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Food

Tree Intercropping

A new Freestone Peach orchard intercropped with corn in Klickitat County, south central Washington.

Like all regenerative land-use practices, tree intercropping—intermingling trees and crops—increases the carbon content of the soil and productivity of the land. The arrangement of trees and crops varies with topography, culture, climate, and crop value, but there are common benefits:

  • Windbreaks reduce erosion and create habitat for birds and pollinators.
  • Fast-growing annuals, susceptible to being flattened by wind and rain, can be protected.
  • Deep-rooted plants can draw up minerals and nutrients for shallow-rooted ones.
  • Light-sensitive crops can be protected from excess sunlight.

Tree intercropping has many variations. Alley cropping is a system in which trees or hedges are planted in closely spaced rows to fertilize the crops grown between. Parkland systems are a discontinuous cover of scattered trees. There are many others, and most are beautiful—chili peppers and coffee, coconut and marigolds, walnuts and corn, citrus and eggplant, olives and barley, teak and taro, oak and lavender. The possible combinations are endless.

Plowed under during the twentieth century to make room for industrialized methods of farming, tree intercropping is one of dozens of techniques that can create an agricultural renaissance—a transformation of food-growing practices that bring people, regeneration, and abundance back to the land.

References

Tree intercropping has many variations: Toensmeier, Eric. The Carbon Farming Solution. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016.

Malawi…Alley-cropped maize: Akinnifesi, F. K., W. Makumba, and F. R. Kwesiga. “Sustainable Maize Production Using Gliricidia/Maize Intercropping in Southern Malawi.” Experimental Agriculture 42, no. 04 (2006): 441-457.

concept known as kaizen in Japan: “Kaizen.” The Economist. April 14, 2009.

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