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Some More Tree Talk - Musings and Meditations

Updated: Apr 11

“A tree is beautiful, but what's more, it has a right to life; like water, the sun and the stars, it is essential. Life on earth is inconceivable without trees.”

Anton Chekhov 

“Saints are like trees. They do not call to anyone, neither do they send anyone away. They give shelter to whoever cares to come, be it a man, woman, child, or an animal. If you sit under a tree it will protect you from the weather, from the scorching sun as well as from the pouring rain, and it will give you flowers and fruit. Whether a human being enjoys them or a bird tastes of them matters little to the tree; its produce is there for anyone who comes and takes it.”

Anandamayi Ma

“Trees indeed have hearts.”

-Henry David Thoreau 

Forest, soil and biodiversity. Marc Siepman explains in this 25 minute video why the soil in a forest is so perfect for growing food. The talk is in a strange, exotic language (it is Dutch), but you can activate subtitles and automatic translation. At the bottom of this post I explain with some screenshots how you can do this. The automatic translations are not perfect, but all in all they are sufficient to understand the talk. 

Some more musing on trees. I like trees, as you may have deduced by now.

Last week I shared a post in the "regular" blog about the growing crisis in industrial agriculture, and how our methods of agriculture will have to go through a very far-reaching transformation.

Industrial farming practices based on large-scale monoculture and intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers are unsustainable and "self-terminating”.

So what should take its place?

Well, a form of agriculture that regenerates, restores and nourishes the earth.

Regenerative agriculture, in other words.

I will talk more about this in the future, because in my opinion it is one of the most important transitions that will be needed in our society in the coming decades, even more important than the transition to “green”energy. (I put the word “green” in quotes, because there is actually no such thing as “green energy”. There are forms of generating or capturing energy that are less harmful than fossil fuels or nuclear power, but every form of generating energy has an impact on the planet - e.g. the large-scale extraction of minerals to produce solar panels, wind turbines and batteries).

One of the ideas that is coming back into the spotlight more and more is the food forest.

You may already be familiar with that idea, if not, this week and next week I'd like to introduce two people who can explain very well what a food forest is, why it is such a good idea, and why it can even have a higher yield than the "ordinary" monoculture fields we know, those vast plowed plains on which only one crop grows as far as the eye can see.

This week in the attached video, Marc Siepman talks about the soil in a forest, and why that soil is so suitable for growing food.

Marc Siepman is a Dutch expert on soil, biodiversity and permaculture. He has already given hundreds of lectures throughout the Netherlands and Belgium, and has developed courses both online and 'live' that focus on soil.

Marc can explain in a clear and accessible way what is going on in something we often take for granted: fertile soil.

Earth, soil, dirt, we rarely think about it. Dirt is just dirt, right?

But fertile soil is a small miracle, and the more I learn about it, the more I realize what a wonderful organism fertile soil is. A real organism it is, because soil is alive: a handful of fertile soil is chock-full of fungi, bacteria, organic matter and so on. A tablespoon of fertile soil contains about six billion microorganisms. And it is precisely those organisms and fungi that make soil fertile. Without that microbiome and the organic matter, you just have sand. And that's what you get when you deplete the soil: sand and a desert. And so that is what’s happening on a global scale all over the world where industrial monoculture is the practice: the soil gets depleted, to a point where even fertilizers are not going to be able to save it in the end. The United Nations have already warned that if we continue down this path, we have about sixty more harvests to go, and then the layer of fertile topsoil will be exhausted just about everywhere on the planet. We are losing approximately the surface area of Greece in fertile topsoil every year.

More than twenty great civilizations have perished because of wrong farming methods and soil depletion. So civilizational collapse because of unsustainable agricultural practices is the norm, not the exception. It is one of the existential risks we face, aside from climate change, biodiversity loss, and the other ecological crises we are in the midst of. 

And this is a crisis that still remains mostly under the radar for our global industrialized world . Awareness of what we call the "climate crisis" is finally increasing (though still far from the extent it needs to be), but many of the other challenges we face still often remain in the blind spot of our consciousness.

Many if not most of these challenges and crises are linked: our agriculture is the largest source of greenhouse gases and the largest driver of biodiversity loss and deforestation, but conversely, agriculture can play a key role in stabilizing the climate, capturing CO2, and restoring biodiversity as well as fertile soils.

Enter regenerative agriculture, and the food forest.

As Marc explains so well in the accompanying video, trees already provide many of the things the soil needs to stay alive and fertile, and trees also provide shelter from extreme weather events, drought and heat, all of which are becoming more and more prevalent due to global warming. Food forests are "self-sustaining" systems: once you've planted, a lot just happens naturally, because of the fantastic degree of synergy and cooperation in forests. And things like pesticides and fertilizers become a thing of the past: the soil regenerates by itself through the forest, and pests are "kept in check" by their natural enemies.

And everything in a forest -and thus also in a food forest- works together. The widespread idea that competition is the driving force in nature is not true. Sure, there is also competition, but cooperation prevails. The trees provide energy for the underground network of mycelium, the mycelium (also called the underground wood-wide-web) in turn feeds and supports just about everything that lives, the woody material from dead trees and fallen leaves also in turn feeds everything that lives in the soil, which in turn feeds the trees, and so on. That process is an expression of synergy: the harmonious collaboration of parts that form a new whole that is more than the sum of its parts. And that new thing that arises is ‘emergent’. Synergy and emergence are two things I will talk more about, because they are rather mysterious and wonderful properties of nature and of the whole universe, and very important properties because without them nothing much would exist.

Next week, Dutch farmer Wouter van Eck explains a bit more about the food forest itself, and how that system so wonderfully self-regulates and strengthens itself. Nature is our greatest ally, if only we start to see (again) how we can work together with nature, rather than trying to control nature, which is always doomed to failure. ‘Again’ I say, because there have been periods and places where humans have understood this very well. For example, a significant portion of the Amazon forest is not wilderness, but a food forest that has been deliberately shaped and 'managed' by the earlier inhabitants of the region.

And also many indigenous peoples such as the first nations in California and other parts of what is now the U.S. were masters at working intelligently in tandem with nature and working with the ecosystem they were part of in a way that made that whole ecosystem thrive as well.

In that way, people there also became a "keystone species," like wolves or whales. But more on that in another musing.

As I said, I’m a big fan of trees, I'm sure you've noticed. In this series of musings on trees, I have so far only touched on a fraction of what trees do and can do and are, and why and how we had better re-establish an intimate relationship with trees. Without them, we wouldn't be here. And they are conscious, they feel and they communicate. The most recent developments in biology on that front can be called spectacular, to say the least, as already demonstrated by the work of Suzanne Simard, Peter Wohlleben and Paco Calvo.

I would almost say it is in our own interest to forge a new alliance with trees, but that again puts ourselves at the center of the world. Rather, we need to find our place in the whole for the sake of the whole, more than for our own sake. And therefore we have to see again how wonderful that whole is, and also believe again that we ourselves can occupy a wonderful place in that whole, rather than trying to dominate or suppress it.

So much for this musing, thank you for reading!

Below you will find a short explanation on how to turn on the automatic translation in your YouTube player. 

Until the next episode, all the best to you,


How to activate subtitles and automatic translation: in the Youtube player, click on the icon circled in yellow to turn on subtitles

Next, click on the icon to the right of the first one, to select translation

Select the desired language in the scroll-menu


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