On Living Larders, Part 2: Types and Designs

 In Featured, Food

As I mentioned in part 1 of this blog series, a living larder can be defined as living floral or faunal food sources that humans can harvest when needed. There are three types of living larders:

1) Pre-existing larders: Since these are already in place, your job is to assess the biological resources of the given area before introducing new flora and fauna. See if there are activities you can do to enhance the existing productivity.

2) Cultivated floral larders: They should comprise perennial or self-seeding annuals that require minimal tending to grow in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

3) Cultivated faunal larders: They should enhance existing wild habitats or be designed for self-managing domesticated fauna in both terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Assessing Pre-existing Larders

It’s amazing how often I visit properties where farmers are attempting to force an ecosystem to conform to their goals at the expense of the site’s overall agroecology. We have a saying in our consulting process: Either adapt your context to the property, or find a property that meets your context. If you want to raise dairy cows, choose a place where dairy cows thrive. If you live on a property that’s not conducive for raising cows, then you should grow what the local ecosystem is good at producing instead.

One of the first things we do on any property is try to understand what thrives in the existing environment at a patterns level and not a detail level. For example, for fauna, the presence of wild turkeys would be a pattern. On the floral side, pine trees would be a pattern. (The species of turkeys and pines would constitute the detail level.)

Design from patterns to details.”

– David Holmgren, Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

To assess a pre-existing larder, it’s important to understand what is existing and thriving as this gives us three important pieces of information:

1) An understanding of what resources thrive without management. Knowing what does well when you do nothing is critical when designing for food security because it gives you a base inventory of your larder. The best way to start is by reading books such as ones from the National Audubon Society so that you can learn about your ecosystem. Make an inventory of what’s typically in your local environment, and then start investigating what you can and can’t eat.

2) Insight into how we can help these systems increase their productivity. Once you start searching for local plant and animal species in your vicinity, try to understand what sorts of conditions they thrive in and determine if you can enhance these conditions. This was how indigenous cultures around the world “farmed” in the past. Examples of this include using fire to open up the canopy to create more forage for ungulate grazers, or the careful cultivation of rock gardens to increase shellfish harvests:

3) Insight into parallel or analogous flora or fauna that might do well in this ecosystem. Once you have an idea of the patterns that exist, then you can start looking for other species that have similar patterns but are different species. For example, if you know that brook trout thrive in your region, then rainbow trout might do well in your pond. The trick here is to find flora and fauna that are both analogous and self-managing.

Designing Cultivated Larders

One of the criteria you need to think about when designing a living larder is the nutritional requirements you are trying to fulfill. Humans need a combination of three macronutrients: Fat, carbohydrates, and protein (these ratios will vary depending on which diet you follow), so having an understanding of these ratios will help ensure that your larder are meeting your needs. When designing your systems, assess how each of your chosen floral and faunal species will provide for these macronutrients and adjust the proportion of each species accordingly.

On Choosing Flora

Permaculture can actually be thought of as the creation of work-free supply chains for food, fuel, fibre, forage and other materials derived from examples found in nature. That’s one of the reasons why permaculture weighs so heavily on food forestry; a properly designed food forest should consist of analogous trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines, herbs, roots, and fungi, all assembled together so that, once established, it will grow on its own without need for intervention. Here are some plants you can lean on in our ecosystem:

Common examples: Apples, plums, pears, haskap berries, strawberries, hazelnuts, walnut, apricot, raspberry, rhubarb, sunchokes, walking onion and many herbs.

Some less common examples: Cat tail, yellow pond lily, mud rush, Richardson’s pondweed, tiger nut, duck potato, duck weed, wild rice, tree cambium, linden leaves, mulberry leaves and hawthorn leaves.

It should be noted that floral systems can be both terrestrial and aquatic, and that sometimes our goal is to create living floral larders for the local or cultivated fauna.

On Choosing Fauna

aztec-floating-gardens

The chinampas of the Aztecs.  Image credit: Te Papa

Cultivated faunal larders are living systems that are designed and largely self-managed. One of the best examples of this are constructed ponds. Ponds are highly productive, benefit from local bugs and freely available nutrient flows, and have multiple trophic levels within a three-dimensional environment. They are one of the most promising systems for effortless food security.

Aquatic examples: fish small and large, vegetarian and omnivorous, crustaceans (crayfish), amphibians, and migrating waterfowl.

You should consider the production of animal protein in terrestrial systems with similar methodologies and ideas. One such way is by purposefully planting feed patches or creating habitats that enhance the conditions for specific species. In our part of the world, this could mean enhancing prairie dog habitat (a species farmers usually want to eradicate) or forage for deer, elk, moose, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Takota has really embraced this notion on his farm with his prairie dog “problem”. He hunts prairie dogs in the spring when they are abundant without eradicating them in order to feed his pigs. Since one of the resource constraints to raising pigs is protein, a prairie dog infestation is just a bacon opportunity.

One parting thought.

Before the Europeans came to North America, Dan Flores, author of American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains, estimated that there were anywhere from 30-60 million bison roaming the plains. That’s more than all the beef cattle we currently raise. These animals didn’t need barley, soy, corn, or farmers getting up at 3AM to help them birth and make sure they were safe. Keep this in mind while designing your systems. Nature has already figured this out – we just need to have the humility to understand that and get out of her way, or at the very least, work with her.

Interested in learning more about living larders? Check out this video I did on them:

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