Anika Hanisch recently attended the 2019 ACRES Eco-Agriculture Conference and came back with fresh energy and insights for her next book. She is busy completing a manuscript focused on her personal experience with using regenerative gardening to grow her own food. “The manuscript is a collection of essays about taking my rubble-and-rocks backyard and turning it into a miniature biodynamic farm,” she said.
The essays also cover one major complication. In the midst of Hanisch’s land-restoration project, she got a call that her mother had survived a serious brain injury.
“We completely lost her as she went in and out of comas and aphasic states for over a year,” Hanisch said. “Mom was this super-fit, active woman who was suddenly not expected to ever walk again or get her memories back. It was like losing someone to Alzheimer’s—but overnight.”
That spring, planting season got put on hold.
For the next 18 months, Hanisch and her siblings took turns traveling home, tending their mother, and helping their father cope. “About a year in, Mom’s neurologists saw changes in her condition that meant a high-risk surgery was suddenly medically necessary if she was going to survive and have any quality of life at all,” Hanisch said. “It changed everything!”
For the good, that is. The family “watched Mom come back” rapidly. Over the course of a month, she began talking in full sentences, walking, and remembering her past. Hanisch explained that her mother’s doctors “had not expected this. It was a daily education in neuroplasticity.”
Hanisch volleys easily between the topics of brain healing and land restoration. “We’re part of nature, so of course the processes feel similar,” she said. During that summer while her mother’s brain was re-wiring itself, Hanisch was also working on regenerating a “dead” apple tree. “Everyone told me to cut that tree down. It’s old, hasn’t set fruit in years. Lost cause. Instead we sheet mulched under it,” Hanisch said, referring to a process by which fresh nutrition is infused into a landscape through adding layers of manure, compost, straw, and wood chips.
The tree responded with a super bloom, and Hanisch and her partner harvested over sixty pounds of fruit. “That was what we were able to reach. We hadn’t expected this, so we hadn’t pruned the tree exceptionally well,” she admitted. “We couldn’t get to half of the harvest and then a hard freeze hit.”
But the biggest revelation came at the end of the season when Hanisch was evaluating the mulch under the apple tree. In the course of a few months, the apple tree had grown feeder roots throughout the new sheet mulch. “I pushed my hands in there, and there was this dense sponge of tree roots just below the surface. Everywhere!” she said. “Of course, it made me think of how the brain heals, rewiring itself when it’s allowed to. Root systems really are like neurons. We now know that plant roots and mushroom networks share chemical signals and nutrients, between trees in a grove and between different species too.”
Hanisch frequently quotes farmer-author Mark Shepard: Nature wants to heal. “Usually we just need to get a few blockages out of the way and then let her heal,” Hanisch added. “There are so many resources out there that explain how f—ed the planet is right now. I’m not disagreeing with any of that data. But the reality is, there’s a ton of good happening too.”
The author went on to describe permaculture farms that are regenerating Amazon rain forest in a short timeline. Soil re-building that should take 100 years, can happen in just ten years when people steward the process appropriately. Stunningly, these strategies have successfully restored dry streams and improved rainfall patterns. Regenerative farmers on every continent are recreating complex forest-crop farming systems. These “polyculture” systems yield better than conventional agriculture (both in quantity and in nutritional quality), while reducing erosion and making the land more drought- and flood-tolerant.
“We’ve got to tell these stories as well,” Hanisch said. “Healing is possible. It takes work, commitment, passion, and it’s totally possible. We’ve got to put the lion’s share of our focus and energy into those efforts.”
Hanisch will share more about this manuscript as she gets closer to completion. Meanwhile:
• Follow Hanisch’s gardening and writing adventures on Instagram. Book updates will be posted there too.
• If you have a story about how nature heals herself, please share it at Hanisch’s Facebook Author Page for a chance to have it distributed as a featured post!
References & Resources:
Short Films & Websites
“Life in Syntropy” – Amazon rainforest restoration through poly-culture food-growing
“An Invitation to Wildness” – A Food Forest approach to restoring logged land in New Zealand
Video research report – Restoring rain forest through planting tree islands
Chaitraban Permaculture Homestead in India – Before/after images of reforesting of bare eroded soil