Crowdsourcing New Ways to Grow Food | Omega

Growing food doesn't just happen in rows in a garden. Agroforestry and forest gardens offer a way to grow food and protect temperate forests, and now there is an online global network where anyone can share information about these approaches to gardening. Eric Toensmeier, author of The Carbon Farming Solution, coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens, and part of the group that has started the Apios Institute Wiki, explains more in this interview. 

Omega: What’s the inspiration and goal for the Apios Institute Wiki?


Eric: The Apios Institute started back in 2007. Our mission has been to create a network of people who want to develop food forest systems outside of the humid tropics—where they are already well-established. The Apios Institute Wiki is a place for people to post information about growing plants in polycultures [plants of different species grown together].


For example, you might go to see my home garden and see that paw-paws are part of my garden. On the Wiki you can click on paw-paw and see all the sites where they are being grown, all the polycultures that they are being grown in. For each garden you can see all the polycultures present, all the species for each polyculture, and all the sites where this polyculture is being practiced. These examples are like a menu of open-source designs that you can replicate. 


We want to do this because, having traveled quite a bit around the world, I've seen the same basic patterns repeating over and over again, regardless of climate. For example, growing an edible vine on a nitrogen-fixing tree. Where I am in the Northeast, that’s a mimosa tree with a kiwi on it. In Arizona, that’s going to be a mesquite tree with a passion fruit on it. In Mexico, it's going to be a coral bean with a chayote on it. The basic pattern is somewhat universal, even if the species are different. Together we can discover this universal language of polycultures. There will certainly be exceptions and gaps, but it gives us a lot more to build with and build on rather than just inventing from scratch.


Omega:  What action is necessary to take this project to the next level?


Eric: We’re trying to do an ambitious web rebuild, making it fully searchable and international. But even when we do that rebuild, it’s still useless without users to actually enter their data. For many years I posted 99 percent of the content. Now we have a number of other people posting things from all over the world, but we need lots more. We need people to participate—whether they report on something they are growing themselves or something they see on a visit somewhere else—as sort of roving reporters.

© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

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