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Mark Shepard’s Proven Technique – “Sheer, Total, and Utter Neglect” (video)

Broadacre permaculturist Mark Shepard takes us on a tour of his 106-acre farm, where he grows dozens of crops with almost no care at all.

Mark tells you how, twenty years ago, he and friends put thousands of varieties of perennials in the ground, and left them there. Now, parts of his farm that are completely unattended are growing 14 different kinds of food.

He also shows how to selectively breed for hardiness, speed of reproduction, and high yield by doing, that’s right, nothing at all. By completely neglecting his early plantings, he weeded out any that need to be taken care of, and selected for the ones that would thrive.

Brushing aside urban permaculture as too small-scale, Mark calls for this kind of neglectful, and thus effective, ecosystem seeding to take place all across the planet. All it would take, he says, is a 2% increase in the organic matter in the world’s agricultural land to draw down enough carbon to return atmospheric CO2 to pre-industrial levels.

Keyline [plow], plant the grass, graze with animals, put in woody crops – and then over time, we get our first knockback with the grass, and within 3-5 years we have our 2% [increase in] organic matter, while not having any less food in the food chain. And then over time, we develop these [woody perennial] systems and take even more of the gases out of the atmosphere.

Let’s not tell anybody it’s easy! The whole doom-and-gloom fear industry might go broke. — Mark Shepard


  1. Mark is a true permaculture warrior and modern day hero and someone I have always respected. We first met in Wisconsin where he was a guest lecturer at a PDC that Nadia and I were teaching and we knew straight away he was a brother in action for our life times.

    Pay attention when people are teaching from real on ground experience.

    Great stuff Mark.

    From Geoff and Nadia

  2. Bravo Mark! I heard Merk talk years ago at MREA’s (Midwest Renewable Energy Association) annual fair.
    That talk coupled with Geoff’s video ‘Greening the Desert’ convinced me we could save the planet.

  3. Great stuff, this is spot on as a model for cool/cold temperate farm land re-patterning.
    It has got the lot.
    Water infiltration and soil building.
    Fruit, nut and timber trees inter-spaced with animal grazing and annual crops, diversity of species and a realistic view of interdependence with the larger community system.
    Everyone and anyone can GET this.

  4. Great Stuff Mark! THANK YOU for sharing it. I have been a BIG fan from afar for years. It was great meeting your son at the Sepp Holzer event we put on in MN in April. I’ve been incorporating your ideas for years now on my land and getting fantastic results with very little work. As the great Geoff Lawton said, “Pay attention when people are teaching from real on ground experience.” i can’t wait to tour your farm in person in the not-to-distant future!

  5. Inspiring! What I can’t seem to grasp is Mark’s assertion that it is against accounting principles to justify an investment (installing a windmill or solar panels) in relation to running costs (like your electricity bill) and calculating an investment recovery period.

    Why is that? I didn’t get the comparison with a bathroom. When you install a bathroom, it’s pointless to define it in terms of investment recovery. You need to wash, and trying to calculate a revenue from being clean makes no sense.

    With a windmill, your investment produces something that is easily measured and, thanks to the grid, priced on a real market where you have hitherto been buying.

    Is Mark’s reasoning about the more or less intangible benefit of not polluting the world through grid electricity? Cause that already makes sense to me. If not, I’m really interested in changing my perspective on this.

  6. Wytze, possibly a few ways to look at it. Imagine if you did have to pay to use a bathroom, and that it was considered perfectly normal to do so, then if we installed a bathroom we would account for the savings in dollars by having installed our own.
    Or, just because we currently pay for power at a certain monetary amount makes it seem as though we should only look at the value of the power replacement item as it relates to a point in time where the cost amortizes.

    It is really an exercise in looking at it differently as far as how we value things.
    Imagine if there is no power grid, then we would not have some arbitrary monetary figure to weigh the cost of our home energy generation outfit against.
    It would simply be a matter of having energy or not having energy.

    If we were to value the addition of our energy infrastructure as simply as we do any and every other part of our housing it would all just be as one amount, the cost of the infrastructure all in together.

    We don’t value the cost of our kitchens and their appliances by a comparison to the amount of money we save by eating at home and not living entirely on takeaway.
    This perspective reminds me of some relatives of mine who fell in love with some Silver laced wyandotte chickens I had, they were expensive birds and only poor to moderate layers.
    My relatives felt the need to work out how long it would take for the expensive poor laying but beautiful chickens to PAY for themselves, earn their keep so to speak.
    At $50 per bird, and the addition of feed costs, these birds would never PAY for themselves by comparison of supermarket purchased caged eggs at $3 per carton, maybe they would come close if they were $6.50 per carton as some boutique, organic, free range eggs might be.

    My thoughts about what Mark means is that it is about how we FRAME the CONTEXT in which we make these assessments of costs and value. It is not the questions we ask, but how and why we ask them in the first place.

  7. So humans are finally coming to terms with the fact that Nature can grow plant life without human intervention? Considering agriculture is only around 10,000 years old, that’s how all our food was grown for the previous 190,000 years! If more farmers did what Mark Shepard is doing the planet would be in a better state.

    “Brushing aside urban permaculture as too small-scale…” hmmm, typical opinion of most farming folk, but imagine one million small scale sites across urban areas, that makes for a very large distributed production system that is both more resilient and more productive than a big farm, with no transport costs, and greater community benefits. Lets not forget that urban scale systems can be built as more intensive systems and can produce four times the yield per unit area than a rural site…

    1. I agree that urban systems on a more concentrated scale is definitely worthy of attention, especially because of the low transport costs and social development inherent in them. I do hope that if it is done, however, that it should be something wiser than the warehouse hydroponics systems currently being touted as a solution. Urban agriculture can and is being done much more intelligently, and with a greater awareness of ecological systems, diversity, and sustainability. Until that is embraced as the proper approach, I think that rural permaculture and other forms of sustainable agriculture will remain the best hope for affecting our food systems in the broader sense. It’s easier to mimic nature in farming when you’re already in “nature.” It simply takes more engineering and forethought to create anything resembling the possibilities of a rural system in urban environments.

  8. Mark Shepard is a super awesome man …. Needs to run for President and save this Country of ours! If only Monsanto and the likes would move to another Planet! Keep trucking …. The Planet needs your wisdom! Mug loves you for the work and education that you accomplish!

  9. As others have noted here, you have to count the educational and enjoyment value of biodiversity, before you can make a fully accurate assessment of the “return on investment” of different techniques.

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