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Food Forests Across America

For Erik Ohlsen, a Californian based Permaculture teacher and designer, 2009 is shaping up to become a year like no other.

"I run my own Permaculture contracting business and am about to launch a Food Forest campaign for 2009” he said. Erik’s dream is to encourage people to roll out a Food Forest systems across America.

“My vision is to educate communities as to the whole system benefits of food forests from, climate change to relocalization of food sources and creating oases of human settlement in our communities. To do this we will help students and interns design and install these systems.”

“We’re going to install Food Forests like a brush fire, and we can.” he says.

The start of a Food Forest. Erik is
standing in infiltrating water of a swale.
Notice green cover crop sprouting

“I have seen Geoff Lawton’s Food Forest DVD” said Erik.. “As a Permaculture and food forest designer, I just wanted to see how Geoff organizes his food forests. Honestly I was blown away by the video. The first time I watched it I actually had a hard time going to sleep because I wanted to go out into my property and start planting like crazy. I just moved into a new house and am currently designing a food forest there.

“Geoff’s video serves as a great reminder of how easy it can be to put in a food forest. He helps to take fear away from doing wrong and empowers viewers to get to work! This work is crucial for our global communities and the food forest video feels like a real catalyst for people to realize just how important and accessible this information and this strategy is.”

Erik’s desire to make a positive contribution to the planet started when he was in his teens.

“At the age of nineteen I became aware of crises going on in the world.” He said “I learned about the risks of genetically engineered seeds, mainly the Terminator seed developed by Monsanto. I got together with some friends and we decided we wanted to do something to help save the world. We started an organization to give heirloom seed gardens away to our community and abroad to build a safety net of heirloom seeds and produce food locally. We called our organization Planting Earth Activation.(PEA) We gave over one hundred suburban and urban gardens away in two years. We were pioneers of the volunteer based garden campaigns that now are sprouting up everywhere with Victory gardens and Food not Lawns etc.”

A fruiting Pink Lemon, the flesh inside
is actually pink!

Erik has been involved in Permaculture for the last 10 years.

”I just taught my 15th PDC this January in Cazadero, California” he says. “I’m a guest instructor for most of the PDCs that take place in Northern California.”

So what is Erik’s vision for a Food Forest Campaign?

“First let me share what I think the full expression of a food forest can be. Beyond the staple ingredients of a food forest; water harvest, tons of leguminous trees and plants, Fruit and nut trees, wildlife habitat, growing mulch and building soil, I also see some additional elements we can message as part of a food forest. Chickens, outdoor kitchens, greywater, gathering and celebration spaces are all elements that I think can be part of a full expression of a food forest. Combining the kitchen garden with the food forest with the social needs of humans seems like a great way to message a new aesthetic for landscapes.

Peach Poppy guild designed by Erik Ohlsen

“I believe that a key factor to halting energy decent and global warming is re-localizing community resource needs on a global scale. Food, water, social interaction, fuel, and energy, these can all be produced or managed locally. As a landscape contractor I see the aesthetic that people here in the Suburbs of US towns want. This cultural aesthetic of landscape is destructive, energy consuming, and pretty much useless. My goal is start a paradigm shift in the way that people view the aesthetics of landscapes and empower land owners to see their precious land as a functional part of their lives, a base of their resource needs and a solution to global scale issues (i.e., Climate Change, environmental destruction, etc.)

Eric’s Food Forest developing in it’s first year

“Once our campaign is underway and we are able to generate funding, we will stack an intern training element. The goal here is to train as many permaculturists as possible to be confidant designers and installers of these systems. As we change the community aesthetic, the market for food forests should begin to reach larger and larger scales. For this we will need many experienced Permaculturists to take on these projects. One part of this goal is to help the Permaculture movement get out of the cycle of always offering advanced training to inspired students that cost a lot of money. We want to be able to offer affordable training to people and eventually paid jobs. We need to get the PC movement out of the money rut and help provide right livelihood for those that want to make a career out of Permaculture. This point is very important to me and I am working on a couple other projects we are calling The Permaculture Skills Center and The Permaculture Business Alliance to also provide for this need in the community. Those projects will also help launch and supplement the Food Forest Campaign although the campaign will begin through my business Permaculture Artisans.

“Along with all of this is transitioning rural farms and orchards to more diverse and perennial food forest systems. This is already happening as part of my business and we will push for more and more of this in our campaign.”

A growing system

But how would one launch a campaign like this with limited funds?

“On the whole we will go wherever the funding takes us" says Erik. “Funding is the limiting factor. We are poised to plant food forests as many and as fast as we can with good design and lasting installations.”

“I have students practically knocking down my door to want to work with Permaculture Artisans. I’d like to give everyone a job planting food forests if I can. I now have a small group of highly trained installers that can train others when the money is there to bring more on.”

So what sort of skills is Erik looking for?

“At First I think I will need an admin and marketing team that can do some start-up work on a volunteer basis. Maybe 6-8 volunteers, 4 with good computer skills, 4 with good people organizing and Permaculture design skills.”

"It would also be great to have a couple of experienced fundraisers since the more money we can raise the more we can install food forests in communities that desperately need them and the more we can train new installers.”

Erik’s other dream is to take over vacant city lots, and transition public parks to food forest systems that provide a plethora of resources for local communities and wildlife.

“I have no doubt we will get there as the realities of re-localization campaigns and energy decent kicks in” he says.

If you can help or need to know more about the Food Forest Campaign contact Erik Ohlsen directly erik (at) or phone USA 707-332-8100.
Or visit



  1. You totally *ROCK*, Eric! I was in last fall’s OAEC PDC and got to see your work up close. I bet Raintree & OGW love you! I got to see so many trees and shrubs I’d only read about. I’ve got a backyard Food Forest started near Mt. Shasta, and am spreading the gospel, too. I’m sure the help you need will manifest. GO for it!

  2. I wish I would have spotted this post sooner. I live in the Midwest US and also have Geoff Lawton’s DVD. I’m not a certified designer; however, I am designing and planting a food forest on my property and plan on becoming certified so I can help plant food forests all over as well.

  3. Like Jacob, I am also in the midwest and am excited to see this. I’ve started a food forest and larger permaculture design on a 100 acre site near Fredericktown Missouri. So far we’ve built an outhouse for humanure composting, live-in cabin, chicken coop and connected greenhouse, kitchen garden, and food forests. We’ve got one full time resident (me) and five more as of this summer. A great campaign you’ve gotten started here! I also purchased the food forest dvd and was similarly inspired.

  4. We are a Native American Traditional Organization with membership all over the NA Continent and in five foreign countries. One of our missions is to heal people and the planet together. We are building a food forest on our twenty acres in Southern Missouri and plan to teach the food forest principles to all of our members. We have saw-dust toilet with composting center finished, along with our first Cob House, Chicken House, dug well and first swales and berms going in around our Farmer Trees. Plans include greenhouse, nursery, forty Farmer Trees and visitor trails through the forest. We cannot heal ourselves without due consideration for the health of the environment. Food Forests are the answer!

  5. You are living the dream. I can’t wait to be apart of the movement of growing food forests all over the world.

  6. Is it possible to take a full permaculture course somewhere in the Midwest? I would like to know how one would go about setting up a food forest in a cool temperate climate such as that of the Northern US. I thought it would make for an interesting challenge ^-^

    I find the principles behind the food forest to be deeply intriguing. The subtropical settings shown in the “Establishing a Food Forest” DVD could be extrapolated to South Florida conditions (USDA Hardiness Zone 10B) IMO. Even with all this karst one can perform miracles.

  7. It is 2010, Sept and I just found you. I have been building my food forest for the last nine years in the deep south, I have done it on a shoe string , by my self. All I have learned has been from reading and applying. I can finally feed myself almost 90 percent from what I grow. There is very little interest in the community for permaculture. It is big farm factory business country. I get very lonely for likeminded people but nonetheless my forest flourishes and in the right light I feel like I’m in paradise. Someday my adult children will join me and their inheritance will carry them to the future. thank you

  8. This is wonderful, love the campaign for building food forests where you can. I’m planning a YouTube channel for my own journey of starting a food forest and how I was lead to this mentality. This gives me a lot of insight on my own focus in this community and broadcasting ideas for food forests to get people more excited and prepared for this lifestyle change. I’m totally broke and still have two more years to finish my horticulture degree, but after then I could finally afford property in this market!

    Thank you very much

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