3 December 2020

What are food forests?

I remember the movie, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, having quite an impact on me as a kid. Lush expanses of wilderness where trees and plants all grow intertwined with each other, filling every possible space… Now, imagine everything in this forest being edible!

A forest full of plants that provide edibles like mango, star-fruit, passion fruit, ackee and jackfruits. At least, those are just some of the foods growing in our food forest. Throughout our history, we have chosen to clear forest in order to convert them to neat, monoculture rows for our food production. It turns out, however, that we can actually gain a lot more by working with nature instead of against it. Copying the structure of a natural forest ensures a better yield, maximum light exposure, and less labor requirements while supporting greater biodiversity.

A food forest is NOT:
• Rows of trees. That would be called an orchard.
• Rows of trees with some other plants underneath. They are orchards with under-plantings.
• Rows of trees with rows of other plants alternating between them. Those are orchards employing inter-cropping.

One of my art professors once told me that, "there are no lines in life." Nature does not grow large areas of one plant species (or in neat rows either!), nature prefers biodiversity, not monocultures! Diversifying species of plants creates a natural synergy that benefits each other. The plants become more resistant to pests and disease, and are more productive to the system as a whole.

In conclusion, a food forest is built to mimic a real forest except only we fill it with the food plants and trees that we want. Real forests don’t need any work, they self-maintain. Meaning that no pesticides, herbicides weeding, crop rotation, mowing or digging needed. food forests shouldn’t need any of those interventions either. They’re less work, provide more food and all natural! Why would you grow anything else?