You’ve probably read the latest copy of The Acorn and heard the good news about our new park. Just to get everyone up to speed: we purchased about 45 acres in the outskirts of the village of Los Cerezos. About half of it is forested, the rest is “retired” farmland. This park marks our first outright land purchase for the Tree Bank — all of the other land that we have in conservation are through arrangements with local farmers.
Purchasing land doesn’t mark a change in our overall methodology. We remain committed to our central programs: the nursery, Forest Credit, Rising Forests Coffee, and the parcelas agroecologicas. The Forest Credit especially makes up the bulk of our land conservation and will remain so for the foreseeable future. What a large land purchase does do, is provide us with another tool to address deforestation in Hispaniola and offers a solution to some ongoing problems.
One structural issue we have with our Forest Credit system is that, by its very nature, it preserves small patches of liminal forest — that is forest, either primary or secondary, that is on or very near the edge of some other habitat. The average size of a single conservation easement is also small, about 4 acres on average. Certain species of plant or animal can only exist in deep forest, or need to roam about a territory of a few dozen acres. This meant that although we had an impressive amount of total land in conservation, we were limited in the species and type of habitat being protected because much of the land was in relatively isolated patches.
This might not be the kind of thing that keeps you up at night, but if it is, rest assured that we now have it under control. We plan to enroll all already forested land on our park into conservation. There will be no agricultural uses and no cutting unless it is to remove exotic or invasive species. We will also plant out and expand buffer areas using trees from our nursery around the existing forest and the streams. This should provide us with about 30 to 35 acres of solid forest, all in one big lump, and nearby or contiguous with other nearby forest credit easements.
A piece of undisturbed forest this large, with plenty of interior forest as well as liminal forest, will offer exactly the sort of habitat that was up until now lacking in our conservation reserves. I’ve ventured into some undisturbed interior forest in our region, and noticed many plant and bird species that I had not seen in other areas. Our hope is that our park will also transform into a sanctuary for native wildlife.
“But wait!” you might say, “That still leaves about 10 acres of land left over. What’s the plan for that land?” Here’s where it gets interesting, but first some background. You may remember our initial parcela agroecologica where we restored farmland owned by Quiterio in a sustainable manner using a terraced mixed-crop garden that should retain soil fertility. What started as a pilot program into intensive agricultural management has really taken off: other farmers stuck with exhausted soil and limited capital have approached us for help.
We tailored the parcela agroecologica precisely to Quiterio’s needs. He didn’t have other land to rely on or a cow to provide needed manure and as an older man who works his own land on a very steep slope, the farm needed to maximize productivity in as little space as possible. Other farms have different needs, some may want to focus on tree-cropping the way Ricardo does, others may have a source of manure or another productive field, but need help returning exhausting or invaded land to sustainable agriculture.
Despite the demand for help establishing more sustainable farms, smallholder farmers who depend on their farms to pay bills, feed their families and just generally live their lives aren’t too excited to allows us carte blanche in trying out “new” techniques, even if some of the techniques have been successful elsewhere in the Caribbean or South and Latin America. I don’t blame them, either. From their perspective the risk is simply too great.
The leftover land is the best way to prove some of these techniques will work in our own context. We’re free to experiment, at low cost using plants from our own nursery, without jeopardizing anyone’s farmland. Just in case my use of the word “experiment” is conjuring up images of Audrey II from the Little Shop of Horrors, the sort of experiments I’m talking about are intercropping with Inga vera, native leguminous small tree, that should be able to quickly restore and retain soil fertility while allowing farmers the freedom to plant whatever crops they want. This is a system that has been proven to work in Brazil and should be an easy transplant.
Our goal is to use this land only for conservation-related activities. That means that while there is demand for facilities such as a crop-drying secadero, we would not use park land in that way. Our mindset is this: if any of the land in this park is not being returned to forest, it should be for a specific conservation-related use. For now, that means experimenting with new sustainable farming methods that could be adopted on other farms. A year from now we might be trying something else out, and if that’s the case, you can read about it here.