“Food forests,” also known as “forest gardens” or “edible forests,” is the shorthand for the process of cultivating ecosystems that are forest-like to produce human food. Sometimes, this may look like using an existing forest to gradually integrate edible plants. However, in the present, it’s a process of resembling forests to improve the diversity, efficiency and the sustainability of food production systems.
There are two main features of a forest for food plants: layers of plant material and different types of plants.
Plant layers mimic the verticality of forest. While gardens and farms are, as we’ve been accustomed to tend to be cultivated across the surface in long, flat plans, forests are more complex. They spread out and upwards and up, with a thick layering between the canopy and the ground that gives more life in the same space.
The abundance of life is what makes forests healthy habitats.
In the forest, processes such as pest management, fertilization control of weeds, pollination, and nitrogen fixation happen naturally. So are more ecological functions like carbon sequestration, water retention and stabilization of climateforests are the basis for making all that possible.
Layering in food forest ecosystems is essential. In essence, it’s the layers you’d need in a food forest from north to south:
Image: The Seven Layers of a Food Forest. Source: La Food Forest website.
The canopy or overstory It is the most tallest layer. It is made up of huge nut and fruit trees like pecans, chestnuts, walnuts or walnuts. This layer gets the maximum sun.
Understory smaller fruit and nut trees which can withstand shade form the understory. There are many things, such as apples or persimmons.
Vines Grapes and various climbers that tolerate shade live inside the layers of grapes, making use of understory and overstory trees to act as trellising.
Shrubs The partial shade that the layer of shrubs provides is ideal for fruiting shrubs such as elderberry, huckleberry, and currant.
Herbaceous: The layer where you’ll find herbs such as rosemary, lavender, and mint, and many other perennials bearing leaves like asparagus and rhubarb.
Groundcover The groundcover is the layer of soil, and is composed of cover crops that spread horizontally like alpine strawberry, sorrel or any other green spreaders
Rhizosphere The root crops comprise this layer and is the only part of the forest that you could find annualsin the event that sun is present.
Mycelial It is the subterranean layer of mushrooms.
Another crucial aspect of a forest for food is the plant species.
“Landscapes want to be perennial, that’s what they want to be,” says Garden City Harvest’s Greg Price. “The whole prairie landscape was perennial and that means life is in the roots.”
To cultivate and farm like we do now, Greg says, with vast expanses of open dirt is to maintain the earth in a juvenile state with dense vegetation with intricate root system that we observe in prairies and forests are constantly impeded by the process of tilling. This, Greg says, is “not the normal condition of the ground. It isn’t interested in being exposed. Ever.”