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Why Food Forests?

Image source: Permaculture a Beginner’s Guide, by Graham Burnett

We’re all familiar with the concept of forests — lush, abundant expanses of pristine wilderness, teeming with life, a richness of biodiversity and awe-inspiring to behold. Trees and plants intertwined, filling every possible space, the very well-spring of life itself!

Forests exist fine on their own. There’s no mowing, weeding, spraying, or digging required. No pesticides, fertilisers, herbicides or nasty chemicals. No work and no people either. They somehow do very well, thank you.

Now, imagine if everything in this lush, abundant, spectacular forest was edible!

If you can imagine what this would look like, if you can picture this in your mind’s eye, then you’re not far from the mark of what a food forest is like in real life.

By understanding how forests grow and sustain themselves without human intervention, we can learn from Nature, copy the systems and patterns to model our own forests — ones filled with trees and plants that produce food we can eat. We can design and construct the most sustainable food production systems possible; perfected, refined and cared for by Mother Nature herself.

If this concept brings up any doubts or scepticism for you as to whether this is something that works in real life, let me reassure you that food forests are a proven concept. Yes, they’re up and running around the world, and they even work in urban areas. I should know, I design and build them!

So, you’re probably wondering how it all works, what the benefits are, whether it’s more productive or cost effective than regular commercial agricultural systems, and so on. Well, we’ll address all these questions and more as we explore the case for food forests in this article, so I welcome you to read on!

Why Forests?

It’s either this…

Or this…. The difference is obvious!

 The difference is – LIFE!

Forests are life

  • Forests are home to approximately 50-90% of all the world’s terrestrial (land-living) biodiversity — including the pollinators and wild relatives of many agricultural crops (Source: WWF Living Planet Report 2010)
  • Tropical forests alone are estimated to contain between 10-50 million species – over 50% of species on the planet.
  • Rainforests cover 2% of the Earth’s surface and 6% of its land mass, yet they are home to over half of the world’s plant and animal species.

From these basic facts, it should be evident that forests themselves are synonymous with life, biodiversity and fertility. Where life gathers, complex and mutually beneficial relationships are created between organisms; natural harmonious communities form, and life forms multiply and proliferate.

If forests are where most of the life on the planet is, then anything less than a forest is most likely less suited to supporting life. Life supports life, yet we have forgotten that we are in fact part of the web of life itself, and depend on other life to sustain ours.

Humans tear down forests to create ‘fields’. The word derives from the idea that everything in the area has been ‘felled’ – that is cut down and cleared. In these cleared areas we build cities and farms. How much life and biodiversity do you see in your surroundings day to day compared to what exists in a forest? The answer should be self-evident, and the concept that ‘forests are life’ axiomatic.

Forest facts

  • Nature has been growing plants for 460 million years, and trees for 370 million years — Modern humans first appear in the fossil record in Africa about 195,000 years ago.
  • Trees once covered nearly all of Earth’s land mass, today they cover about 3.9 billion hectares or just over 9.6 billion acres, which is only about 29.6% of Earth’s total land area.
  • Today, there are only three great forests left on Earth: the Amazon Forest of Brazil, and the boreal forests in Russia and Canada.

Trees have been around for much longer than humanity. All the oil and coal we are burning away at a frantic rate was formed from the decomposed remain of ancient forests, millions of years old, which is why they’re called fossil fuels!

We are relative newcomers on this planet, yet we think from the perspective of a single lifetime, and so often from a much shorter time span. Forest have formed a balanced ecosystem that spanned the length and breadth of the planet long before humanity appeared, but now forests are in a pitiful state. What we seem to forget is that these forests were responsible for nursing and rearing all life on this planet at one point or another, and still function as the planet’s life support system.

Forests are the perfect design

  • With 460 million years experience, and a 9.6 billion acre garden, Mother Nature has refined the way to grow self sustaining gardens better than anyone! No weeding, spraying or watering!!!
  • Nature has supported, fed, clothed and sheltered humanity for 95% of its existence – agriculture only first emerged 10,000 years ago.
  • It stands that Nature is obviously the best (and only!) model available for us to imitate for growing gardens.

Here is where some real perspective can radically change our view of the world and our sense of place in it.

In our day to day lives, when we want to learn how to do something, we usually (hopefully!) intend to do whatever it is that we want to do well! That is, with a degree of competency, efficiency and effectiveness. We may even strive towards mastery, chasing the elusive goal of perfection.

This seems to be the case whether we are learning to play a sport, take up a new hobby, or starting a serious enterprise. Obviously, the best place to start is to see if someone has already done what we’re trying to do, and then we look to the best to learn from. We look for people to model ourselves on – Exemplars. By definition, an exemplar is a model or pattern to be copied or imitated. If we’re learning to play a sport, we naturally won’t want to model amateurish or incompetent people. Instead, we choose to imitate the champions in the area. So, what makes them champions? Their scale and quality of their successes, their experience, and their credentials.

So what if that enterprise we were undertaking was that of growing food?

Think of the best gardener you know, how much skill, experience and success do they have under their belt? What system of growing plants have they devised,  and how sustainable are these systems? Are they energy intensive or energy neutral?

Now, lets reflect back to Mother Nature herself, hundreds of millions of years of growing every plant in existence, thriving without human intervention (without human existence for the greatest part), without any inputs of energy other than those supplied by natural systems — truly an exemplar to model.

What do we do then as a people? The most illogical thing imaginable, of course! We try to reinvent the wheel. But not only do we try to do the absurd and match nature, we delude ourselves that we can better nature in our insignificantly short lives, in our insignificantly short industrialised society, in its insignificantly short trial period where we are yet to determine whether this path taken by human society is even a viable one!

Humans in modern societies have the misconception that nature has to be fought, conquered and controlled. That’s a far cry from the ancient or more ‘primitive’ societies who see the Earth as their Mother. An interesting point to reflect on.

Why Food Forests?

Improve on Nature???  If this is an improvement on a forest for sustaining life, I think we’re in trouble….

Can we do better?

Here are some of the consequences of out inept attempts to ‘better’ nature (see pictures below). Modern agriculture creates unbalanced monocultures that are preserved through relentless chemical warfare. Not only are we doing a terrible job of it, but we’re poisoning Nature and ourselves in the process.


  • Somewhere between 8500 and 7000 BC, humans in the Fertile Crescent in Middle East began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals – a system we call Agriculture.
  • Surely we can do better than bare field row-planted monocultures after 10,000 years of practising agriculture?

Nature is referred to as ‘Mother Nature’ for a reason, it’s what mothered us; that is fed, clothed and sheltered us for most of our relatively short existence on this planet. Perspective can be a threatening thing to our slumbering minds! Somewhere along the line, we lost our reverence for Nature, our belief in the connection to all living things, and our sense of harmony with our surroundings. We discarded those ‘primitive’ beliefs because we gained ‘progress’. We had our supposed ‘Age of Enlightenment’, religiously followed the cult of rationalism where we swapped our reverence for Nature with a misplaced reverence for the human mind, and while we lay prostrated at the altar of human reasoning, we lost our place in the world. Regrettably, since we became convinced that nothing existed that was higher than the human mind, our arrogant thinking led us to believe that ‘our place’ was above Nature. Being in such an exalted place meant we ruled Nature, and if it disobeyed, we would beat it into submission.

We may laugh at the true story of the Roman Emperor Caligula had declared himself a god and had the sea whipped with chains for its disobedience, but how different is modern humanity’s approach to Nature – as something to be fought, conquered and controlled. The same brutal wars we wage on each other, with the same deadly weapons, we do to Nature also. We wage chemical and biological warfare on Nature and her creatures, and while it appears to be the most futile, pointless and destructive of wars, we persist even to our own detriment. Such is our short-sightedness as a species. With this anthropocentric perspective, where everything revolves around mankind, no good can come of this.

Humanity is collectively guilty of trying to twist and deform the facts about how nature works to fit into what are predominantly closed minds filled with ill-founded beliefs.

These distorted beliefs are very real. Biotechnologists firmly believe that humanity’s ‘salvation’ lies in them ‘engineering’ staple crops through genetic modification to provide all our needs and save humanity from starvation. This form of messianic thinking is seriously deluded, and their corporate overlords couldn’t care less  other than from the profits these patented life forms could potentially generate. Call me critical, but these claims are not scientific, and as a person with qualifications in the sciences, I frankly find these claims offensive, for they are simply ‘faith based statements’ without any evidence to support the veracity of such claims, masquerading as science.

Meanwhile, traditional agricultural practices are destroying large tracts of land through soil erosion, salinity, overuse of chemical fertilisers, destruction of supporting ecosystems (that bring rain for example). If one takes off the ideological blinkers, and steps outside of the context of our current age and society, it is glaringly obvious we’re heading for a dead-end and quickly gaining speed, hastening an ominous conclusion.

Just to add a bit more perspective to the picture about how lost humanity is, I have heard academics arguing against the ‘green movement’, raising the preposterous argument that “nature (and therefore life) has no value above its usefulness to humanity” – need I say more….

Now, if anyone thinks our current path is “improving on nature”, and has placed their faith in this process, I seriously urge them to critically examine their world view. If you can see that things aren’t quite right, but want to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem, then read on!

There is a better way!

  • Why reinvent the wheel when a better one already exists, look to Nature!
  • We can design and build natural ecosystems full of life, that look after themselves, just like a forest — but which contain plants of our choosing.
  • The design system of Permaculture looks at natural systems and patterns, and emulates them to design food production systems and human settlements that integrate harmoniously with Nature.

 Why dig like this?

 When the experts are available….

How Nature grows plants

We look at Nature’s system, and we copy them, so nature does our work for us, just like using earthworms to dig! That’s the spirit of Permaculture. No need for hard work

Nature grows in a highly optimised pattern, utilising multiple layers and making the most of both horizontal and vertical space.

A food forest typically is comprised of seven layers, the uppermost layer being the canopy layer. The canopy layer is comprised of tall trees — typically large fruit and nut trees. Between the tall canopy layer trees, there is a layer of low growing, typically dwarf fruit trees. Mind you, a dwarf fruit tree can be up to 4m (12’) tall, so don’t think these are necessarily very low trees! Nestled between all the small trees are the shrubs – which are well represented by currants and berries. Filling the remaining space are the herbaceous layer, these are the culinary and medicinal herbs, companion plants, bee-forage plants and poultry forage plants. Any remaining space is occupied by ground cover plants. These form a living mulch that protects the soil, reduces water loss to evaporation, and prevents weeds growing. We can still go a level deeper to the rhizosphere, or root zone, the underground level which is occupied by all our root crops, such as potatoes, carrots, ginger, yacon, etc. While that might seem like a lot of plants in one space, we still have one more to fill, the upright vertical space. This is filled by climbers and vines, which can be run up trellises, arbours, fences, trees or any other vertical support. This category includes grapes, climbing beans, many berries, passionfruit, kiwi fruit, climbing peas, chokos and many other species that love to climb.

Now there are a lot of misconceptions about what a food forest actually is that I would like to clear up.

  • Rows of trees are not food forests. They are instead what is described as an orchard.
  • Rows of trees with some other plant underneath are not food forests,  they are orchards with under-plantings.
  • Rows of trees with rows of other plants alternating between them are not  food forests, they are orchards employing intercropping.

A food forest my not necessarily have all seven layers, but it does have multiple layers, and even more importantly, it is a virtually self-sustaining living ecosystem.

In terms of form, the very thing that differentiates it from a two dimensional field of lettuce or any other monoculture is that it is a three dimensional structure.

In terms of function, being a living ecosystem gives it properties and attributes that are not present in agricultural systems and many gardens.

The benefits to be realised from food forests are as follows:

High Productivity

  • High density planting ensures high yields.
  • Biodiversity ensures continuous food supply throughout the year.

Natural Mulch, Compost & Fertilizer

  • Just like a forest, food forests are self-mulching and cover the soil on their own to retain moisture.
  • With such a high plant density, a high volume of fallen leaves accumulates and rots down to add organic matter to the soil.
  • Decomposers, the class of insects that break down organic matter, such as earthworms, wood lice (pill bugs, slaters), and  millipedes, work to help the natural composting process.

Natural Pest Control

  • No chemicals required! Food forests use natural predators to get rid of pests – letting the experts do the work, naturally.
  • Predatory insects have a permanent home (a natural ecosystem) and abundant food sources (nectar rich flowers) in a food forest. Provide these and they will come on their own! A regular veggie patch is a home only for pest insects, there’s nowhere for good bugs to live!
  • An abundant, living ecosystem will attract birds and other larger predators, further contributing to natural pest control.

Resilience Through Biodiversity – Strength in Numbers

  • Nature does not grow large areas of one plant species (or plants in neat rows either!), Nature prefers biodiversity, not monocultures! Mixing different types of plant together makes them grow better, period. It creates a natural synergy that benefits all the plants involved. The plants as a result are more resistant to pests and disease, and are more productive (and nicer to look at!).
  • The use of Companion planting allow us to recreate nature’s biodiversity to gain these benefits

Easy Soil Repair – Chop n’ Drop

  • In Nature, when plants die off, they stay in place. They’re not uprooted and binned! Don’t uproot annuals that have finished, cut the stem at soil level. The roots rot away to create thousands of intricate air and water channels in the soil. The tops of the chopped plants create a natural sheet compost system like the forest floor
  • Preserve your soil, build paths. Don’t step in your garden beds, the soil is alive!!! (It’s actually a more complex ecosystem than anything that exists above ground). Stepping in your garden beds compacts the soil, closing all the air and water channels, making it harder for water and air to reach plant roots, which impairs the growth of plants.

Putting it all together…

A Food Forest is built to emulate a real forest — only we fill it with the food plants and trees that we want.

Real forests don’t need any work, they self-maintain — no pesticides, herbicides, weeding, crop rotation, mowing or digging. Food forests don’t need any of this either! Less work, more food, all natural! Why would you do anything else?

In conclusion, if we look beyond our modernised culture to Nature’s most advanced and life-abundant plant growing systems, it is clearly evident that working with Nature is the wisest and most productive path to sustainable food production.


  1. I would say that every human on earth should have access to a food forest, food forests are a VERY important part of human biophilia, as we were evolved as hunter-gatherers. A human being that doesn’t have access to a food forest is hindered from being a full human being, the contact with the human origin is cut off, the roots back to ancient Africa are missing. Simply, access to a food forest in your neighborhood is a fundamental part of human life, to experience our human-gatherer origin. To feel the soul and spirit of our forefathers!

    Read Jarred Diamonds article; The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race:

  2. -I agree with the thrust of this article but would caution would be designers of food forests in Temperate climates to think long and hard about how they design such a forest. Here in Auckland New Zealand we have one demonstration food forest which through poor design has hardly produced a yield after ten years. Food forests are an amazing idea and I absolutely love working in them but as with all Permaculture the design must be site and climate specific.

    1. Hi, I’m located on Auckland’s north shore and looking for someone who can help us design a food forest for our property. I see that you are in Auckland John, would you be interested do know or can recommend someone?

      1. Hey, i know this is a long time after you posted your comment, but try James Samuel for a recommendation in your area. If he can’t help you, he is sure to know someone who can :)

        1. Hello, I know it’s an even longer time after you posted your comment, but try to contact the Cruytons in Southern NZ. Seems they’ve started a functioning System in Riverton. :-)

  3. This cheerleading for food forests can get some people interested, such as myself, but if you want to really get the attention of the people who can make things happen I think you need to use words like yield, inputs, wage, dollars, marketing, nutrition, efficiency, labor, return on investment, etc.

    I’m very interested in “food forests,” but after working to establish one and seeing quite a few unadvertised pitfalls, I have more questions than answers about the universal applicability of this idea.

    And to say that the choice is between forest or desert is ridiculous. There are many ecological and agronomic options between them and many are probably far more productive in various particular situations.

  4. Hi JBob,

    I’m a food forest advocate for a reason, it works! Lowest labour, highest yields, one of Nature’s most efficient food production system (other than aquaculture – which produces fish and aquatic plants, not trees and terrestrial edible plants!), greatest return on investment (you can build one for zero dollars).

    Re-read my history of forests and humanity in the article – there’s nothing special about the very, very short history of the western world’s short experiment called ‘industrialised society’, other than our disconnection from Nature, our increasingly destructive ‘Earth pillaging’ practices, our arrogance and smug superiority (we don’t know our place in this ecological system we call planet Earth), and overpopulation – all of which work against us…

    The article is a reasoned rationale of why we would choose to build food forests over other systems, it’s not cheerleading, it’s all spelled out in there.

    Not sure what kinds of ‘food forests’ you’ve worked on, looking around the Internet, many people wrongly classify orchards, or underplanted orchards, as food forests, and this is incorrect. If it’s a living ecosystem, it will have all the life in it – plants, insects, birds, etc. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t a living ecosystem.

    I’ve built a few food forests now, and I haven’t encountered any ‘unadvertised pitfalls’, so if you would care to share you’re experience, I’m sure we’d a;; like to hear what you have to say.

    If we have an optimum model in Nature for growing trees and vegetation, why would you use a lesser system? If it’s not a living ecosystem, then it’s devoid of life, it’s literally an ecological desert.

    Modern agriculture, which creates large expanses of bare dirt, devoid of all lfe, what are these abominations other than artificially created deserts? If I gave you a pristine forest, and asked you to turn it into a desert, wouldn’t you do exactly what farmers do with their land?

    These ecological voids are then planted up with a monoculture of one annual vegetable, chemically fertilized and artificially irrigated. Nothing like ‘dustbowl irrigation’ – expending huge quantities of water irrigating wide open expanses of windswept dry soil with no organic matter, with widely spaced plants to eliminate any microclimate, best way to maximise evaporation! Then comes harvest time, in come the tractors, tonnes of diesel burning machinery, compacting the soil and creating hardpan, atripping off the artificially maintained vegetation away back to bare soil, returning it to a desert.

    What does Nature try to do with bare soil? Turn it back into a forest of course. If you look up the concept of ecological succession, more particularly forest succession, you’ll see this is scientific fact. You can swim with the current and assist Nature to build a climax forest faster, or you can struggle pointlessly and expend huge anounts of energy trying to revert ’emerging forests’ back to bare soil!

    Yes, nature will rescue the bare dirt (farm?)by filling the space with pioneer plants (weeds) to stop erosion and recreate life in the distrurbed area. Modern agriculture’s response is to bring out the chemical weapons and poison what’s left of the ecosystem with herbicides, which will create a lethal cocktail with the pesticises they were spraying there beforehand. Couple that with the soil damaged from overuse of phosphate fertilizer – I can go on, hope you get the picture…

    JBob, clearly the only choice IS between sustainable, highly productive, natural systems, or deserts, because the latter is all that is being left behind after the land is subjected to the destructive modern agricultural practises, and that’s not my opinion, that’s a fact. If we keep up our destructive practices, it will all become desert, so it’s time to turn the tide and start repairing the planet. The best way to do that is with forests! And what better solution that forests that provide us with food in the process.

  5. A food forest can be profitable, monetarily as well as nutritionally and aesthetically. I do not see anything wrong with selling part of the surplus produced by a food forest. Even the most faithful permaculturists require money from time to time. The problem begins when people have to depend on money for everything and this is one key characteristic of our current global society. Growing one’s own food can help reduce the dependence on money to satisfy the need for food and the techniques taught in permaculture can be useful in this regard.

    I believe that once food forests and improved standard of living are proven to be inextricably linked, those who have the means to set up a food forest will at least want to try it out. At the very least it will serve as one way in which individuals and communities can take responsibility for supplying the food needs.

  6. Wow! Thank you for this amazingly informative article. Will definitle use this going forward with permaculture here at Ebony Acres, Killarney Valley, KZN, SA!

  7. Yes Arian, I fully agree that a food forests should not be for profit, but for community. I believe many parks should have been re-designed into food forests, giving the park a multilayered function.

    Having a community food forests is much better than a community garden, because if you don’t have time to maintain a food forest one year or some, it will just take care of itself. Further you can also make small vegetable gardens in a food forest, so small that when you quit it the forest will soon reclaim it.

    It’s also important to remember that food forests are not just for humans, but for birds, butterflies, fish, deer etc., putting in favorable plants for all kind of species. This making the experience greater, and making it a real hunter/gatherer food forests.

    1. Holmstad, I feel I must respond to your statement that food forests should not be used for profit. That sounds like the point of view of someone who lives in a western society where the idea of permaculture and “food forests” is the pursuit of mainly people who have jobs that pay for the rest of their expenses in life and the permaculture just provides some or maybe even a large part of their food necessities. Try telling that to small scale farmers in third world countries who rely on their 5 acre or less plot of land for ALL their income. Income to feed and clothe and educate their children, medical needs, transportation etc. And then add climate change and uncertainty of production to the mix of things this kind of family has to deal with. I am originally from Kenya now living in the US and wanting to make a transition back to a simpler way of life. I know that my grandparents only had their plots of land from which to provide for their families. My parents had jobs but still held on to some agricultural land. If permaculture is to spread fast enough to make a real difference in the future of our planet, it needs to be developed and taught in a way that even small scale farmers can provide food for their families AND be able to have a surplus to put on the market to provide cash for their other necessities. And I’m not talking luxurious living either. I think it is safe to assume that most of the people involved in permaculture have other sources of income that allow them to experience other aspects of modern culture and society. They can have technological “toys” and take advantage of mobility to get to know other parts of the world and their own countries. I know for sure that my grandparents all died without ever having seen the ocean with their own eyes. And Kenya has gorgeous beaches which are visited by tourists from all over the world! And there are still many people like my grandparents living in Kenya today. If you think the west was hit hard by the recent economic crisis, think about what it life is like for small scale farmers in “third world” countries. Hundreds of thousands of young people who have no jobs would probably turn to agriculture and permaculture if they new they could at least make some money from it.

  8. Here follow the lists of the species they have used at the food forest at Holma Gård in Høør in Southern Sweden, close to Malmø:

    The food forest at Holma Gård is open for everybody to visit:


    Esbjörn Wandt per e -post ,telefon 046-20 01 09, mobil 0734-44 80 28 eller per brev till: Esbjörn Wandt, Sandbyvägen 164, 247 54 Dalby.

  9. Hey Angelo – I really enjoyed your article. Top work.

    Hi John – I’m in a cooler climate than you with poorer soils. I’m interested in what was the specific design problem that caused a food forest to produce no output in 10 years. How is that even possible? The reason I ask is because over my way, even the most dodgy, uncared for, by the side of the road seedling apple tree will produce output within a decade. What could they possibly have done wrong, there’s got to be a lesson in there for all of us?

    Hi JBob – Again, your comments veer into the negative. Given that you have access here to a whole lot of people who have their own, or are involved in others, or the design of others food forests, why don’t you state what your unadvertised pitfalls are? We are here to help you. It could be something site specific, or something that someone else has seen and can advise you. A strong person always knows when to ask for help. If you can’t ask for help, then stop whingeing.



  10. Angelo I’m very interested in this idea as I soon hope to start planting out our land with a variety of fruits, nuts, herbs, veggies, fodder plants, etc. One concern I have with the food forest idea is yield with the possums and cockies also looking for a feed and no doubt loving the new paradise I’ve just created for them. Having trees in rows obviously makes netting easier so I’m curious as to what design solutions you have come up with.

  11. Thanks Chris!

    Agree with your comments, I’m in a cool temperate climate, and my 3 year old food forest was producing in it’s first year. Mind you, I took a year to ‘build the soil’ first, as the soil was in a very poor state.

    Hi John,

    A food forest embodies the application of all the Permaculture principles. I set about designing a ‘garden’ which embodies as many Permaculture design principles as possible, and inevitably ended up designing a food forest. With a design that incorporates possibly all the design principles, the underlying requirement is that the designer:

    a. understands design principles, and
    b. Knows how to apply the design principles in a practical sense.

    With the example you state, you’ve shown a classic example of what Bill Mollison terms a “type 1” design error. To quote Bill Mollison:

    One of the great rules of design is do something basic right. Then everything gets much more right of itself. But if you do something basic wrong – if you make what I call a Type 1 Error – you can get nothing else right.

    Source: Permaculture,Design For Living – an Interview with Bill Mollison, by Alan AtKisson

    Designing and building a food forest is not that hard if you get the basics right, and have a reasonable level of plant knowledge to know what you’re doing.

    By creating sound designs, building working demonstration food forests, and teaching design fundamentals, we as permaculturists can offer the world a more viable model for food production.

  12. I have seen a food forest in cold Canada, I have seen the food forests in the South Pacific, by people who call it gardening. It works. I do believe what you give you will receive. A food forest is not an experiment to be judged, it is the call of Nature. Gaia thanks you for your gift. The food forest is a dynamic play of creation with man and Nature.

  13. Good stuff. But the reference to fossil fuel is outdated; that petroleum is composed of fossil remains was but a theory promulgated long ago by an educated guesser and spread as though it were proven. (Much like the Hundredth Monkey scenario). Studies by Russian geologists (and others) demonstrate that petroleum is actually created deep below the Earth by geologic processes that entail enormous temperatures and pressures, and is slowly pushed to the surface. Technically that makes it renewable, but its downside wins (or loses) the day. This doesn’t doesn’t negate your central theses, but its good to be up-to-date, n’est ce pas?

  14. I have to say that the idea that all landscapes with bare soil will return to forest by nature given enough time is false. Roughly 2/3 of the worlds land mass are brittle environments that will turn to desert and stay as a desert unless there are properly managed animals grazing across them. Therefore perennial pastures are a much more suitable system than food forests for most of the planet. Food Forests are great, but they are far more work on a large scale than pastures are. It does take a lot of work to get a Food Forest established, but there is nothing wrong with some hard work either. It is more constructive to embrace a range of solutions rather than to promote just one for the whole world and every climate within it. Meat production in a food forest is a concept you don’t hear much about and I would love to see what is being done in this area

  15. What is the starting point for creating a food forest? I think you should start with what does a person need to feed itself (with family) for a day, a week, the rest of his/her life to reach optimal health and go from there. From my point of view I think ideally it should provide 100% of the nutritional needs indefinitely. Is that possible? Are there live examples that were established fairly recently? Show me. If it is not possible why not? Personally I would like to find/connect to one or more examples in Latin America so that I can learn how it is done and learn how to develop my own. I must disclose that I am vegan.

    1. I too am looking for viable examples in Latin America, specifically the central mountain region of Mexico, to connect with and share ideas.

  16. This is a well-written article that serves as a great food forest primer; digging into it I realize I disagree with one thing about it. It is overly simplistic to learn permaculture and think food forests are the best solution to our food production problems. I would encourage anyone that finds themselves there to dig deeper. Permaculture is about design, and design requires one to consider all facets of a situation to make the best decision. On a parched hilltop piece of eastern Colorado prairie (and in many other cases) it is highly unlikely you will arrive at the solution of developing a food forest. I love a food forest as much as any other, I develop multiple every year, but to suggest they are the best solution implies they are appropriate everywhere. Fundamentally, I disagree with that kind of thinking. Besides that this is a great article. My only suggestion is to tone down the sales pitch a bit so readers aren’t encouraged to impose design solutions, but instead to make informed solutions through observation and site analysis.

  17. Well said Evan and I think you were a little harsh Chris. There is certainly not a clear choice between deserts and lush forest and this is well stated by Evan. I have yet to see a well established and productive food forest but I understand there are a couple of excellent examples established in Brazil. Tagari in NNSW has, from what I saw on a visit there, a good productive and rampant system and there is also, I am told, one good example in SA. Apart from that the systems as described by Angelo sound to be a more academic treatise as opposed to a description of a practical example. Forests in whatever form should probably be regenerative, a word that is well and appropriately used by Darren Doherty in his RegenAg organisation rather than sustainable. This word is over used, poorly understood and frankly, probably past its use-by date

  18. For those who asked for them, here are some unadvertised pitfalls I’ve encountered in my subtropical semi-arid, irrigated “food forest.” I’m not saying any or all of these are insurmountable, but they all add up to make pasture/rangeland meat production FAR easier than food forestry in my opinion.

    Diseases: Three year old loquat died of fireblight, I think. Some kind of persistent leaf spot necrosis on chinese jujubes. Panama disease or some similar leaf disease killed bananas. Not really a disease, but the indian jujube grew beautifully for 3 years until it suddenly split to the ground – now a 3″ stump that might hopefully regrow. Citrus greening disease will almost certainly wipe out all citrus in the area in the near future. Threat of laurel wilt disease spreading to this area makes avocado planting a very poor risk.

    Pests: Leaf-footed bug feeding will cause 100% loss of otherwise bountiful pomegranate crop. Same bugs also eat quite a few mulberries. Possums eat every single fig as they ripen unless continuously trapped and killed. Birds pecking on citrus causes about %10-25 fruit drop. Pill bugs in mulch make direct seeding impossible for many crops.

    Weather: Unusually cold or late winters set back marginally adapted tree species by years, compared to grassland that will bounce back within weeks. High water table floods land during tropical storms/heavy rain. Peaches are especially susceptible to waterlogging and several have died teaching me that lesson.

    Cultural: Pot-grown trees often have root-bound or deformed roots that cause problems only months or years after planting. Keeping perennial rhizomatous weeds (Cynodon) out of new forests takes a lot of labor.

    I’m not giving up, and I think it will eventually all pay off, but I would not tell anybody it’s “easy.”

  19. Hi Dan,

    Bill Mollison was right about how much you learn from observation. When working out how to build urban food forests, I incorporated the technique of Backyard Orchard Culture, which restricts the height of trees to how high you can reach with a pair of secateurs to prune the tops. I keep them a bit higher than that, but not much more.

    With around 35 fruit trees, and dozens of berries packed into a standard sized inner city block, losses to animals were almost non-existent – with no netting. We have possums, flying fox fruit bats, and lots of birds, including rainbow lorikeets in the area.

    These critters would attack the neighbours single fruit trees, but wouldn’t come into a backyard full of fruit trees. I finally worked out why – security! No animal or bird feels secure in a tree so low that you could reach them by hand, they feel too vulnerable, it’s not worth the risk, so they search out for taller trees that they feel safe in.

    Remember, in any ecosystem, there is a food chain amongst the fauna, and small predators have their niche in the overall order of things. We create systems and we omit a component that occurs naturally as part of the harmonious balance. How many animals occupy the niche of small predators in most gardens? Usually none, so the systems run out of balance, and the ‘problem’ fauna becomes a problem. I have three domestic cats, well fed, so they don’t harm the local fauna, but they act as a deterrent.

    No bird will risk landing on the ground to eat strawberries, but they can gorge themselves on the higher branches of the mulberry tree, and the canes of my bramble-berries, which I intentionally grow along the top of the fence, to feed the birds. This way everyone’s happy. Fruit bats cant take off easily from low fruit trees, so they avoid them. Possums are about the same size as cats, and respect each others territory, so the possums occupy the front yard area, above the ground only, but don’t eat anything, they respect that another smll animal has claimed the territory below them and avoid it.

    It operates just like a real forest setting, where all the ecological niches are filled and everything is kept in balance.

    Mind you, it’s not always 100%, I lost 6 apples to half a dozen cheeky rainbow lorikeets (small parrots)who performed their playful antics and acrobatics two meters away from myselff and two cats. They add so much joy and colour, and are amusing to watch, so I didn’t chase them away, I let them have an apple each and photographed them instead!

  20. Randje, fossil fuels are renewable??? Not sure about that, the carbon comes from somewhere, remember, life forms on this planet are carbon based. If petroleum isn’t formed from old forests, its news to me! I’ll considere myself corrected if I see some references to solid rersearch. Thanks for the positive comments regarding the general gist of the article!

  21. Evan, yes that’s correct, all ecosystems have the capacity to self-repair and regenerate following a disturbace, up to a acertain point, beyond that, as you mention, they revert to deserts. That’s why we have the responsibility to play a part to tip the balance back in the favor of Nature!

    I honestly don’t understand your comments about grazing animals on pastures for food production. Overgrazing is the fastest way to turn a pasture into desert, and grazing prevents the growth of shrubs, the next stage of forest succession.

    Grazing animals compact the soil, accelerating soil erosion. Pastures grow fodderr for grazing animals, which produce meat, and even as a meat eater, I recognise that meat production from pastures is the most inefficient way to produce food possible. This is why nobody is producing meat in food forests, it’s easier to eath the vegetables yourself! Mind you, people do grow rabbits for meat in such environments, but they aren’t free range!

    Food forest are one of the most productive, but unfortunately most ignored systems. My approach is scientific, identify the most productive systems, implement them, test them, and evaluate them, then share my findings. I’m sharing what my results are here, not theory. I also understand that aquaculture systems are even more productive, but they produce fish, aquatic plants, crustaceans, etc, not terrestrial plants and trees. When I get a chance to build these systems, I’ll promote them too. Why would I look at inferior systems? I’ve also been experimenting with hydroponic systems for three years now (not sustainable), with the intention of converting them to more ecological aquaponic systems at a later date, for comparison’s sake.

  22. Hi Joni, there are amy food forest around, you’ve just got to do some searching!

    I must say, I was pleasantly amused by your comment “Apart from that the systems as described by Angelo sound to be a more academic treatise as opposed to a description of a practical example.” You must have missed my previous article, entitled “Lessons from an Urban Back Yard Food Forest Experiment” – see here:

    If you can get to Melbourne, Australia, you can visit, we have hundreds of people a year come through on our regular tours, see my website for all the hard data, it’s a fully documented study!

    Of course forests are regenerative, yet to see one that isn’t – the term is particularly befitting for Darren Doherty’s well-respected work in the area of silviculture, timber production. Since your harvesting the trees themselves, the regeneration of the forest is therefore critical!

    Sustainability is a simple concept – the dictionary definition is “The maintenance of the factors and practices that contribute to the quality of environment on a long-term basis.” We can get lost in definitions, it’s more important to practice it…

  23. Hi JBob, I think it’s important to have a catholic perspective on food forests. Unlike the communists, who just made 5 years plans, I’ve heard the catholic church makes 500 years plans. For me too 2 of 3 trees died of frost, so now I plant only one tree per year, and if it’s a severe winter it’s most likely only one tree dies. Except for hazelnuts, which grow like a wildfire. But if the nuts are able to mature in my climate/spot, I don’t know yet. But with climate change they’ll might do in future? For rounded root balls it’s important not to dig the holes round, but square.

    Anyway, Sepp Holzer has made very successfull food forests up in the Austrian Alps, so I’m sure I’ve something to learn from him. See this 45 minutes documentary with Sepp Holzer:

    I don’t rememer if you have posted this documentary on your blog Craig, but if you’ve not I think you should!

    Also, if any other have links to other films of Sepp Holzer, please past these links on this commentary field, so that I can repost them on my blog.

  24. Hi JBob,

    Thanks for sharing your experience, unfortunate as it was.

    My personal experience with food forest designs was that once the natural synergy established itself between all the plants and trees, most pests disappeared, and no more diseases either, it almost seemed miraculous.

    My experience is with a cool-temperate climate, and we have had issues with sudden and extreme weather conditions. Early this year when a cyclone hit Queensland, Melbourne’s climate temporarily reverted to tropical, with high heat and constant rain! Everyone lost their all their grapes and early stone fruit, including me. Lost about 10% of my harvest this year.

    Your weather conditions appear to be affecting the species you’re growing.

    I’ve found that biodiversity makes a big difference. Try various species, of early, mid and late bearing varieties, to determine which perform the best.

    With grafted fruit trees, certain rootstocks are more tolerant of flooding than others with particular species.

    Don’t be afrain to experiment till you find a formula that works.

    In areas prone to flooding, to minimise the damage, planting very ‘thirsty’ plants in the vicinity can alleviate the issue for other nearby trees.

    Furthermore, focussing on biodiversity as a solution, don’t just use trees for food production, try plenty of berries and perennial food plants, to create a more resilient food production system.

    Heavily planting with companion plants is the key to getting rid of pests and diseases, it’s definitely worth trying out.

    You mentioned pill bugs (aka wood lice, slaters) – these little guys are part of the decomposer class of soil life, they prefer decomposing organic matter. Use plenty of mulch and compost on your garden, chop and drop any plant waste back into the garden beds, utilise sheet composting over the garden beds, and they will be happy and not touch your seedlings. It worked for me.

    It really sounds like your circumstances are a bit more difficult than what people normally experience, but I’m glad you’re hanging in there and not giving up.

    I can’t stress enough the need to experiment, if it isn’t working, dare to try something different, do things in a different way, and see what happens. We learn from our mistakes, many people create the unrealistic expectations that they will get things right the first time round.

    Don’t be discouraged, hoping your garden returns to life and rewards your hard efforts.

  25. Hey Angelo – The rains earlier this year that you mentioned dumped 250mm here in 5 days. I’m only 60km north of you and I’m noticing that as the climate is warming we are getting more tropical weather patterns coming down from the north. Just the other day we received a downpour of 75mm.

    The only way to adapt to these conditions is to increase the organic matter in the soil, I also plant fairly closely together mimicking the surrounding forest. I think this advice may apply to areas other than cool temperate environments too.

    It’s not a demonstration farm and I’m a bit busy for the next month, but you’re welcome to drop by sometime.

    JBob – I’m sorry to hear about your troubles. Can I suggest that you have a good look at a local patch of native forest and try to replicate it’s arrangement. By this, I’m mean: look at the diversity of species; the ground cover; the height of the canopy trees; the organic matter on the forest floor; and what sort of birds and animals call it home (ie. how can you lure them to your patch?).

    Also have a look at other peoples fruit trees, or fruit trees by the side of the road and try to learn. The question is, why does it work here?

    How do you get enough chilling hours for a peach tree in a subtropical area?

    But most importantly increase the organic matter and biological activity in your soil.



  26. Sorry should have gone into more detail in my comment above, the problem with the food forest I referred to is that it was waaaay overplanted. The designers relied on tropical models for their design and did not take into account the lower levels of light and shorter days that New Zealand has. This has resulted in a situation where the yield from the food forest is virtually nil wheras a conventionally planted fruit area nearby is producing wonderfully.

    I think food forests are amazing but design is crucial, this very site informed the design of my personal food forest which is producing loads of food 5 years after establishment.

  27. Thanks Chris and John, you’ve both highlighted some very important points regarding food forest design.

    Observation is all important in Permaculture, and the important thing for people to remember is that they should be replicating the forests in their climate/region for optimum results. Look at what grows well around you, and how it’s growing. There are reasons why it’s that way. Analyse Nature’s work, see the patterns, replicate them. Your comments illustrate this point clearly.

    To put it in a less clinical and more human way, let Nature be your teacher, still the chattering human mind, re-integrate with Nature, see your surroundings ‘with new eyes’ and let her wisdom speak. Those who ‘understand’ Natures intentions can flow with Nature’s creative currents and create harmonious designs.

    John, great comments about plant spacing. People in Australia make the opposite mistake space plants in traditional vegetable gardens like they do in the UK, with its overcast weather and low levels of sunlight. In Australia our country is literally sunburnt, we’re under the hole in the ozonelayer, UV levels are extreme, the sun is so intense that you can pack plants very close together and they still grow. Wide plant spacing here increases evaporation of moisture from the soil, and created lifeless UV sterliized soil.

    As I mentioned before, food forest designs virtually apply every Permaculture design principle known, and a good understanding of these principles and how to apply them is crucial. It does take a lot more design skill and horticultural knowledge to design and build a successful food forest, both of which can be gained over time with practice and experience.

    All good things take time, a lesson we all learn from hands on gardening, as we tend to our plants from season to season, and year to year!

  28. Great article!
    Im just not agree with the concept that is wrong to follow the path of human reasoning. Actually if we could really be full reasonable, we would be able to see that we are part of a system, we are not special, we are not the center. We dont need to call it “reverence” for the Nature coz that remarks us as an entity outside of Nature. Its not like “Humans and Nature”, we all are the same system, humans are a small part of Nature, we are just another node of the net.
    The moment when we got lost, was when we placed our species (humans)and its survival as the center of the Nature/World, then we focused only in helping ourselves and saving ourselves, saving our children, while passing over all the rest of the living species.
    Human mind is so powerful and the key for approaching to the Universe’s design, but what our mind’s development brings to us, shall be only a much more responsible role. The only difference between the rest of species and we, is that we can be conscious of our role as a part of this SYSTEM, we are not&never more important than the rest of living species in this world. If any little piece of Nature dies, then part of us dies as well.

  29. Thanks for the links Duane,

    A bit off the topic of the article, but I read the articles anyway, since you went to the trouble to post them.

    In the first, it’s speculative, all they have detected are infrared spectra emissions in the 3.3-3.4um range, and they’re speculating as to what they might be!

    In the second, it has nothing to do with oil, the title is a misnomer. The gist of the article is that liquified methane and ethane gas have been detected on the moon Titan. These are very small molecules, nothing like the long chain hyrocarbons and aromatic componds that make up oil. There’s no big deal about this either, all the planets in our solar system except for mercury and venus have small amounts of methane in their atmospheres.

    Regardless of how the oil got there, the point is that we’re using it in very inefficient ways, and it will run out. In 2007, the world was using 13,610,000 m3 per day of crude oil, it’s projected to reach 16,500,000 m3 per day in 2030. The first figure equates to roughly 13.5 million tonnes of oil a day! The planet is a ‘closed system’ and in physics, the ‘law of conservation of matter’ tells us that we retain the matter in the system, it doesn’t go anywhere, it can only change from one form to another. It stays in the same ‘goldfish bowl’ and everything in there is exposed to what we produce!

    This 13.5 million tons of matter lost a day from below the Earth’s surface is not going to magically recycle itself, the matter has been removed from under the ground, and is simply converted chemically and displaced to the surface.

    By burning oil, all the carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, methane, volatile organic compounds, particulates and heavy metals such as mercury end up in the biosphere. The chemicals we make from the oil end up in the same place too. All the intentional poisons we create, such as pesticides and herbicides, end up in the system, destroying life as they move through it.

    The planets capacity to neutralise all these chemical pollutants is impaired because why? Because we’re tearing down the forests, the focal points of life on the planet. Hence the need to repair the declining forests and switch to more energy efficient processes to produce food, which is what this article is about!

    So, all life on the planet ends up swimming in a toxic chemical soup of pollutants, including ourselves, and the oil can’t return, because all the atoms of all the substances that made up the oil are now above ground! Nothing is going to pump over 13 million tonnes of matter a day back into the depths of the Earth, so you have a net loss in the subterranean system, and the oil therefore progressively runs out…

    The planet is a vehicle moving through space, Nature is the life support system, the food production system, and the waste recycling system. And it’s the only one, there are no backup systems! We’re irresponsible passengers willfully and ignorantly destroying our own support systems – we can kid iurselves that our actions don’t and won’t have consequences, that the oil won’t run out, but all that will do is create a very tragic ending to a sad fairytale…

  30. Fantastic article and follow up comments.
    I too am interested to know what and if there is some new findings that conclusively refute that oil came from the decomposition of organic matter, and if so from what and from where.
    I find it hard to believe that it comes from decomposing rock formations combined with gases. Interesting take though.
    But hasn’t there been enough research of artificial produced oil already that makes it fairly obvious that is is from matter?

    Other than that information the points raised are excellent and enlightening.

    I grew up on a Ranch and my grandfather believed in rotation, and in leaving as much of the natural wood (trees and plant growth) untouched as possible. He also allowed many of the native bushes along with fruit bearing bushes to grow between fields. It cut down on the crop area of the fields but his yields were always some to the best around. And we never suffered dramatically from insect infestations. The forests were left intact along the waterways and in key areas of the land. There were plenty of wildlife, deer, birds, and many others that some consider pests, but not my grandfather. He knew that nature has its own balancing system in place and he tried his best not to disrupt it very much.

  31. Nature does not grow large areas of one plant species (or plants in neat rows either!), Nature prefers biodiversity, not monocultures! Mixing different types of plant together makes them grow better, period.

    Not true. At least there are enough examples to the contrary that I know of to refute this. There are vast tracts of land that are dominated by only a few or even one species that occupies one of the seven forest layers. In a pasture near my home that contained cows many eons ago, it is a virtual carpet of bitterweed. There are areas in Alabama I believe that grow cedars almost exclusively. There are areas in the Great Smokey Mountains National Frest that are dominated by a single species of conifer. Paw paw trees tend to crowd out all other understory trees. The pine savanahs of the Mississipi Gulf Coast are dominated by pines. The area around Brice’s Crossroads was a monoculture of black jack oak during the time when Forrest fought his most famous battle there.

    There are plenty of examples where monocultures exist in nature.

    1. Vast mangrove swamps along tropical coasts come to mind too…even though there is a good deal of diversity in the things that live in the water among the mangrove roots!

  32. Hi George,

    The planet was once covered in ginkgo trees too! It’s just a matter of time. If you look into the concept of ecological succession, more specifically forest succession, you will understand how Nature, over a period of 50-300 years, builds forests.

    If you look at any one place at this point of isolation, you won’t see the dynamic system. Nature looks to stabilize any ecological system before it progresses it to the next stage. Your example of Bitterweed dominating cow pastures is a beautiful example of this.

    Bitter weed (Helenium amarum) is poisonous to most livestock, causing weakness, diarrhoea and vomiting to animals that ingest it. The perfect plant to cover an area with to protect and build the soil that has been subjected to overgrazing. By repelling herbivores, other plants can take root, and a forest can eventually grow.

    The Bitterweed is the first stage of forest succession, fast spreading annuals that stabilize the ecosystem. Once the cows are all gone, seeds of perennial grasses and herbs will grow there, then shrubs, eventually pioneer trees (mainly softwood trees), and then finally the climax forest of hardwood trees.
    I bet the framers or government just spray the Bitterweed with herbicides, and keep regressing Nature’s efforts back to the first stage of forest succession – the annual pioneer plant or ‘weed’ stage.

    In your other examples, you must distinguish between a species dominating and it been an exclusive monoculture. Certain species will better fit an ecological niche, but not to the exclusion of everything else. Surveys of a forest dominated by one tree species will report hundreds of other plants, trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses and fungi. You also need to consider how much human intervention is taking place.

    Here in Australia, our government is fond of planting high density monoculture of eucalyptus trees in our bushland (though to their credit they do sometimes plant other native plants to maintain the biodiversity) – but each year spend millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of man hours, and dump hundreds of tons of herbicides into the ecosystem, poisoning everything as a result, in an effort which they call ‘land care’, trying to stop Nature’s efforts to diversify the plants that make up the ecosystem.

    Yes, paw-paw trees tend to shade out the understory, that’s what they are supposed to do, but they are only 12 feet high at the most. But most tropical upper canopy trees grow tens of metres high. Tropical understory trees and plants grow in shady conditions – a case in point are all the indoor plants we dearly love and keep in our houses, the reason why they grow in the low light indoors and need a warm indoor environment is because they grow on the shady floor of tropical rainforests. Tropical vines are quite adept at climbing the tall upper canopy trees to reach up to the light, and they will have no trouble using paw-paw as a trellis.

    With ecological succession, most make the mistake of looking at a brief snapshot in time, and think they are looking at a static system. In any of the formative stages of ecological succession, a certain plant species may feature strongly (Nature uses whatever species are available and doesn’t discriminate) in Nature’s effort to create a balanced ecosystem.

    I hope all those pastures of Bitterweed turn into large, lush forests! Remember, in Permaculture, we can assist Nature’s processes and also accelerate them. So if you can’t wait 300 years for these areas to turn into forests, plant some perennial plants, herbs, shrubs and trees, and watch it transform into a forest in your lifetime, and the Bitterweed will disappear on its own accord when there is no bare, overgrazed soil for it to seed-seed on.

    I will write an article on forest succession soon to explain the ecological process in more detail, and I appreciate your comment as it highlights the importance of this natural process.


  33. I have had a problem with pill bugs in my beginnings of a forest garden. all the mulch is a breeding ground for them and as much as they like the mulch and rotting flora they also like to munch on seedlings, to the extent that not a single weed will step foot in the garden without being eaten alive at infant stage. Nor will a single vegetable sprout from seed without being devoured as soon as the leaves appear. Nor can I plant seedlings bought from the store. My experience with this has found me a solution to the pill bug problem. I left them alone and regard them as seedling soldiers to defend my garden from weeds and only plant well established plants that are vigorously growing and hardened off enough that they are not such a succulent invitation to the pill bugs.

  34. My family has used the same farm land for over 50 years.
    I am a organic raised bed gardener.
    We do not have a desert, so I think you are stretching the true on your first two photos.

    1. excuse me? the Old World is full of examples of desertification after traditional agriculture (aka plowing , bare dirt farming etc). look around! that just is not sustainable and also it’s way too hard , for no good reason. think about the dust bowl of the Midwest and Plains in the Depression era. We had it bad, because of BAD AGRICULTURE PRACTICES. it ruined the soil there. Most of it blew away! Until the Federal Gov’t made them do it differently. But it’s still an inferior way to grow food.

  35. Hi there – nice to see this article – just to note that the image used at the top of this article ‘Seven Layers of a Forest Garden’ is in fact mine, from my book ‘Permaculture a Beginners Guide’. Whilst I’m very happy to see this image used, and freely give permission for it’s reuse, I would appreciate a credit if possible. Many thanks, and best wishes, Graham Burnett

  36. Just bought 3 acres of farmland in a Bulgaria, going to start off with fast growing alders and comfrey, to get right into the ground. After which I’ll plan from there. I believe there’s little need in mass scale planning. When something needs planted, it will be planted. There’s too much emphasis on grand plans, it’s the smaller details make the bigger picture.

    1. How are the alders doing? I like the alder and comfrey idea as a way to transition the land to create a supportive habitat for a future food forest. Some species of alder can handle pollarding which is a great way to grow them up to shade, biotill, biofertilize, and create stick mulch when it is pollarded. Location of these chop and drop hedge rows tends to be pretty dependent on where things like buildings, roads, waterlines, and swales will be later though.
      One observation about the smaller details making the bigger picture–pretty much every farm I have been to is “designed” like that. Lack of consideration and planning for energy, nutrient, water, wildlife, and human flows seems to lead to energy/input drains rather than energy and input harvest. The permaculture design process can feel slow, but that extra time and consideration can really help people do it right the first time rather than creating a double job.

  37. Food forests are an important strategy in ending the 6th Mass Extinction on a good note while addressing climate change, population growth, and other environmental issues. Presentations and info at
    Food forests will replace gas station on every corner! Its up to each of us to live the change we need for life on earth to survive.

  38. We are living near the coast in Belgium. So we have much hard winds. We also have clay soil… So it is not, i repeat not easy to grow just annything. My apple and pear threes don’t do it very well… Do you have a solution for me?? Thanks

    1. I have clay soil too. I put down 2 parts green waste (grass clippings, vegetable scraps and vegetable trimmings from my local supermarket) followed by 1 part animal manure (whatever I can get my hands on. Horse, ciw, pig, sheep, goat, chicken) and 3 parts mulched wood chips from a local arborist. The difference was profound and changed the structure of the soil deep into the clay layer. If I was doing a large area I’d run pigs through it then chop and drop a green manure planting through it then grow a mixture of woody fast growing trees and mulch them over it. Might take a few years but well worth the time spent in soil prep.

    2. plant windrows, and add soil amendments. grow things that will get tilled back into the soil. For everyone, let your land rest in the 7th year, it really helps. divide the land into 7 plots, leave one fallow each year. Rotate. And also rotate crops, do not monocrop, and get it planted in food forest, it will have better shelter for plants.

  39. For me the concept is, wile waiting for the the main trees to be productive, use tall the layers.
    Important note: different climates different speed growths and use endemic species.

  40. That’s so funny, you think that modern ag really believes that gmo crops etc are “better”. Of course they don’t think so. It’s all just a marketing sales scam. that stuff is all about money making for the companies that invent and sell frankenfood seeds that can’t reproduce themselves. Similarly, monocropping isn’t about feeding oneself or one’s tribe. it is about producing for the market, PERIOD. Most agribiz “farmers” go to the store to get food. Some even get food stamps ( lower income ones).

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