Agroecology is a new scientific discipline that uses ecological theory to study, design, manage and evaluate agricultural systems that are productive but also resource conserving. Agroecological research considers interactions of all important biophysical, technical and socio-economic components of farming systems and regards these systems as the fundamental units of study, where mineral cycles, energy transformations, biological processes and socio-economic relationships are analysed as a whole in an interdisciplinary fashion. Essentially agroecology is a method of interpreting our most fundamental intervention in a landscape and reflecting upon the effects and consequences of such an intervention.
Agroforestry is central to the application of agroecological practices. A forest is the fullest expression of a diverse, thriving and self sustaining ecosystem. As such we believe that the Forest of Dean should pioneer UK research in this field and be home to the first Agroecology Research Centre (ARC).
Working with the Centre for Agroecology and Food Security and the UK Agroecology alliance, we will create a research base to support the work of farmers and small holdings already leading the way in agroecological practices. There will be key research themes which will both inform and be informed by the development of the Forest of Dean and surrounding area. This will include detailed surveying of the soil, plant and species diversity, as well as creating experimental systems of polycultures and agroforestry inter-cropping to demonstrate more resilient methods of agriculture.
We will propose a location for the research centre, a model agroecological farm, that will actively encourage individuals and groups to apply to the farm to use the land for innovative agroecological projects. The farm will then facilitate the development of that project and advise on the procedures for measurement and evaluation of that project. The centre will thus encourage entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector while providing direction towards more resilient, regenerative agricultural practices.
It is an important distinction of Agroecology research that it looks to interpretative methods of social and cultural ecology as a means of evaluating agricultural systems. As such we will initiate an archeological research programme to map the the history of agriculture in the Forest of Dean. This will provide a fundamental connection for future development upon an understanding of cultural heritage of the region..
How can local people become involved in your project?
Understanding the human and social interaction within agricultural systems is an essential part of agroecology. We want get people experimenting in there backgardens helping them to use scientific methods to improve their own growing. We can run participatory experiments throughout the forest encouraging as many people to get involved and supply data for the research centre.
The ARC will provide land to host ‘nursery farms’ for young farmers. Facilitating the initiative and entrepreneurial drive of new entrants into farming. The research centre will help find access to funding and supply them with advice and knowledge to ensure that their project will adhere to agroecological principles.
Part of the research programme will involve the development CSA models of agriculture, these projects will be community led and volunteer run. These projects will become autonomous leaving a lasting legacy of the research centre for the people of the Forest of Dean.