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soil building

Making the most of your water on any farm, with Mark Shepard, Author of “Water for Any Farm”

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Since the last two episodes focused on earthworks, specifically water retention and catchment features, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite interviews that really helped me to understand the fundamentals of keyline design and how many different configurations it could take, even on the same piece of land. The keyline system was pioneered of course by PA Yeomans in Australia back in the 1950’s and has been a guide for farmers and land restorationists ever since.

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Back at the beginning of this season I spoke with Mark Shepard, right after the release of his latest book Water for Any Farm. A culmination of decades of work on his own property as well as consulting and designing for others around the US and the world. Mark’s no-nonsense approach to permaculture and restoration agriculture have been attractive to me since I first got interested in these topics more than a decade ago. 

In this interview we start by talking about how the mismanagement of land and water has created the conditions we have today all over the world where topsoil is constantly eroded and water quickly becomes a destructive force rather than a rejuvenating one if it’s left to run over bare landscapes. Mark goes into a lot of detail to describe how to read your landscape and identify key points that can be used as references for keylines to direct water all across your land in a way that slows it down and rehydrates it. We talk about what machinery and tools he recommends for major earthworks, the installation of different types of ponds, building soil over large acreage, and much more. I’m lucky to get sent a lot of books to look over and review before speaking with authors, and I often don’t have time to read them very thoroughly, but Mark’s latest book, Water for Any Farm is one I really took the time to understand because of the incredible potential that this system has for increasing the productivity and resilience of any landscape, not just from an agricultural perspective. Adjusting the water harvesting capacity of your terrain can have an important impact on any kind of regeneration project and help with weathering severe climate events too. It’s especially relevant to reforestation and agroforestry because the earthworks method outlined in the book is how Mark was able to regenerate a degraded farm surrounded by monoculture corn crops into the highly productive oak savannah mimicking ecosystem based around the pillars of hazelnut and chestnut orchards. I highly recommend you check it out. I’ve put links to where you can get the book and learn more about Mark and his work in the show notes for this episode on the website.

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