At Beforest we do not start with a “layout plan”. It takes a lot more to build a robust, resilient landscape.
We start with some visits to the farm and understanding and connecting with the land, a shared intent, get a few seed members on board, kick off a discussion. And get the experts involved – the permaculture thinkers, the architects, the wildlife advisors – we get all the help we need for a given landscape so we can understand it in great depth, and make it better for the forest, for the food we want to grow there, and for all the people and creatures that live there and that we want to encourage to make it there home.
Mapping the Contours
To start with, a detailed digital contour survey maps is commissioned. This maps the entire property out at a granularity of 5m x 5m tiles, and in some bits even 1m x 1m. It’s critical to understand this in great depth, as this influences everything!
As part of this process, we also mark various points along the the boundaries, as well as all the bigger trees, identify major existing features – both natural and mad made – to try and get a good sense of how the property looks as a whole. For large landscapes of the sizes of our farms, this survey and understanding is an absolute must and forms the starting point for everything else that is planned ahead – water flows, pathways, homes and more.
Water Flows Are Key
Water is the key to life on the land, and managing it is one of the major and early focus areas of a lot of our interventions. Mapping all channels, rivers and the general flow of water across the landscape is an important step. The size, seasonality of channels, knowing the steep sections and keypoints, and then marking the riparian zone buffers all depend on the accuracy and level of detail of this study.
Broadly, we strive to capture water higher up using earthworks of various kinds, plant alongside to use the moisture, and to prevent erosion, and try not building in the water’s path.
Understanding Sunlight, Wind : Environment & Sector Study
The permaculture team spends time at the property to subdivide it into various parts, and understand how various forces – the sun, winds, fire, the wildlife around etc – interact with that space. A lot of decisions on where to grow and plant what depend on this understanding.
This is an ongoing process and as we spend more time at the farm, we understand more. We also try get members to understand this process to help them come up with a vision for various bits of the farm and get involve in long term decision making and improvements over time.
In farms where wildlife and forest conservation are a major focus (like at Poomaale, in Coorg), we also engage with wildlife experts to identify buffer zones, corridors and any specific rich habitat that we should stay away from for any work.
A Common Vocabulary For All Stakeholders
For large landscapes with varying terrain, it helps to split them into various parts and then label them. It helps to deal with understand each differently, and working on them is far less daunting than trying to look at the entire place together 🙂 The labels, shared with all stakeholders, help with a common understanding on the landscape, the plans and the various steps described earlier.
Planning Where To Build
Through elimination of no-go zones, forest, riparian buffers, wildlife buffers etc are eliminated. And then patches on preferred slopes, nearer access and views are picked, and candidates for clusters placed there. This is one reason we avoid building all over the place – the landscape’s needs are prioritized.
As the detailed understanding of the land emerges, the architects start identifying the most logical places to build on – those that have the least ecological impact, and the least operational footprint, while meeting the needs wrt views, ease of access, community, privacy, etc.
This entire process is amazing and helps us form a deeper bond with the land, and it’s context, weather, flora and fauna. We truly believe that our co-existence with all of these, and how well we adapt to them, defines our long term resilience as a farm, and indeed as a species that is part of this planet.
And Finally, The Whole
This one’s from the Tamarind valley Collective – where we have been through all the planning steps and the detailed plan is already in place. Of course, we study the land frequently and make tweaks as we go along, but this captures a lot of understanding of the landscape, the seasons, our aspirations there.