The orchard can be a magical place; endless acres of peaches, pears, or apples in gorgeous bloom by the roadside, producing delicious fruit. But an orchard, by definition, is a monocultural crop - nothing but one type of fruit tree that requires a lot of time, effort, money and pesticide to create produce for the billion dollar fruit industry. With organic orchards becoming more common but still very labor intensive, what are future fruit farmers to do? They completely rewrite the book on orchard management by using permaculture.
This is exactly what Stefan Sobkowiak does in Olivier Asselin’s new film, The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic. Sobkowiak owns and operates Les Fermes Miracle Farms, an orchard in Canada that he converted to a permaculturally-diverse organic orchard over the last twelve years. Asselin's film condenses Sobkowiak's decades of knowledge and experience into a seriously educational primer on how to propagate, grow, manage, and enrich one's orchard. Clear instructions, animation, and demonstration make this film an important addition to your video learning library.
Put simply, The Permaculture Orchard is a one-stop shop of information, and much of it runs completely counter to what modern agriculture deems correct. Sobkowiak's approach emphasizes using Mother Nature as his farmhand, allowing the natural elements, such as wildlife, supporting species, and domestic animals to manage the fruit trees for him. "Less equals more" is a repeated theme that means less physical work with more sustainability, diversity, and fruit production. By creating a functioning, self-sustaining ecosystem, Les Fermes requires no fertilizers, pesticides, and its soil increases in fertility every year.
The fruit trees are not the only stars of the show, though. Sobkowiak explains why every third tree he plants is not a fruit tree, why he has grapes, squash, and garlic chives side by side with his fruits, and why he mixes his apple, pear, and plum cultivars in the same row. These are things you'll never see in traditional orchards but should be mandatory practices; the use of supporting species in the orchard not only creates more habitat for pest predators and pollinators, but adds dollars to the bottom of the balance sheet.
To drive this point home, he details the genius of applying modern supermarket marketing to the orchard. This "grocery store aisle concept" allows for fruit, vegetables, and herbs to all be harvested within a 10-day window while increasing the diversity of food and profit margins. This also serves as a failsafe against income loss from tree damage; if the voles girdle your fruit trees, you still have many other saleable products to offset your losses.
Make no assumptions, however, that this film is exclusively for farmers; Sobkowiak's instruction works for both the large-scale commercial fruit grower and the individual with a couple of fruit trees in the backyard. His explanations of "how" to go about natural orchard management are always followed with the "why" of what that action does, and is often combined with an experiential anecdote. Sobkowiak doesn't just highlight his successes; he honestly lists his failures as well, and what he learned from them. Those experiences are turned into the seeds of success for all that watch The Permaculture Orchard.
Sobkowiak's well-rounded background in biology, landscape architecture, permaculture, and commercial fruit production make him an exceptionally fine choice to deliver this information. He covers all aspects of orchard management, from installation and irrigation to grafting, pruning & training, with attention and clarity. Asselin's cinematography ensures that you can almost taste the fruit with your eyes - even the "spitter" plums.
The ultimate beauty of The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic, however, is that Asselin and Sobkowiak have made a visually appealing film that delivers at both the environmental and economic level, while setting the stage for a new modern standard for commercial fruit production. Commercial growers should take heed of what is happening at Les Fermes Miracle Farms; they are the blueprint for the future of restorative agriculture without pesticides or petrochemical fertilizer. Hopefully, this film will become the educational keystone for future orchardists...or the guy with a few fruit trees in the back yard.
If you'd like to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how Les Fermes Miracle Farms grows its fruit, you can buy your copy of Olivier Asselin's The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic from The Permaculture Orchard website.
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