In conventional farming, woodland is aggressively cleared so that rows and rows of the same species of plants can be planted. These are prone to pests and therefore require harsh pesticides and herbicides which kill the soil, and then in turn requires the further use of harmful chemical fertilisers. Instead of clearing the natural environment, we can restore and mimic woodland where there is an abundance of plant life that can provide us with a variety of food. This is called a food forest, or a food garden.
We live on land that was once woodland cut down by civilizations through the ages; by the Saxons, Romans, Aristocracy, Monarchy and more recently, property developers. We buy food that is shipped from all over the world and has not grown organically meaning it may give us the energy to go about our daily lives, but it does not give us the nutrients and minerals that we need to be healthy and free from illness. (For more information on this, please refer to my previous blog on nutrients in soils HERE) On top of this it is grown in areas that was once abundant with woodland. Through the production of food forests in your back garden, a community garden or on a larger scale like what we will be doing at Keela Yoga Farm, we can restore woodland. Food forests have the ability to reduce greenhouse gasses by fixing carbon back into the ground (click here for more on carbon offsetting), increase bio-diversity, increase the fertility of the soil and eventually will provide your community with food, with minimum effort. There is higher effort required in the first couple of years when starting a food forest that is very low cost, or alternatively you can hire an expert to do it. Contact us if you want to find someone to do this.
A food forest is a garden full of plants and trees of different sizes that support each other in an ecosystem, just like in your local forest. The difference is however, that these plants and trees will provide you with food. Food forests are diverse and have a mixture of tall trees for nuts, smaller trees for fruits, shrubs for berries, bushes for herbs, small plants for vegetables and even potatoes and ginger under the ground. This is what is called ‘layers of the food forest’. A forest will even have vines growing up the trees that provide grapes and other fruits.
Many trees and shrubs will take many years to establish and provide food, but once they have, they mostly require little effort to maintain and can provide you with harvest at different times of the year due to the diversity.
In nature soil is built up year after year until even old buildings are covered. That’s what gives archaeologists jobs right? But has that happened to your house, local farm, park or back garden? No! Thats because most people are fighting nature, adding chemicals and removing biomass. Let’s use nature to make our food, it’s cheaper (it is free!), it is more healthy and it is better for the planet.
A food forest can be small or large and is planted in guilds. Each tree planted will have a few other carefully selected plants next to it that will provide shade, attract bees, repel pests, attract predator insects, fix nitrogen and provide biomass for mulching which feeds the tree and prevents weeds. Over time the guild changes but most of the plants provide food. Animals like chickens, goats or pigs can be added to eat weeds and waste fruit which will instantly convert biomass into manure, providing natural fertiliser.
I first learnt about food forests when researching about how to grow food for our rooftop garden in Singapore where I tried small scale intensive container gardening for two years. Then, we jumped into the world of permaculture and studied food forestry as part of our PDC at Rak Tamachat in Thailand. When we first arrived in Portugal, we attended a food forest course with Doug Crouch from Treeyo Permaculture at Terra Alta, Sintra and have since been able to implement these skills by helping to replenish a food forest at Osho Gardens in South Portugal.
Next year we are looking for volunteers to help us implement our food forests, so please sign up to our mailing list if you are interested.
We will also have experts running courses on Natural Building and Permaculture implementation. So if you are looking to further your PDC education, or just want to get some practical experience these will be very educational and hands on. Please join our mailing list.