 reviews1 follower
March 17, 2021
A weird but very informative read. There are times when his ideas seem VERY far fetched, but also a lot of spot-on analysis and solid advice.
Profile Image for Zak Boston.
107 reviews4 followers
December 16, 2021
Shepard does a terrible disservice to his own great ideas in this unhinged and unbalanced approach to thinking out loud. Did anyone review this work? Permaculture is such a profound and elegant solution that will benefit the world greatly. However, Shepard is undaunted by making false statements or unwarranted opinions in pursuit of his utopian dreams and should be trusted with maybe 1 in 5 claims made in this book. No acknowledgements for this personal philosophic work speaks volumes about the quality for ideas presented. Through the entire book you will find no rationalization of the opposition or even good will to one who might disagree with Mark Shepard, a true believer...

All the information you need to know can be summarized by the following:
1 current agriculture practices prioritize massive industrialization and speed over resource optimization and sustainability
2 these priorities produce monoculture practices which degrade soil eventually ruining themselves as well as massive wastes in limited resources like water, sun energy, chemical energy, space, heavy equipment, etc etc
3 instead of prioritizing industrialization and speed, prioritizing resource conservation produces practices which are significantly more resilient to disease and decay, longer lasting (perennial), potentially money and labor saving, and produces much more overall yield.

One will find some useful anecdotes here and there, and the rest can be summarized as a random walk through a fragmented and ideologically totalizing mind.
Profile Image for Zach.
152 reviews3 followers
September 18, 2014
This is, so far, the best collection of permaculture philosophy that points toward a specific system of planting that yields food and replenishes the soil. Most of the permaculture books I've read are either broadly preaching to a set of sparkly principles or a reference book lacking a compelling narrative, but this manages to do both. It doesn't get into the daily details of maintaining such a system, but the point is also to develop plants that survive neglect, which is cool for this lazy, lazy gardener.

Some of his points could use some explanation (i.e. how has every civilization reliant upon annual plants failed?), and I lost momentum toward the end, but it's still a fantastic book that gets me excited to plant a bunch of trees on land I don't yet own.
Profile Image for Chuck.
2 reviews7 followers
December 22, 2012
This is a permaculture resource book that is up-to-date, inspirational, informative and transformational. Mark makes the case for a new vision of perennial agriculture as a way for humans to live sustainably on the planet. And it's full of practical discussions of the reality of annual/tillage farming as compared to his own data from his demonstration perennial-based farm.
Profile Image for Eric.
122 reviews12 followers
May 30, 2019
This book is a great introduction to permaculture. Mr. Shepard is passionate about the topic and provides a very good foundation for readers who are new to these ideas. He weaves historic case studies into this primer section that improve your understanding of the current state of our planet.

That state is at best perilous. At worst some might say hopeless.

Restoration Agriculture is the permaculture concept applied to both repair the degradation that we have done as well as turn our local environment into a natural factory that produce the foods and materials that are of value to the people in their vicinity.

The book is much more accessible than some of the technical manuals that have been composed, such as "Permaculture One" or "Restoring Natural Capital" which are critically necessary documents to support the relatively new permaculture mindset.

So why would I give a good book on a critical subject just three stars?

This is quite close to being the book I would have written about permaculture. The introductory chapters held little new information for me though I appreciated the way Mark built into the topic.

What I found somewhat off-putting was actually his passion. He seemed to be almost yelling at me at times from the pulpit of permaculture. I don't need to be converted and I don't think anyone else needs any more than the facts and concepts laid bare to see their merit.

There was also some repetition that might be helpful to someone new to the field but I just skimmed over it.

So I'm sorry to have only given this the 3 stars but that's just for me at this moment in time.
If you are new to "Restoration Agriculture" or the more all-encompassing permaculture, and are looking for a positive vision for the future I would call this book a 5 star must-read!

You will know there is hope.
Profile Image for Korgan.
29 reviews
June 12, 2022
This book has about 6 excellent ideas, but they're repeated over and over again for 755 pages. It's exhausting. There are typos, there are weak swipes at "science". There's good content in there if you can find it. About 70% of the way in, I just wanted it to be over.

I was hoping for a book that intermingled the story of New Forest Farm, all the successes and failures, the history, plenty of anecdotes, the humour and the sadness; with the practical content of "this is how to do this". I get that you can't instruct people on what to do because everyone's circumstances are different, but ... try?

Anyway, that book is not this book. It's not a bad book, and it has some crucial ideas in it. But it's extremely repetitive and frustrating. There's a lot of waffling: low signal to noise ratio. It's amateur blog-post content. The book could be at least quartered in length and not lose anything important.

The kicker though: no citations. There isn't one citation for any of the many claims made in the book.
The main theme is "this system totally works, I'm begging you to believe me, but it's so deeply complicated that I couldn't possibly explain to you how to do it, and I won't cite any of the claims that support my argument, but you should totally do it."

I've never been to NFF, but it sounds awesome. I'd like to think it's possible to create my own but this book didn't convince me that it's not just a case of survivorship bias: this guy's farm happened to work and we don't hear from the thousands from whom it didn't work. Is that down to his methods and circumstances; did he do it better? I've no idea.

Still, I'm hoping this book inspires a thousand people to become R.A. farmers, and at least one of them has the genetics to write a better book in the future.
Profile Image for Linda Rose.
180 reviews
April 22, 2020
It seems to me that the author (a farmer) is mostly using his own experience as the basis for this book. If there was a bibliography or any references I was unable to hear them in the audio version.
Key take aways:

Soil erosion and depletion has changed history.

To be a sucessful farm family, one person must work the farm and their spouse should commute to a job.

Hazelnut trees can be grown in a shrub like shape.

Viruses take DNA out of plants they infect and use it to replicate more viruses.

You have to caretake your land to discourage unwanted plants.

Natural selection is needed for honeybees.

Don't save weak plants and animals. Let the strong ones reproduce.

Forest orchard land with a house is more desirable than old stinky cleared land baking in the sun.

Permaculture in the suburbs will not change our society. Millions of acres are controlled by farmers. Their decisions shape our destiny.

Goats are maybe not the best choice of animal.

Co-ops are a great business model that works.

All in all, the book was missing a few subjects I expected to be there. Mulching was one. After reading about the (not) profitibility of farming, I wanted to hear more about the 501c3 model for farms, but that option was not explored.

The author states his opinion explicitly. He is educated and apparently has a lot of experience. Focused on the eastern United States.
April 29, 2022
Overall an interesting book. So much information for a novice on this subject but it was mostly shared in an interesting, engaging way. I feel like he gives you a good sense of what permaculture is all about, it’s philosophy, it’s principles, and it’s overall benefit to the environment. He also share some interesting stories along the way. My only criticisms would be that some of his comments on nutrition, especially regarding nutrients, are somewhat misleading and some of his conclusions are overstated regarding the nutrient values of corn. He vilifies corn to the point that he actually says that it is not food—that’s a little extreme. He also makes certain comments about other nutrients, such as magnesium and calcium, in his attempt to prove just exactly how deficient or toxic corn is but his presentation on the issue demonstrates a lack of understanding on how those nutrients are absorbed and metabolized in the body. Also, he gets a little preachy and redundant towards the end of the book but other than that, I think it was overall a great read. I feel I understand the core principles of permaculture better after reading this book and I feel I now have a good foundation to further build my knowledge on this topic.
Profile Image for Brian Schuster.
20 reviews1 follower
February 23, 2021
Mark has a less-industrial style of growing food in forest orchards with multiple species mixed together in one integrated ecosystem, however he uses too much of the book going over general environmental science concepts. It would be great to see more information about the farming equipment and site layouts he uses, as well as weeding and harvesting techniques.

He makes up for the wordiness at the end with a few nice photos.

It was fascinating to learn that hazelnut is one of the highest oil-producing perennial crops that not only has applicability as a chocolate flavoring, but also as a biofuel feedstock (incl. the woody shell).

Mark presents currants, berries, and nuts are good choices for a homestead or larger farm that wants to minimize inputs and maintenance requirements. It would be great to combine the perennial crops with annual crops to be used to help build the soil and suppress weeds. Instead of fescue, maybe grains and peas would be a good base layer providing forage feed for chickens and other livestock, as well as broad leafy vegetables that could feed people and suppress weeds?
Profile Image for Aaron Benarroch.
214 reviews5 followers
June 19, 2021
I love people challenging the status quo. There is an immense amount of work here; however, I do some critical points too. Shepard does not provide sources of what he claims. He makes sound arguments, but being unable to check the literature is, to me, a strong minus. There are some contradictions too: just to bring up an example, after having starkly insisted on how beneficial his STUN approach is, he just admits "but well, neither you want to lose the entirety of your trees, so, care of them as much as you can for the first three to five years". I've read two of Masanobu Fukuoka's books before this and have had similar WTF epiphanies.

All over the book, he states that restoration agriculture means little to no time spent on maintenance, spraying, pruning and the like, but then, he almost squelches the fact that, for mass selection of new breeds, you have to sweat too. It's a different kind of effort - hopefully, one rewarding and sustainable - but a helluva lot of work nevertheless.

But overall, it's a fascinating, inspiring book. The aha-moments were aplenty while reading it. My wish is that several demographics and guilds take it up, read it thoroughly, investigate, practice and squeeze all the juice there is to obtain from it. It'd be cool too if he could put himself to work again and provide other books, also practical ones, for many issues weren't addressed but it would be awesome if they could, i.e. restoration agriculture in other biomes, what's the minimum amount of land you need to have to go full restorational, how to do the work if one does not want to resort to livestock, etc. We need more Shepards in this world.
Profile Image for Alexa Rohn.
16 reviews1 follower
July 6, 2021
The title got me, but I think it may be less for farmers and more for people who want to learn why we need restoration agriculture. I am already a convert, I know the issues and why we need it and was looking more for a manual for "how" for people already actively working with the land.

This had more education & riffs on how we got in this mess and why we need it , than actual tactical actionable methodology. A lot of it was very high level that would refer the reader to look deeper into a method from other sources who cover it (because many of these topics are very in depth methods). I found it frustrating, and they only got into the "how" of converting to a restoration form in chapter 13 (of like...15 chapters).

Much more high level dreaming of how Restoration Ag could save the world as opposed to how to do it on your own farm, so the subtitle of "for farmers" is a bit misleading. So it's an ok read if you need to know why, but not how.
Profile Image for Боби.
33 reviews5 followers
October 26, 2018
Ако си мислите, че текущото земеделие, което унищожава всичко по пътя си в името на мимолетен триумф и после хайде пак отначало следващата година е единствения начин хората да се прехранват, значи 1) не познавате добре дълбоката история от преди 10-12К години и 2) не сте чели тази книга.

Марк не си поплюва и ми харесва, че е готов на всичко, за да постигне своето - природата да процъфтява, докато той си получава заслуженото. Вдъхновителят на нашия кестенов експеримент, който започва през есен 2018та.

Книгата описва възможни варианти от една работеща вече на много места система - не просто хиляди монотонни декари соя, а богата на видове и биоразнообразие гора, в която всяко нещо е добив.

Внимание, възможно е да ви накара да забутате доматите в някое кьоше и да напълните двора с черупчести и плодни дървета и храсти и домашни животни!
1 review
January 13, 2020
Good reading and thought provoking, but to believe mankind will adopt the teachings is akin to everyone reading the Bible and practicing it’s teachings to create the peace one dreams of. Each individual will need to find the , joy, peace, love, and right actions within themselves, which will remove greed, hate, and ego based minds before the utopian plans set out in this book become anywhere close to being achieved.

I guess my title says it all. Reading it can leave a pleasant feeling as can the Bible, but to see results, is saying if everyone reads the Bible that the people will immediately form the perfect world. Even after millions of people having heard preachers of the Bible, it has not even come close to a peaceful world, and even the preachers have not presented themselves to true representatives of the so called Word of God.
Profile Image for Bernard Lavallée.
Author 6 books288 followers
January 9, 2021
Even though this book was written with farmers in mind, I think that anybody with an interest in food, ecology and agriculture will love this practical book about what the author calls restoration agriculture. In a sentence, it's a way to produce food while mimicking ecosystems to work with nature instead of against it.

My only negative comment would be the part about nutrition (I'm a dietitian). There were a few times where it showed the author did not have expertise in this subject. For example, he says that a diet consisting of chestnuts, hazelnuts, apples, grapes, raspberries and red currants would be the perfect vegan diet... Not much diversity in a diet consisting of 6 items... However, when you look at the bigger picture, his message still stands: industrial agriculture doesn't feed the world and we need to cultivate a diversity of crops.

All in all, an excellent book!
Profile Image for Ren.
3 reviews
May 30, 2022
This books hovers uncomfortably, and somewhat unhelpfully, between a primer on permaculture principles at scale and a practical guide for farmers seeking to escape or avoid monoculture cropping. While I do agree with much of what Shepard has to say regarding industrial agriculture and permaculture, the book deals heavily in anecdotes and is often repetetive to the point that I thought I was accidentally re-reading previous parts. I don't think farmers would glean much from this book other than a few concepts and approaches to ponder, and anyone with more than a passing interest in permaculture or the impacts of industrial agriculture might also struggle to find anything groundbreaking here. I wish an editor had steered this book more strongly in a specific direction, as I think it would have delivered more with a clearer focus.
Profile Image for Brady Heyen.
50 reviews
April 27, 2023
5 stars: a must-read

If you have even an ounce of interest in growing food, you simply must read this book (hence the five star review). Though it’s not the most eloquent or academic book on agriculture, it offers a novel and crucial method for growing our food (locally-adapted, perennial ecosystems - “restoration agriculture”) that is barely discussed in the industry (even amongst the organic and regenerative growers). It’s an inspiring idea that could spark a revolution of young growers looking to make a real systemic change in the world.

My only critique is that Shepherd puts more emphasis on profitability and reliance on machinery than I would prefer. But perhaps that is the next phase of the challenge: how can we do restoration agriculture without relying on the fuels and materials of the extractive global economy?
4 reviews2 followers
February 19, 2019
This was the first book I ever read on permaculture, and it's still the best -- although I'm not an expert or a farmer myself, so take that with a grain of salt.

I read this after seeing firsthand how Kenyan farmers were using agroforestry to increase their yields by planting trees in their fields to protect them from the sun and to infuse nitrogen and carbon into the soil -- which had, in many cases, eliminated the need for petrochemical fertilizers and was also turning their farms in carbon sponges.

Shepard explains the procedures simply and explains how they can work economically in North America.

Just starting it again on Kindle after reading it when it first came out, and forgot how well-written and engaging it is.
Profile Image for Stefanie.
448 reviews15 followers
February 24, 2019
So much here to think about. Educational as well as practical. Shepard does the math and proves that perennial agriculture can produce enough food as efficiently and more cost effectively than monocrop farming. In addition, acres and acres of soybeans or corn destroys soil and biodiversity and increases pests and disease while restoration agriculture restores ecological systems, creates biodiversity and controls pests and disease. Shepherd has been farming for close to two decades using a perennial cropping system and he knows what he is talking about. He explains how to do it in detail. And even better, he encourages folks like me who don't have a farm to use perennial agriculture in their yards. He has given me much to think about for my own gardening.
Profile Image for Eileen Breseman.
682 reviews3 followers
August 30, 2020
Read for an understanding of how food forests work, the idea of Permaculture crops vs our national behavior of monocrop/annuals in vast swaths such as the corn belt of the midwest.
How not only the land and the microbes do better, how the crops are less susceptible to disease and blights, but the human effort is lessened once we make a concerted effort to change to this practice.
I read carefully for the first few chapters, but skimmed through the rest. It's a bit too detailed for what I was looking for as an intro to the subject. I am inspired to impliment some of these practices however on my 5 acre wooded/garden home plot!
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