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What Is A Food Forest?

Food forests are surging in popularity with permaculture fans and gardeners alike. They're an excellent way to bring abundant food production to both small and large spaces.

Imagine a towering, tree-filled garden where you can harvest fresh, organic fruits and vegetables for your family and friends. A garden that is low maintenance and doesn't require any fertilizers or pesticides. A garden that recycles its own water and creates its own natural mulch.

You're imagining a food forest!

An edible food forest, or forest garden, contains clusters of plants that work together to produce an abundance of food. This unique approach to gardening is gaining popularity because it's sustainable and efficient.

This introduction to food forests is dedicated to abundance.

Forest with walking trail.

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By Definition

A food forest, by definition, is a perennial garden centered around useful trees and shrubs and planted in a way that mimics the natural patterns in a forest to aid in food production.

By consciously utilizing the system that Mother Nature has perfected, we can maximize production, and improve plant variety and quantity in the same area versus a monoculture (single species) planting.

Food forests are similar to French potager or English cottage-style gardens which combine annuals and perennials to provide fruits, vegetables, herbs, and medicinal plants. These gardens also serve to beautify by adding flowers and improve pollination by enchanting pollinators and beneficial insects.

Basket full of harvested food.

In Reality

A food forest is a diverse polyculture (multiple species) planted with much thought and consideration to give us a vibrant, productive, and somewhat self-maintaining ecosystem.

By using the forest gardening method, we as growers can reduce our inputs, increase our yields, improve variety, and attract beneficial insects and pollinators to our land by companion planting edible plants, fruit trees, nut trees, herbs, and perennial plants wherever possible.

Don't be fooled, though, these forests can provide more than just food! They provide and encourage biodiversity on our properties. Forest gardens are able to gather and store rain, capture carbon and nitrogen, and build soil.

They encourage us as humans to reconnect with nature in a way that many of us have lost in the modern era. They bring life, vibrancy, and beauty to our favorite places.

Edible forests, like real forests, are extremely resilient, and once set up, require much less work, especially if following the seven layers principle pioneered by Robert Hart.

The Seven Layer system aims to incorporate edible plants in the canopy tree layer, understory layer, shrub layer, herbaceous layer, ground cover layer, root layer, and vining layer. Don't forget the bonus layer!

7 layers of the food forest infographic.

In The Past

For thousands of years, humans have sought to bring plants under our control, once we achieved this, it led to the transition from nomadic life to a more village-style way of living. Learning to bring plants and animals under human control is likely the biggest advancement in human culture.

But our ancestors had it right. Or right-er than us! They utilized fruitful forest edges to bring abundance to their lives and improve their diets by protecting and propagating valuable plants and removing undesired plants.

Apricot tree with fruit on it.

In The Modern Era

This permaculture method is coming to temperate climates like ours, right here in North America! Information based on Robert Hart and Bill Mollison's methods is easily accessible. There are forums and groups all over the internet dedicated to food foresting!

The intensively, but thoughtfully, intercropped food forest growing method is surging in popularity with permaculture enthusiasts, home gardeners, organic growers, and people like me, who just want to improve my self-sufficiency while giving back to the planet.

Utilizing the layers of the forest and mimicking the natural systems that work is significantly better, in so so many ways, than bare rows of monoculture crops.

Asparagus sprouting from the ground.

Why Choose A Food Forest?

There are so many reasons why, and I've touched on a few of them throughout this post, such as increased yield, improved planting variety (over monoculture style plantings), and less human input in the form of weeding, annual planting, and watering even!

Choosing forest gardening is also so much better for the environment! It creates permanent homes and overwintering locations for beneficial insects and pollinators. They also don't require fertilizing, pesticides, or chemicals of any kind.

Soil health is massively improved because there is no bare soil. The ground area is always photosynthesizing and pushing nutrients into the plants AND soil. This video series by Jesse Frost at No Till Growers is such a great primer on soil health and why biodiversity matters.

So I guess my question to you is why NOT a food forest?

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