I really enjoyed this great short video on a research/aid project focussing on the benefits of Nepal’s traditional forest garden system. I feel like I’ve learned a great deal from reading about these traditional evolved systems, so it’s great to see actual footage of the Nepalese version.
Over the centuries, the people of Nepal have developed and maintained an incredible traditional forest gardening technology, or “Home Gardens” that are finally being recognized and acknowledged for their significant contributions to economic well-being, health and happiness. These gardens have long been associated with the well-off and wealthy members of Nepalese society, and now aid workers and researchers are documenting the powerful benefits of expanding these important life-support systems to historically marginalized groups
For those doing aid work, this research provides vital lessons about effective and culturally-relevant action.
But for those of us doing homesteading, farming, or simply living a life that more in tune with nature, there are lessons to be learned here as well. To me, this work is proving the universal value of forest garden systems, especially to farmers.
While the raw “gross yield” of a single marketable crop/acre of a forest garden will never match chemical agriculture, these home gardens boast a broader range of important yields that a corn field could never compete with.
Reseachers in Nepal have emphasized benefits including:
-A healthier, more diverse ecosystem to live in (which provides many economic benefits itself)
-A heathier, more diverse diet,
-Improved sense of well-being,
-More beautiful, diverse and natural landscapes and communities,
-Beautified home living spaces (“beauty” is a prime feature of home gardens to the Nepalese.)
-Enchanced social function (Nepalese forest gardens integrate social uses into productive space)
-More social status (Associated with the beauty of home gardens)
But to me, the most important lesson for us Westerners is that these gardens provide a much higher “Return on Investment” than conventional gardening or farming. This is a key lesson that can be adopted by American farmers and homesteaders. While American farming focusses on producing the “highest gross yield,” home garden systems focus on net value by providing an optimal output for a minimal input. For me, the idea of this “input/output ratio” has become a guiding principle of our gardening. While an American vegetable farm may produce far more, the profits get eaten up by increased labor, chemicals and time inputs. In several recent studies of farm economics, I’ve noticed that the biggest impediment to farmers achieving a living hourly wage is high costs, time commitments and expenses. Meanwhile, a forest garden can produce an ample yield with minimal time, no additional labor and no chemical or fertilizer inputs.
Nepalese farmers, like many others around the world, put this high ROI quality to work to balance out the costs of their other agricultural endeavors, providing increased profitability, better financial security, nutrition and ecological resilience to their lifestyles.
In my opinion, for us American farmers, homesteaders or home-owners, there’s a lot that we could learn by working to integrate some of these traditional Nepalese homestead patterns in their projects.
If you would like to look more into the patterns and research on Nepal’s Home Gardens, this study is a good place to start:
If you’d like to learn a basic approach to getting started with forest gardening on a budget, you can see the first email in our free mini-series here
And if you’re starting a forest garden and would like support, design help and a large starter collection of forest gardening plants in pre-designed guilds, check out our forest gardening CSA.