For a bit of context for what we mean by an ice cream forest, you can check out our last post on the ice cream forest we’ve been managing at the Silverto project.
1. Beautiful Management
We believe that productive forests should form part of their ecosystem, they should and function like nature, and that people should feel good while they manage them. We don’t want to repeat the failings of conventional agriculture which stressed over eliminating every living thing it could excepting the one (arbitrarily) chosen species, while exploiting both soil and people to grow it.
Practically, this means that the central work of any work day should be a conversation with nature. It should be a place where animals, people and flowers, as well as all variety of shapes, sizes and tasks are welcome. The forest is the prime human habitat. And as such we should feel at home there. Visitors should be able to stroll around, and be in doubt if what they’re seeing is a productive forest, a wild space, or a carefully maintained garden.
2. Foster Biodiversity
Healthy ecosystems are an emergent property that arise from the interaction between countless creatures and plants. This means that biodiversity isn’t necessarily a goal we have. It’s a foundational necessity if we want to work with a healthy forest. (We do.)
Instead of spending time, energy, and money on trying to remove weeds, disease, insects, and fungus, we seek to create ecosystems whose health stems from maximizing all of the above. Large populations of microorganisms, living green matter, and plenty of animals are expressions of a healthy ecosystem. And they will help us to stimulate the soil, feed pollinators, sustain the food chain, feedlivestock for free, create fertility, and generally make the space more beautiful.
3. Plant Polycultures
A polyculture, or ‘guild’, is a symbiosis of many species. While we favor native wild plants in the understory of our ecosystem, the forest as a whole will be designed with many many productive trees and bushes at its core. A wider range of species allows us to create more resilient ecosystems that stand against the whims of climate change as well as market pressures. In this way we hope to supplement the diversity of the ecosystem while at the same time diversifying yields.
4. Distribute Light
Every species needs a differing amount of sunlight. While some species need a full day of light, others thrive in part shade. By alternating the arrangement of trees, bushes, and perennial species, so that each grows in its ideal niche, and receives its full allotment of hours of light we also create a forest with greater surface area. This maximizes photosynthesis, and increases the amount of species we can plant per square meter.
5. Managed at a Micro Scale
Northen Portugal and Galicia have a long tradition of fracturing land. The result is that today, it’s easy to find strips of land no bigger than a few hundred square meters lost somewhere in the woods; while finding a pieces of land larger than a few hectares is almost impossible. This particular section of land where we’ve planted the ‘Ice Cream Forest’ is ~1500 square meters. And the pattern of its plantation can be expanded or contracted in order to scale to any size.
6. Be Profitable
If we want people to steal our forest models, and plant them on their own land, (and again, we do) most people will need the forest to be profitable before they sink the kind of years, attention, money, and love into a project like a forest. They’ll need to be confident that they won’t lose money on their investment. This means that we’ll also need to outperform the current destructive monocultural business model thriving in this region – selling pines and eucalyptus. Our intention on this land is to create and sell enough ice-cream to be able to support a small team of 2-3 people. This will be the team that raises the forest from infancy to maturity, then manages it, harvests and transforms the fruit and nuts into ice cream, and finally sells it. In addition, if we see that there is no market for ice cream, we can easily pivot towards the production of jams and nut butters which, though less profitable, have a larger market.
7. Be Multifunctional
In addition to ice cream, this forest will have the ability to produce:
A. Geese – Geese are the ideal animal to manage our forests. Their diet, consisting primarily of grasses, and seeds create a system that prioritize native perennial species, and leaves the trees (mostly) untouched. At the same time, they produce more poop then any other domesticated animal (per kg). And they can supply us with eggs, meat and lard.
B. Bees – Bees are a cornerstone of our productive landscape. They will pollinate our food, which means that we come out winning. While at the same time, by working with so many species, our flowering calendar is spread out to produce a year-round base of food, so that the bees also win. By keeping bees, we’ll also produce quality honey and other bee related goods.
C. Mushrooms – Mushrooms are ideally paired with our regenerative practices since we’ll be growing a significant amount of wood that requires frequent pruning. From these logs of wood, we’ll have a free substrate on which to grow mushrooms. Which will in time, become compost, and continue the cycle of fertility.
D. Recreation – This forest will be beautiful, easily walked, and be stocked with all variety of fruits, and nuts. While some of which are commonly known to most people, others have almost never been tasted. This provides the possibility to pivot towards a ‘pick your own’ model or simply as a pleasant walk to improve the quality of life for the local community.
8. Be Regenerative
The local soils have been weakened by generations of mismanagement. They’ll need years of regeneration before they’ll have the fertility needed to support productive species. Lucky for us, we want to leave every ecosystem in better shape then we found it. Regeneration isn’t an impediment to being profitable, it’s the core of our motivation, and a key to a richer world.
9. Investigate and Improve
Our species’ understanding of ecology and regenerative practices is still young. This means that we’re still learning, and working through plenty of unknowns. And though we’re building on successes from all over the world, there are still a lot of blind spots, and a lot to be learned in order to evolve those methods into a system that works for our local ecosystem and culture. So, this forest, along with every other forest we plant will double as an experimental plot from which we’ll create a database of information, in order to improve our future designs.
10. Resist Wildfire
All of the above, in some way will help to resist wildfire, will improve the conditions not only of the land but of the people managing the land. Yet, as the causes of wildfire are many and we’re not able to adequately cover them here, we’ll focus on the main ecological strengths of this design, which are:
- Grow as many fire resistant trees as possible.
- Rapidly build soil to extend the period of season of growth and its resistance to fire.
- Retain moisture in the ecosystem while effectively eliminating dry flammable material.
- Structure our strata of trees and bushes to ensure there is never a continuous path for fire to travel from the ground up into the crowns of trees.
If you’d like to find out more about our fire design you can read this post about our Fire-Adapted Forest.