Article and video by Heather Faivre
This spring students at the University of Illinois initiated a study of permaculture design at the Sustainable Student Farm on the South Farms of the Urbana, Illinois Campus. The study is called Restoration Agriculture, and the goal of the project is to compare the production of traditional corn and soy bean agricultural plots with plots that consist of woody perennials.
The restoration agriculture system is designed following the layers and niches of the oak savanna, which is a native ecosystem of much of the Upper Midwest, which includes Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois.
While much of the state of Illinois’ landscape is defined by miles and miles of corn and soybeans, Ron Revord and Kevin Wolz—the University of Illinois students collaborating on this project—seek to develop a system of agriculture that would return the Illinois landscape to trees, shrubs and grasses, while still accomplishing the task of producing enough food to feed the world.
The perennial woody plants this project utilizes to produce food are selected to replace the typical species found in the different layers of a native oak savanna. The oak tree, which represents the tallest canopy layer, is replaced with chestnut trees. The next layer of understory trees is typically occupied by Service Berries, Crab Apples, and Wild Cherries and Plum. The agricultural canopy employs select varieties of domestic apple trees that are disease resistant and cold hardy. The high shrub layer is naturally the hazelnut plant. Restoration Agriculture maintains the Hazelnut layer with a variety that is more cold hardy and produces larger nuts. The low shrub layer is then planted with productive varieties of current and raspberries and a vine layer is planted with table or wine grapes.
The key commodity crops of the Restoration Agriculture system are the Chestnut and the Hazelnut. Which nutritionally can replace corn and soybeans in our current industrial food system. In our current food system corn produces much of our carbohydrates and soybeans produce oils and proteins. When we compare the nutritional profiles of Chestnuts and Hazelnuts with Corn and Soybeans they are directly interchangeable. Chestnut it is almost identical with corn, as the majority of calories in Chestnuts are carbohydrates or sugars. Likewise, the nutritional profile of the hazelnut is primarily protein and oil, which is directly interchangeable for soy in our industrial food system.
Their study includes plots on the Sustainable Student Farm at the University of Illinois, Prairie Fruits Farms in Urbana Illinois and New Forest Farms in Viola Wisconsin.