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Growing Lots of Food in Extreme Environments

hill garden

We’re learning so much about how to produce more of everything at the local level.

Food, water, energy, and products.

For example, I had a great talk today with Brando Crespi today (from the NGO Pro-Natura).

He’s been working on ways to radically improve how small farms grow food, particularly in marginal and extreme environments.

One of the more interesting projects he detailed was a development project in the Sahara desert (Mali).  In this experiment, they were able to take biochar techniques from Brazil and apply them to growing food in sterile desert soil (members can download the entire talk for more detail).

bichar sahara

The experiment was so successful, it proved that even in an environment as marginal as this, it was possible to feed up to 1,000 per hectare using this approach.

Wow.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s so much more.  Another example is Allan Savory.  His work on holistic land management has provided some impressive results (here’s his TED video).

Essentially, he found that livestock herds are essential.  They stop desertification by turning barren soil into fertile soil.  How?  They break it up the hardpack with their hooves and fertilize it with their poop.

These results can be accomplished on a huge scale or on a scale as small as a family farm (see Polyface for more).

So, dive in and join us.

Learn and benefit.

Sincerely Yours,



colorado john

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  • Ah, yes. This is one of the many reasons I support grass-fed meats. We like to say that grass-fed meats are better for you, the animal, and the planet.

    In fact, we’re trying to find someone who might be interested in helping us get a USDA rated kitchen where we can make our gourmet, grass-fed beef jerky.

  • Pinwheel Farm in Eastern Kansas has been growing vegetables for Farmer’s market for over 12 years with NO irrigation. During last summer’s extreme heat and drought, we were able to germinate lettuce and arugula in the field in late June/early July and have non-irrigated salad greens for sale in late July. By non-irrigated, I mean we did not supply any supplemental water whatsoever…just used naturally available soil moisture.

    We did water in less than 10% of our tomato transplants because we were reclaiming an area tunneled by woodchucks and covered with thick perennial grasses. Normally we don’t water in any of our transplants.

    We use no purchased inputs, except hay for our sheep when our pasture isn’t adequate.

    I have learned to garden this way from watching nature. Nature is the best book on gardening.

  • Jr Campbell

    Allan Savory’s TED talk stirred up a lot of debate out here in AZ. Further investigation reveals that his work is unsupported and impossible to reproduce. Additionally, if you actually follow his methods you’ll find that the ROI for labor is in the negative.

    • wayne

      Strong words. Please provide some evidence.

    • John Robb

      I’d love to see that data too. He’s providing lots of data to the contrary.

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