In the hills above the Po river in northern Italy, there are a handful of farms that look almost the same today as they would have three thousand years ago.
There are rows of short pruned trees, with fruit-laden grape vines festooned between them. The trees are common natives in the area that produce fruit, firewood, basketmaking materials, and fodder for farm animals. The grapes are ancient cultivars that have been grown here for millennia. Between these rows of grapes and trees are diverse plots of cereals, hayfields, vegetables, and herbs. In a single field, one can find all of the staples needed to live and support the farmstead, and more to sell at a high premium. This is a resilient system – a farm modeled on a forest. Unlike monocultures of grapes or grain, diversity is the strength here. Disease outbreaks and unseasonable weather have a limited impact. If one crop has a bad year, there are a dozen others to pick up the slack. These are agricultural ecosystems designed to last millennia – and that is exactly what they have done.
Credit: A row of field maples (Acer campestre) trellis grape vines, and are pollarded to harvest ‘tree hay’