Community ProjectsFood Forests

Manual for Creating a Community Food Forest on Public Land

Community — Food Forest — Public Land — Cluster model , by Andy Cambeis and Alexa Forbes

Creating a Food Forest on public land in New Zealand (or probably anywhere) is quite possible and I have documented my experiences of creating a food forest at Hawea Flat in Otago to help anyone else who’d like to give it a go. The manual is now freely available and I hope people will add to it and build on the information that’s there so that we can see soon food forests on public land throughout New Zealand. The manual shows how to go about getting permission to use public land, figuring out funding and charitable models, communicating with the local community as well as the ‘gardening’ side of working out what to plant and how to overcome site issues.

Establishing the initial cluster of the Hawea Flat Food Forest and documenting my experiences in this manual has been part of a graduate student project. That project is governed by a charitable trust and is set to continue for at least the next 20 years.

The food forest system is based on a cluster design that can be repeated or stacked to scale up to any size. You can create a food forest on as little as 700 sqm and easily scale up to 9999 sqm or beyond. The 9999 figure is a limit set by New Zealand Council rules — it’s the largest area that can be licensed for a fee of just $1 per year. Some such details are New Zealand specific but most is applicable to Australia and much of the world.

This stackabIe scaleable system was developed when I was hired to create a food forest for a client in Germany. He wanted a 2.4 hectare food forest instantly — hold on, actually yesterday. My inspiration for this system was one of the last areas of true wilderness in Central Europe, the approximately 22,000-year-old, untouched Hainich National Park. Travelling in this wilderness, I discovered that it consists of a repeated patchwork of clusters of the same species / family. I discussed the feasibility of a Food Forest in clusters with Martin Crawford, and the idea was born.

If you have enough resources (read money) you can basically instantly establish as much food forest area as you can afford and are able to maintain. My German client bought many 5+ year-old fruit and nut trees and got a nice crop in the first season. If resources are constrained, start with just one 700 m2 cluster that can be created and maintained by one person alone. Note that the careful establishment of a good ground cover is key to success. You can’t mow grass in a Food Forest….

I am looking for feedback for the manual — as you read it can you please let me know if there’s anything missing, if something’s not clear and if examples aren’t understandable. Is it clear how to start and continue? If you implement the plans, please do build on the work by contributing any lessons you learn along the way. It’s an online document and will be updated and expanded if necessary. There’s no need to print it — printing removes 50% usefulness. Print it only if the end of the Internet is near….

I will make a offline version with all linked local documents when the online version has matured a little. Note that there is a copy for comments in the same folder in case you want comment directly in the document.


  1. This was created tomorrow, haha, pretty cool ;)

    But really, this is a really cool post! Thank you for allowing us acces. I will be starting up a thesis-based masters on edible forest gardening. Check out the website to stay in touch and provide feedback on what scientific evidence may help with the implementation (or as I like to say “planting”) of these healthy food systems.


  2. Fantastic stuff! I’m delighted to hear of your work and look forward to checking it out more. The potential in NZ for large-scale integrated tree-based food systems is amazing, including on areas currently being trashed by contract maize, pine forestry & kiwifruit. I hope to get involved in some in future and will be in touch for sure. Will hope to get you some feedback on the notes too.

  3. Fantastic to see this documentation being given its well deserved exposure. I saw this for the first time in December, and knew I had to initiate a Food Forest project on Waiheke island. We’ve had our first meeting and I have to say the clarity of this how-to documentation made our meeting wonderfully productive. There was no wondering what the next step needed to be.

  4. Andy, this is a fantastic resource (easy to follow and excellent detail) and surely an inspiration to people in NZ to get stuck into this kind of project. I wish (and hope for) a similar guide for doing this in Australia.

    All the best,

  5. Thankyou so much for generously sharing your information about starting a food forest. I really want to star a community garen where I live but I think starting a food forest first might be a better proposition and then moving forward with a community garden after thiat, then a market etc. The community I live in will be hard to convince of the benefits I think. But I thankyou sincerely for the headstart. :)))

  6. Hi Andy, would a 1,000+ hectare of land meant for reforestation be a suitable to start a food forest and food produce be sold to consumer market? Or is too big.

    1. My recommendation is a maximum of 50 ha. But you can have unlimited 50 ha Food Forests. Start small, gather experience, expand on success.
      If you have such a big piece of land, I would recommend using parts of it for very high quality timber and fuel wood production. Of course with the highest diversity you can afford. Spend enough time in research what are the tree species that have the highest value that can grown on that land. And NEVER do a monoculture.

      Andy Cambeis
      (P.S. sorry for the loooong delay, please contact me direct via email if you have further questions)

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