Gutschenritter, left, and Chris Johnson
hazelnut trees just may save us all, insists third-generation farmer
Michael Gutschenritter, co-owner of Three Brothers Farm in the town of
Oconomowoc, and heís out to prove it. "Weíre really focusing
on design on our property, and design for permanence," he says.
emerging as a leader in permaculture, Gutschenritter says: "I
would define it as growing staple crops by mimicking ecosystems. Thereís
a whole group of people proving that we can use woody perennial
alternatives, such as chestnuts and hazelnuts, to provide the
carbohydrates, proteins and oils that humans need to survive as a
So, instead of
planting acre upon acre of corn, year after year, he and the farmís
co-owner, Chris Johnson, planted 3,000 hybrid chestnut trees this
spring. The trees have to be planted only once, he notes, "as
opposed to farmers who have to tear up thousands of acres (for corn
and soy) for a gamble every year." At some point, Gutschenritter
says, if farmers continue to rely on the same crops and use chemicals
to grow them, the land will simply be worn out.
The nut and
fruit trees and bushes that Gutschenritter will eventually plant are
intended to make the farm drought-proof and flood-proof, and less
dependent on the whims of weather. Instead of drip-line irrigation
systems, Three Brothers Farm relies on a series of ditches or swales
built on the contours of the land, so that rainwater soaks in slowly.
permaculture is most often applied to farming, home gardeners can
adopt some of its principles. Planting berry bushes instead of
flowering hedges, for example, and using native plants and perennial
vegetables such as asparagus, borrows the idea of planting things not
just for their beauty but for their usefulness. Research plants that
complement each other, such as currant bushes planted between nut
trees. The idea of permaculture gardening is to use the landscape to
provide practical benefits, like food and shelter. Use compost to
enrich the soil, and avoid using chemicals.
At the moment,
Three Brothers Farm benefits from community supported agriculture, or
CSA. People buy "shares" every year and during the summer
and fall, shareholders get fresh, naturally grown vegetables, eggs and
meat directly from the farm.
is working toward a day when Wisconsinís chestnut and hazelnut
farmers will convince large food companies to replace the corn in
their products, like snack chips, with nut products and broad-acre
farms are transformed into sustainable food forests.
really planting these trees so my great-great-great-grandkids are
still harvesting crops off our property and theyíll be able to still
make a living off our land," he says. m