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Houtland

Houtland

Northern Europe used to be covered by forest, but eventually that forest was cut down for development of civilisations.

During my research I stumbled upon the definition of Holland and was astonished that it derives from the old dutch word for Houtland meaning woodland.

”The Netherlands," early 14c., from Dutch Holland, probably Old Dutch holt- lant "wood land," describing the district around Dordrecht, the nucleus of Holland. Technically, just one province of the Netherlands, but in English its use extended to the whole nation.” [3]

The region mentioned was where the early Dutch would harvest its timber for building and boat constructions. Later the development of reclaiming land from the sea led to a boom in agricultural innovation. Available land was used extensively for farming, leaving no space for forest growthshaping the Dutch landscape and food culture that we know today.

What if the Netherlands was covered with trees?

The proposal is a complete reforestation of the country imagined through an array of different scenarios: a forest taking over the Dutch landscape, making the Netherlands the first truly green country on this planet.

For the moment three forms come to mind: urban, productive and wild forest, giving space for all participants in this interconnected system. A deep and mutual relationship synthesises a resilient and diverse landscape. Trees will even play a part in food production. Acorns, Hazelnuts and Chestnuts could become a staple in the future diet of the Dutch in the forms of Chestnut cheese, Acorn bread, or Hazelnut milk.

I noticed during my studies and talks with parties in the food chain that the food chain system, despite being so highly efficient, must transition from a system based on chemical fertiliser, monoculture and industrialised pig stables towards a more permanent, soil-supporting system. Furthermore I observe that every city talked about increasing greenery in densely urban areas to improve living quality. All over the country we see urban garden communities popping up where people come together to think about alternative approaches to produce food and integrate green in our surroundings. The combination of all these green movements led me to the realisation that we are in need of living matter around us. Concrete on its own does not seem to satisfy us. It is even proven by Japanese-Dutch researchers that walks in a forest are stress reducing and beneficial for our human immune system. This trend is not only visible in the Netherlands. It is seen in every industrialised country where living space in cities gets dense. I take these developments as a base for my proposal to reforest the entire Netherlands. I believe that introducing this idea can spark a big discussion of what forest actually is and how we could integrate trees in such a compact living environment.


[3] Dictionary.com

Reforesting

A forest for me is a place so dense with trees that you cannot just walk into it. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are. “Real” forests are an oasis of wilderness where nature can thrive without human interference. Once upon a time, before human intervention, most of the world we live in today was forest. Then we built up our cities on these forests, forgetting that we belong to nature as well as 8.4 billion other species on this planet. [1]

We need to redefine our interactions with our surroundings towards a more sustainable and permanent cooperation of all living beings.

Let’s start with trees.

Therefore, I propose to completely reforest the Netherlands by the year 2060. Forests cover a third of all land on Earth, providing vital organic infrastructure for some of the planet's densest, most diverse collections of life. Functioning forest systems could be described as the largest living organisms on this planet. A factory of life, where countless biological processes create the most the base resource required for us humans to thrive: fertile soil.

Man lives by plants. Plants live in the soil. The forest is a kind of factory in which the life-force of plants is made by using plant biomaterial, assisted by bacteria and the elements of weather. This important resource is only effectively created by forests all over the world. And we as humans don’t even have to work for it. We just have to let forest grow.

Recently we can observe a new awareness for trees. Dutch cities try to re-green concrete jungles and even the Dutch Institution for forest and nature developed an action plan to increase the tree coverage of the Netherlands.

Yet these efforts are not enough. Currently, the surface area of the Netherlands is only 11% covered with trees and is one of Europe's least wooded countries. On the other hand, the Netherlands is extremely productive relative to its size as a food exporter. Therefore the Netherlands rely deeply on its high quality soil and innovation in the agricultural sector.

A lot of exciting new technologies are changing how we view agriculture; such as farming in silos, drone farmers, self-driving tractors and vertical farming, but I believe not every innovation has to be so flashy and futuristic. The latest trend of reshaping rural environments is pretty down to Earth. This trend is agroforestry, the art of planting trees. [2]


[1] Shubhendu Sharma, CEO of Afforestt.

[2] The Guedian, The latest cutting-edge technology changing our landscapes? Trees.

On Natural Growth

The transition towards a system based on natural growth must integrate the idea of an alternative economic system into our existing economy.

“Much of the economic decay is undoubtedly due to a heedless and shameful “neglect of trees.” [4]

We separate the elements from nature and convert them into an irreversible state. That is industrial production. Nature on the other hand works in the totally opposite way. Natural systems produce by bringing elements together, atom by atom. All things in nature are composed of the same building blocks which return to the earth and are continually cycled through the system. Can we envision a production system which could function by this principle? My answer to that question is: the forest. A functioning forest is exactly this kind of system based on natural growth and decay. It produces and consumes at the same time while it keeps the balance among all factors. I like to call it producing in harmony, according the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam . A Sanskrit phrase [5] found in Hindu texts such as the Maha Upanishad, which means "the world is one family. One might call it esoteric or naturalistic, but I do believe that the idea of natural production can be very well translated in contemporary western society. The challenge here is that we need to rethink our current systems where profit is valued more that continuity and balance.”

The next question would be how can we use the ideas of natural growth to supply us humans with products and at the same time enable all other living beings to thrive for a fulfilled live. This I discovered in the process of this project. I think one possible answer could lie in how we place ourselves in the ecological system of the planet.

Of course, humans can see ourselves as the dominant race. We are able to influence most known production chains and interactions: the problem being that often this influence hinders the natural course of things. The more challenging thought is then, how can we redefine our dominant role towards a role as the enabler of natural systems. We may still see ourselves as the most developed race on this planet but the primary goals would shift from a human centred perspective to a system orientated perspective in a more complicated and holistic way. We will define ourselves as part of the system which has the ability to help others to grow.


[4] E F Schumacher, German economist. [5] Philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

Balano culture and future of food in the Netherlands

In the future nuts will play a big part in the diet of the Dutch, such as Hazelnuts, Walnuts and Acorns.

Acorns are a neglected food for people, livestock, and domestic animals. Acorns are easy to collect, store, and process. In addition to the nutritious nut and meal, acorns yield an oil comparable in quality and flavor with olive oil. The existing acorn market could be greatly expanded and provide new income for rural people. A serious effort to identify and propagate the best oak acorn cultivars for these products is long overdue. [6]

Acorns have been used as food by Homo sapiens for thousands of years virtually everywhere oaks are found. The worldwide destruction of the acorn resource by mismanagement may well have led to the development of annual plant based agriculture and to civilisation as we know it today. In Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Mid-East, and North America, acorns were once a staple food. Balanos is Greek for acorns, and balanoculture was first mentioned in an article by David Bainbridge to describe cultures who derive significant subsistence from acorns. [7] Gathering and processing time for acorns is minimal relative to the labor required to grow annual cereal grains. He argues that the domestication of goats which prefer to browse oak seedlings, rising populations afforded by abundant acorns, and the cutting of trees for fuels, led to the demise of the great oak woodlands of the Middle East and China and the balanocultures they supported. Immediately following was the emergence of agriculture and the birth of granoculture.

It takes an Oak tree on average 30 years to begin bearing palatable fruit. Thus by planting an acorn today, one would help enable a renaissance in balanoculture by 2047.


[6] Jane Zhang, Thesies MDes ’17, Havard University Schoo of Design. [7] David Robert James Bainbridge, Science writer at University of Cambridge.

Benefits of humans for trees and the other way around

A key point of my thoughts about this project was the exploration of the values of beings and things and how these values support each other. It is a positive calculation, enabling us to see benefits in the things surrounding us and making use of them, but at the same time also discovering our values in this system. Offering our strength to enhance the systematic balance, adding benefits to benefits to create an optimistic calculation beneficial for everyone, and referring tho the idea that each character needs to understand its place in the system are key conclusions from my process.

Humans are good for making space for trees to grow. Humans arrange things in their surrounding. Humans can move things to other places. Humans create seed banks to preserve diversity. Humans can enable trees to grow in spaces in which they normally don't grow. Humans can fertilise trees. Humans can try to enhance the growth of trees. Humans can maintain trees. Humans can protect trees.

Forest growth supports life on Earth. Forest maintains quality of water and air. Trees stabilise the soil. Forests enable land based plants and animals to live. Forests create biodiversity. Trees grow wealth in form of food and medicine, essential for human health. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and keep global warming regulated. A walk in the forest relaxes the human mind. Forests influence climate and balance out extreme temperatures. They conserve soil and regulate moisture and stream flow. Trees prevent soil erosion and floods. Trees supply raw materials.

Urban Forest

The urban forest aims at the perfect symbiosis between humans and plants. It will grow in human cities and densely populated areas and will cover all available space which is not necessarily used by humans. A large part will be urban recreation areas where people can go and enjoy a walk through the woods. The forest will be a mix of leaf trees, mainly evergreen, and fruit bearing trees. It will be a a source of free food for the city dwellers.

During the harvesting season the community can organise harvesting feasts. The food should be for free and not capitalised on by any particular individual. This feast can be used to strengthen the interaction in-between trees and humans to celebrate a community of trees and plants.

The urban forest will also provide health benefits to its human partners. Humans will enable plants to explore new areas such as rooftops and vertical walls of buildings and even artificial climate zones inside buildings.

Experimental architecture can provide new living areas for trees. Such as vertical forest towers, where trees can grow alongside the high-rise building towards the sky.

An argument against allowing trees to grow freely in urban areas would be that the roots of trees would destroy foundations and tubing under the ground. However, speaking with an architect from Eindhoven who built his house in consideration of the oak trees on his plot. He showed that there is a very simple solution for these common objections. Houses next to trees could be built with a pillar foundation so that the roots can grow underneath the house without getting damaged or damaging the foundation of the building.

Wild Forest

The natural forest is the backbone of the whole system. It is an oasis of wilderness to allow biodiversity and natural balance.

We will introduce natural reserves all over the country in which nature can thrive without human interventions. In these places we can only be present as observers- to get inspired and learn how natural systems work and thrive.

Productive Forest

To introduce forest in a large scale in the Netherlands we need to develop a highly productive and super sustainable alternative agricultural system based on the use of trees.

Therefore I propose an alternative system to the contemporary Dutch farming culture. Introducing a system in which human, plants and animals support, rather then exploit each other. Inspired by the concept of permaculture and the ideas of a permanent agriculture by Joseph Russell Smith, we investigate in how to use native trees to produce a large amount of our food. These trees are so called crop trees, like the oak, the hazelnut and the chestnut. This trees are native in the Netherlands and therefore grow naturally in our woods.

Agroforestry is the practice of planting trees in lines on crop fields. This has several benefits such as the protection from erosion. Depending on the trees planted, the farmer also has access to new resources such as fruit, timber – which can supplement their income while other crops are growing, or even be used to directly generate energy for the farm.

A concern is that the trees’ roots will compete with those of the crops for valuable resources. But studies have shown that tree roots actually pull their energy from much deeper in the ground, meaning there’s little overlap.

Productive forest will cover a large portion of the Dutch landscape. In fact, agroforestry looks like a pretty good technique for Dutch farmers, just as it has proven to be for many others. Organised in a cell structure, this new system can produce a large amount of human and animal food. The productive forest functions in multi -layered systems where biodiversity enables strong and resilient structures which need less human intervention and allow for bigger yields. With this system we propagate a symbiotic relationship between humans plants and animals.

The Tree Crop Exploration

The plan is to set up the Tree Crop Exploration: a research platform exploring the potential of the trees. This plan is categorised in tree main chapters. First the public campaign to inform and involve people, and to create outreach to attach potential partners and collaborations.

The second stage is the experimental research. This combines scientific approaches and alternative methods to work together expressing tree potential.

With the goal to set up unconventional applications, such forward thinking test farms and a global network of collaboration supporting tradition from conventional agriculture towards holistic tree based systems.