Life in Syntropy

Perennials by Ernst (Part I)

F O R E W O R D: 

The idea to the following reflection occurred out of a small request made to me  by a friend of mine, Felipe Pasini, concerning perennials in our diet.

At the first glance, an issue of minor importance. But when I began to look at it more closely, revising the direct and indirect ecological, social and economic impact, caused by what people eat and ate in different epochs, things changed.

Only thinking about what we eat nowadays, and comparing this, to what had been common to me, as individual some 70 years ago, in my childhood, pondering about what we ate in our small farmer’s family, living  in the north-east of Switzerland, I was astonished, and came to the conclusion, that our change of habits in terms of alimentation, since the mid of the last century, in the industrialized economies of the north first, and later on worldwide, has turned itself into something more than only a minor detail.

Our shift from a strongly on perennials based food, directly and indirectly, to our actual modern alimentation, relied to-, and dependent upon predominantly 4 annual crops (wheat, rice, corn, soya-beans), looking at it from many aspects, perhaps should become, – could become – subject of a thoughtful consideration.

Could?  or should? According to our desire in terms of quality of life.  This latter one, (quality of life), even more, considering that the change of habits concerning our diet, strongly is being subject to the allegiance dynamic of the essence of an old roman proverb, which tells: “You are, what you eat!”.

In so far, what had seemed to be a minor detail, became dominant, took over: The (initial) transformer (man), at the end  became – turned to be – the transformed.

The following report, I have divided in four parts:

Part I [ Text beyond ]

–  Perennials looked at in the historical and cultural context the region, I grew up;

–  Facts;

–  Questions to be answered;

–  Perennials in the day-to-day diet of a small farmer’s family in the north-east of Switzerland at the end of the forties and the beginning of the fifties of the last century;

–  The dethroned Queen.

Part II

– The importance of perennials in the full design of a forgotten  agro-eco-system;

–  Complex and stratified consortiums of annuals, developed and used  by our ancestors in their sophisticated systems of crop rotation;

–  The integration of those annuals in the frame-work made up by perennials;

–  Pear, ash and poplar trees, willows etc. + winter-grains or potatoes;

–  How to turn the cultivation of potatoes into a perennial operation, achieving high productivity without the use of fertilisers and without the need to control pests and diseases.

Part III

–  Steps towards the reintegration of perennials  in our mechanized modern agriculture;

–  Urgent need for the design and the construction of machines and implements which could fit into our goal;

–  Optimizing of our operations by using beneficial effects, achieved by an intelligent employment of mycorrhizae.

Part IV

–  Outlook into a  – possible – future;

–  Peace-farming;

–  Man redesigned to nature;

– Return to the Paradise.

P  A  R T    I  




One time, it is not more than two and a half centuries ago, the agriculture of our ancestors was anchored in perennials, and dominated by perennials. Their whole agro-eco-systems were driven by the dynamics, they achieved by annual pruning of their complex and intelligently arranged multistory-systems. Perennials also were main source of aliments.

Even for us, indirect descendants of those former ones, nearly two hundred years later, up to the first decade of my life, perennials summed up the biggest share of our day-to-day menus.

Still in the beginning of the fifties of the last century, there had remained left overs, though only some few ones, but, as I will show in this paper,  decisive remnants of the fundament  to an enormous wealth , which our former ones had built up during hundreds of years: All indicates, that those were quite a bit different to the concept, we  had been taught  in our lessons of history, classifying  them as poor, materially, and simple-minded bumpkins:

–  They lived a modest- , but decent life;

–  needed no help to raise and educate their children;

–  created infinitive savings in terms of complex, for centuries lasting plantations of perennials;

– They had built  up a solid, extremely well functioning infrastructure and a strong cultural fundament. And then, additionally, passed big parts of all that treasure, solidified , in form of an  impressive material- and cultural heritage to future generations;

–  They had the spirit and the knowledge to plant orchards, which 2 or 3 centuries later still were producing enormous amounts of most diverse- and best quality fruits.

–  And they also had spare time, craftsmanship and the material conditions, to design and to construct houses and barns, which lasted for centuries. Finest homesteads made out of best material. Ceilings, doors, cupboards wardrobes etc., decorated with elaborated wood-carvings. (I have grown up in one of these houses).

And – thinking, that the small estate of my parents, (ap. 4 hectares), was the same and of the same size as it was 250 years earlier, when that house had been constructed and payed out of the ‘profit’ of the ‘operation agriculture’ on those 4 hectare by some predecessors of us, perhaps we should try to  “change or glasses”,while looking at them and their epoch. This could result, that we would perceive their world a little bit more based upon facts, instead upon beliefs (which by its side could become a subject of an interesting study).


Many rest overs of the original design to the agricultural landscape created  by those ancestors, still were present at the time I grew up in the mid of the last century. By themselves they told a history, their history:

–  More than half of the cultivated areas were organized in narrow stripes. And those stripes ( according to the oldest man of our community), “all those formerly were subdivided by hedges ( until the end of world-war I ), and on hilly parts terraced – even on only gently sloped spots”;

– In fact, there were still terraces in some  few parts. They had a width of 20 to 30 meters, and on some spots with a row of old fruit trees in their middle, ( pear-, apple- or cherry trees ), every 10  to 15 meter one;

– Account of some elders referring themselves to those old trees: “Those ones had been planted in the ‘Landknechtszeit’ – before the French Revolution, at a time, when our formers were, so called ‘tied’ to their land, ‘Landknechte’;

–  In a few recesses still existed some survivals of hedges between the terraces. Notable was the diversity of planted species and the number of varieties of those latter ones. And an additional, very interesting aspect of them was, that , despite of their diversity in terms of employed species and arrangement of these ones between them, peculiar for each situation, they all had in common an  accentuated functionality: Eco-physiologically, and also regarding their economical  potential. They all followed a clear and extremely functional pattern.  This turns to be understandable, when we try to look at the subject, considering the resources, those ancestors had, and also the political and social context in which they lived;

– The areas available to them, of potentially to be cultivated land, were small and limited;

– They were ’tied’ to that, ‘their’ land;

– The biggest and nearly only one,  [but unique! ]  external input they had , in order to produce on their land what they needed, was their knowledge. And that latter one, professional skill – all indicates – they had. (And they cared for that knowledge, knew to apply it, always proudly perfecting and increasing it, while  creatively,  and – moved by their inner pleasure –  carrying out their daily jobs). They achieved to potentialize the different contributing factors by:

       a) Choosing for consortiums of species to be planted, which best would combine, respectively, could fit into the given natural conditions of each site;

       b) By including in their calculus for their choice, in terms of species to be planted, also the potentials, they would gain, as positive side-effects of their (by them foreseen) management of the system;

       c) They never would have forgotten to consider and to optimize in their design for their hedges, to include also the direct economic potential which each species, or consortiums of different ones, could bring to them.  (Edible fruits, nuts, fodder for their livestock etc.).

To fit all those details, partly referred to above, like pieces of a big puzzle, together, and then the whole complex combined, put in practice, by its side, presupposes a considerable degree of accumulated capital in terms of knowledge, professional skill and acquired experience. Know-how, resulting out of great and versatile personal practice and capacity of observation, combined with a good portion of mental ability to translate the totality of all that, by generations elaborated treasure, into their daily practice  as farmer, in a way, which would create the necessary  preconditions to obtain, day after day, year after year, generation after generation, all they needed. But not only that: They went a step further, in the sense of that:

– they also obtained to design and  to realize their operation in a way, to be a joyful and compensatory activity for them, technically and economically. And by the way,

– they achieved to build up a harmoniously functioning social network between them, as a community of farmers, as well as to create and to maintain good functioning relations with the rest of their human environment. They  needed no police to protect themselves from their neighbors, prisons to look away members of them, difficult to be handle, nor ‘asylums’ to receive and ‘care for’ of their old aged- and ‘un-normal’ ones.

– Wisely they treated the ecosystems, in which they lived and intervened, with love and inward esteem. (This latter aspect of their culture had its expression  in many of their most appreciated, tunefully and harmoniously sung and cared for songs, addressing with gratitude their beloved home and mother earth. Peculiar each one of those, special and different for each daily, seasonal and yearly event. Sung solo, in duet, em three or four voices, according to content and purpose addressed to. Nearly every body participated, was member of one  or more, of ’his’ choir(s), beginning from the very first ones at school, at the age of six to seven years. A great event was the moment, at fourteen to sixteen years of age, when their adolescents could enter into a four to six-voice choir!)

Furthermore, time for them was not money. Looking at them, at what they did, and the way they did it, we will come to the conclusion, that time by them was considered, to be an opportunity for them, to be useful, serviceable, to fulfill their function. Or, with other words, they din’t do their tasks autistically, trying with expertise to achieve first of all personal advantages, as it is common nowadays, and, they didn’t do things for money. And much less even, they could have imagined to consider money as  an equivalent to happiness. Our modern slogan “time is money” was inexistent to them. The hypothesis only, to adapt themselves to something like this as guideline for their daily activities and life, probably would have been considered by them as an absurdity, a grave error. Let us tell as a ’sinn’. That latter term, by its side, had to them a strong connotation of untying oneself from the center’. They acted timelessly, in good hands of the continuum, upon-, and in the street of the time.

Concerning this latter issue, let us listen to two of our ancestors, who , by themselves lived in different epochs and in dissimilar cultural contexts. First the older one: “Things are not to be done; they are being done.”  (Lao Tse, 700 years b.C.).  ‘Being done’, moved, motivated to do the tasks to be realized by inner pleasure. Presupposed by him, Lao Tsê, that each individual of all species occurs, equipped to realize its peculiar tasks and to fulfill its function, so as that act of realizing, being realized, will happen ’moved by inner pleasure’. He, the individual does it joyfully, driven by his inner motor. That ‘being done, therefore, is not laziness; it is ‘fulfilling our function’ with pleasure and enthusiasm, realizing our life-project! Occurred, let us say, – occurring – will occur – to do it. And equipped to do it.

The content of the saying of the second author, I will cite, is undeviatingly connected with our issue, and can give us a help to comprehend the fundamental principle, upon they, (those, our ancestors) proceeded , and the idea, on which the design for their agro-eco-systems was based: ”And if would know, that I will die to morrow, today still, I would plant an apple tree.*”  (Martin Luther, l483 – 1546  a.C.).

Trees, at that time, usually were planted by  the use of the method of ‘direct seed’, putting in the earth on the chosen spot several seeds  of different genotypes of the same (opted to) species, and those together with seeds or rhizomes of other species, which they knew, that they would ‘nurse’ their opted-for ones.   This, modestly, is what nature has developed and chosen for, in the course of its ongoing evolutionary processes, to perform in the most efficient way the indispensable, periodically to be realized, regeneration of (nearly) all its eco-systems. This strategy applied, is something like a guaranty, to get established  (at extremely low costs ) the, (our) foreseen, wanted species.  And having done it, we will have the privilege to receive as an additional premium, the chance to choose later on for the best adapted genotypes to the given conditions: Vigorous and healthy plants, with a strong root-system. Precondition, by its side, to attain potentially productive and long-living individuals.

Planted by seeds, for apple-,  pear-, plum trees etc, it will take  between ten to twenty years to harvest their  first fruits. Time needed, opportunity, to enable, to allow our young plant, to create its necessary fundament  in terms of a strong root system, favorable soil conditions in cooperation with countless members of the micro- and macro-fauns of the soil, and to build up together with hundreds to thousands of species and myriads of individuals of bacterias and fungi an efficient network of mycorrhiza to produce afterwords, during centuries enormous quantities of sacred food.

[ to be continued…]
Ernst Götsch

Ernst Götsch

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