Gingerhill strives to offer one of the finest agriculture internships on the Hawaiian islands through our Sustainable Living Course. Our co-directors, Iris and Zach, have accumulated a wealth of knowledge surrounding soil microbiology, permaculture, and animal husbandry throughout their travels and work in Brazil, Hawaii and Japan. After returning to the Big Island, they made it their mission to disseminate their knowledge and skills through Gingerhill’s agriculture internships.
One of the most influential agricultural methodologies that we explore through our agriculture internships is syntropic farming. The term “syntropic farming” was coined by its originator, Ernst Gotsch, a Swiss plant biologist who has been perfecting his unique method of agroforestry in South America for over 40 years. Utilizing syntropic farming methods, Gotsch reforested a 1200 acre property in Bahia, Brazil known as the dry lands. At Gingerhill we employ syntropic farming methods to create ecosystems in which plant and human life are mutually sustaining.
Syntropic farming is a form of “regenerative agriculture.” Regenerative agriculture is designed to heal the natural systems that humans have disrupted and depleted. Utilizing syntropic farming methods, we are able to regenerate Hawaiian soil, increase ecosystem productivity, and reduce external inputs. In so doing, we create an ecosystem that is more environmentally and financially sustainable.
Buckminster Fuller defined syntropy as “A tendency towards order and symmetrical combinations, designs of ever more advantageous and orderly patterns. Syntropic agriculture requires that we make strategic interventions into the landscape without disturbing the integrity of its natural life cycle.
Syntropic farming operates upon the assumption that nature is an intelligent ally, that she possesses within herself all that she requires to prosper. Instead of manipulating nature via adding external elements, removing “waste,” or planting large swaths of a single crop, syntropic farming requires that we tune into the intelligence of the land, emulating its natural layout.
In sum, syntropic agriculture combines careful organization and tactical intervention to regenerate depleted soil and create a maximally productive ecosystem. It is a method of farming that integrates forest restoration and food production in a sustainable manner, preserving the natural integrity of the environment.
Syntropic agriculture is process-based instead of input-based. In other words, it requires specific interventions as opposed to purchasable materials. The essential facet of syntropic farming is pruning—one of the central aspects of our agriculture internships. Pruning increases the metabolism of an ecosystem by increasing root activity. The increase in root activity alters the mycorrhiza, a beneficial fungus that exists in symbiosis with root systems. The resultant metabolic processes produce gibberellic acid, which in turn generates new plant growth, increases the bioavailability of the soil’s nutrition, and strengthens existing symbiotic relationships.
Pruned plants will also photosynthesize at a higher rate. As plants utilize more sunlight for photosynthesis, the environment becomes cooler and wetter, preserving the moisture of the soil. Thus, over time, pruning has the capacity to positively alter the microclimate by reducing its temperature and generating new water sources.
In addition, we take the pruned material, mostly wood and leaves, and organize them on the ground to maximize moisture retention and to aid in decomposition. In this way, we are always building soil and increasing fungal and microbial activity.
Syntropic farming requires that we model our gardens and orchards after analogous ecosystems, accounting for both space and time. Instead of planting mono-crops, we design gardens and orchards to parallel adjacent ecosystems in their organization. We also take care to plant crops that will optimize the soil conditions for the crops we plant after them. In methodically recreating natural symbiotic relationships, we simultaneously increase the density and fertility of an ecosystem.
Positive Energy Balance
Employing the principles and practices of syntropic farming allows us to promote a positive energy balance in our ecosystems. In other words, we aim to create ecosystems that produce more than they consume.
According to Gotsch, unadulterated ecosystems naturally produce more than they consume. For its metabolic processes, nature utilizes 3% capital to generate a 10%-15% surplus. Nature’s productive capacity is largely due to a process of cyclical nourishment that generates ever-greater organic output over time. In nature, soil sustains the plant life that feeds animals. The animals, in turn, produce manure that, in combination with other organic matter, enriches the soil and perpetuates the life cycle. In such an ecosystem, plants and animals evolve in synchronicity.
The Ills of Modern Agriculture
Modern agriculture interrupts this process by stripping the soil, separating plants and animals, and removing plants from their symbiotic pairings. Not only does it destroy these self-sustaining ecosystems; it also makes them extremely difficult to recreate. In working to sustain a capitalistic economy that thrives upon mass food production, we have fallen into the trap of many civilizations before us: viewing nature solely for its utility, stripping the land, destroying biodiversity, and prioritizing the sustenance of wealth over the sustenance of human beings.
Gotsch believes that restoring a positive energy balance through syntropic farming might be the solution to looming resource exhaustion. It is also rooted in principles that may inspire humans to re-engage in a mutually sustaining relationship with nature.
Syntropic farming yields a host of benefits to human life as well. Because syntropic farming requires human intervention, it encourages us to spend time outside engaging with nature. Spending time outdoors increases vitamin D levels, boosts creativity and concentration, improves mood, and decreases anxiety. Syntropic farming also promotes carbon-neutral and even carbon-positive living, improving our carbon footprint.
Of course, one of syntropic farming’s primary benefits to humans is the provision of healthy food. Promoting healthy, highly productive ecosystems will become increasingly critical in the future. It is likely that, due to rising costs of living, gentrification, nature deficit disorder, and a digitalized economy that permits working from home, we will witness a transition from urban to rural living. If rural communities utilize principles of syntropic farming to grow their own food, we may have a chance at preventing resource depletion.
Syntropic Farming at Gingerhill
At Gingerhill, we combine methods of permaculture, agroforestry, and syntropic farming to create a healthy, life-sustaining ecosystem. In order to do so, we regularly prune our trees, compost, and chip our trees to create indigenous mulch. We also use organic “waste,” like weeds and banana stalks, to create borders and pathways.
If you are interested in agriculture internships and want to learn more about syntropic farming, consider taking our Sustainable Living Course. This week-long educational retreat combines other facets of agriculture internships with mindfulness, yoga, exercise, and healthy eating, creating an original and dynamic experience that you won’t want to miss.