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Food Forests For A Better Future

What would your everyday life feel like if suburbia was filled with lush greenery, blossoming flowers, freely available fruits, vegetables, and herbs in your yard the local parks or even better every freely available space? A chance like that could provide so much value to not only us and our way and quality of life but also foster and actively generate a richer and more diverse ecosystem and sensory environment. An environment that is nourishing to us on all levels of our human experience.


Obviously a change of that magnitude comes with potential issues and risks. To my mind the value return that is possible far outweigh the potential risks.

There's a saying in permaculture "the problem is the solution" we have currently have incredible environmental problems. I think at the source of the problem on a systems level is a massive reduction in biodiversity. I believe if the earth was treated as human or any other animal, a measurement of total biodiversity would be akin to checking our pulse to see how our heart is doing.

I tell you what, our planet has high blood pressure. Obviously there are a lot of things that are causing this and it feels like a huge amount is out of our control. However if you own, manage or can care for a patch of soil you can make a difference. Either individually or for a more diverse and rewarding outcome working with your neighbourhoods towards a larger unified design is ideal.

This dream-like scenario is within reach through the concept of a food forest and or forest gardens. A forest garden is space that tries to incorporate as many levels of vegetation as possible into a set space.


There are 9 levels of vegetation to consider that are explored below and in the linked article as well (https://www.permaculturenews.org/2017/03/08/seven-layers-forest/).

* The overstory, which are your larger species of trees for example Walnuts, Eucalyptus, Ginkgo, Brachychiton etc.

* The middle story of trees/large shrubs like Acacia, Loquat, Banksia, Tamarillo etc.

* The shrub layer of smaller bushes like Strawberry Guava, Blackcurrants, Siberian Pea Tree, Goumi Berry, etc.

* The herbaceous layer can be either perennial or annual or species like Rosemary, Calendula, Borage, Chocolate mint, etc.

* The ground cover layer is to try and fill in the gaps (this is usually grasses job, we have more rewarding opportunities though) this could be done with White or Red Clover, Pepino, Gotu Kola, Creeping Thyme, Strawberries, etc

* The underground layer consists of tubers, roots and rhizomes. These could be Potato, Parsnip, Yacon, Jerusalem Artichoke, etc

* The climbers later are the vines that cover pergolas, fences or trees. These could or be Passionfruit, Kiwi or Kiwi Berry, Choko, Jasmine, etc


There are two more layers that can and should be considered.

* The fungal layer which can feed us and speed up the whole process by connecting and distributing vital processes. These species could be Wood Blewit, Shitake, Psilocybin, Wine Cap, etc.

* Also the aquatic layer (good article here: https://www.bigditch.com.au/a-complete-guide-to-edible-water-plants/)

This can be impossible or restricted for a lot if people but if the opportunity presents itself it can be incredibly rewarding. Since of the species could be Watercress, Cat Tails, Mint, Duck Weed etc


If done with the objective of increasing biodiversity and producing a rewarding resource for yourself or community the knock on benefits are huge! Some are as follows:


An abundance of Fresh, Nutritious Food:

One of the primary benefits of food forests is their ability to provide a diverse range of fresh, organic, and nutrient-rich food. Unlike traditional food gardens which are often primarily annual species, which require continuous tending and maintenance, food forests are self-sustaining ecosystems that mimic natural forests. Traditional gardens are limited by space, but a food forest maximises vertical and horizontal growing areas by trying to use more of the 7+ layers of a forest environment. By incorporating a variety of plants such as fruit trees, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables, food forests can offer a constant harvest throughout the year. Imagine picking juicy apples, self-seeded parsnip or tomatoes, and aromatic herbs just steps away from your home, all while reducing your grocery bills and increasing your self-sufficiency.


Environmental Sustainability:

Food forests are powerful allies in combating climate change and promoting environmental sustainability. The multi-layered vegetation of a food forest acts as a natural carbon sink, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The dense network of roots helps prevent soil erosion, retain moisture, and improve water filtration, promoting healthier ecosystems. Additionally, food forests support biodiversity by creating habitats for beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife, contributing to the overall ecological balance of the space.


Economic Benefits:

Food forests can also have economic advantages for suburban houses. By reducing dependence on commercial produce, households can significantly reduce their costs of living. Surplus produce can be shared or sold within the community, creating a local economy that supports sustainable living. Moreover, food forests enhance property values by adding beauty, ecological value, and unique selling points to suburban homes. Potential buyers are increasingly interested in properties that incorporate sustainable practices, making food forests a desirable feature for homeowners.


Improved Mental and Physical Well-being:

The act of planting and nurturing a food forest has a profound impact on mental and physical well-being. Engaging in outdoor activities, such as gardening and harvesting, promotes exercise, relaxation, and stress reduction. The beauty and tranquillity of a food forest provides a sanctuary for residents, offering a peaceful escape from the fast-paced urban lifestyle. Additionally, growing and consuming organic food promotes healthier eating habits, leading to improved nutrition and overall wellness.


Increased Resilience and Food Security:

In an era of uncertainty, creating a food forest offers a sense of self-reliance and increased food security. By diversifying food sources, you are less dependent on commercial agriculture and less affected by potential disruptions in the supply chain. With a well-designed and maintained food forest, you can have a continuous supply of fresh food even during challenging times, ensuring your family's nutritional needs are met.


Educational Opportunities:

A food forest serves as an excellent educational platform, especially for children. Engaging in the process of planning, planting, and nurturing a food forest offers hands-on learning experiences about ecological principles, sustainable practices, and the importance of local food production. It provides a space for workshops, demonstrations, and educational events, empowering the community to develop valuable skills and knowledge in gardening and environmental stewardship. Most importantly though it provides a rich and diverse space where self proposed questions arise and can be explored.


Enhanced Community Engagement:

Now, imagine the possibilities of multiple houses coming together to create a larger food forest project within a suburban neighbourhood. This collaborative effort can foster a sense of community and co-operation among neighbours. By pooling resources, knowledge, and skills, residents can establish a shared vision of sustainability and self-sufficiency. Co-creating a food forest means a larger harvest with better cross-pollination or an increased diversity of species with different uses. It also encourages social interaction, promotes teamwork, and provides a platform for education and skill sharing. This joint endeavour becomes a source of pride for the entire community and strengthens the bonds between neighbours.


Interspecies familiarity:

Larger and more diverse systems will be able to sustain a richer and more plentiful animal kingdom. With each plant species we can establish there is inevitably an animal that benefits from its proliferation. This is usually a positive feedback loop resulting in more diversity which results in a more engaging and vibrant world. A world in which our understanding, connections and familiarity of the other forms of life we share the planet with are deepened and our lives richer for it.


Of course you're under no obligation to learn about or make any changes regarding this. But to my mind the risks are high if no changes are made and the reward for making those changes are immeasurable. The best part, any change is good change. Plant 1 new species in your garden that can provide for you and you have done a great thing.


If this idea resonates with you please feel free to get in touch and we can organise a consultation with myself. There is also a brilliant permaculture designer called “Growing home permaculture” located in Woodford.

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