A long-time student of, and frequent lecturer on, the subjects of permaculture and agroforestry, Mark Shepard also saw the move as an opportunity to create a farm, literally, from the ground up based on principles that restore Mother Nature as chief architect and arbiter of the landscape. Says Shepard, "Perennial plants are infinitely more sustainable than annual plants since you only have to plant them once in your life. I only have to plow ONCE to establish my plantings them I'm done. Not only does this reduce soil erosion, it costs a lot less too!"
"While we are busy installing the perennial plants into the ecosystem, organically grown annual crops can pay the bills. At New Forest Farm we've concentrated on cucumbers, zucchini, green peppers and a wide variety of winter squash as well as some small grains and hay. Most perennial crops that a farmer can plant, won't produce an income for several years. While the perennials are maturing, cash-flow can be maintained by the annual produce. Asparagus and chestnuts were our first income producing perennials."
In addition to farming, Shepard is also Vice President of the SW Badger Resource Conservation and Development Council, a non-profit organization comprised of a USDA employee, county and local elected officials, and interested citizens. It sponsors many workshops on small-scale farming, sustainable ag and agroforestry, and promotes rural economic development through the restoration of local forests, fisheries and agrotourism.
He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Association for Temperate Agroforestry, a national non-profit that promotes the integration of woody crops into annual crop farms.
The Shepards' sons -- both botanically well-versed -- have already embraced their parents' tree-centric approach to farming. The boys recently planted 150 fledgling Christmas trees, an investment that they hope will pay dividends 'round about the time they're ready to trade their two-wheelers in for four-wheelers.
An Organic Valley produce grower for twelve years, Mark observes that the farmer-owned cooperative conducts its business-both internally and externally-in a way that squares with his own personal ethics and beliefs. "We nurture the earth with organic agriculture and humane treatment of animals. I can't think of a better way for us to live, to market our products, and to relate to each other as human beings. Organic Valley is a band of rather independent, different thinkers who are essentially interdependent."