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FOOD FOREST GARDENING by Wendy Nadherny Fachon

The Nuts and Bolts Nursery Co-op at Revive the Roots in Smithfield, Rhode Island, shares a wonderful vision of a food forest community:

“Imagine a world where every sidewalk was shaded by a canopy of nut trees and lined with a hedgerow of berries and herbs; every block had a forest garden full of apples and peaches and asparagus with chickens roaming free as they turn the compost; every yard producing vegetables for the homes, which are collectively-owned and democratically-managed by housing cooperatives. Imagine if the food you ate actually sequestered carbon in its production, rather than emitting it, and if the “farms” were actually hubs of biodiversity, rather than desolate monocultures. Imagine never having to go hungry because you live in an edible environment co-created with uncountable other beings, human and non-human, who help feed and support you. Imagine never feeling alone because the constant company of the birds, the bunnies, the butterflies, and the blossoms is always just footsteps away and there to comfort you.”

A food forest incorporates multiple layers of edible perennial plants to maximize productive use of space and allow nature to do most of the work. The plants selected support one another through a variety of biological processes to create a self-sustaining food-producing ecosystem. Food Forest Abundance and Cross Island Farms are two entities devoted to helping people transform their yards into food forest systems of self-reliance that are relatively easy to manage.

Jim Gale, Chief Storyteller and visionary spokesperson for Food Forest Abundance, likes to tout the benefits of food forest farming, including the facts that “perennial plants are low maintenance and growing one’s own food can provide a great return on investment compared to buying the same foods at the store.

Dani Baker, owner of Cross Island Farms, describes the food forest design process and shares many personal stories and experiences in her new book, The Home-Scale Forest Garden. She instructs students and readers to follow nature’s model: “In an edible forest garden, the intent is to mimic the diversity of plants found in a forest edge, possibly the most diverse habitat of all in a temperate climate. At the edge of a natural woodland, there is abundant light, which encourages plant growth in many layers, from the treetops all the way sown to the ground surface.” A well-designed permaculture food forest incorporates layers of edible plants, including fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines, rhizomes, mushrooms, and perennial vegetables.

With water conservation becoming more important, the layers of a forest design utilize water more efficiently. Plants at each level cast shade, which keeps the ground cool and minimizes evaporation. When the air cools at night, water condenses on the leaves, which can absorb the water directly or allow it to drip down to the ground where it is absorbed into the soil. Tree branches and trunks channel rainwater down to the roots, where the water is most needed. Leaves fall in autumn to form a natural mulch that helps the soil hold moisture.

In the design and ongoing maintenance of a forest garden, fruit and nut trees in the overstory and understory layers are planted and pruned in a manner that allow the proper amount of sunlight to reach shade tolerant plants lying beneath them, closer to ground level. Low-growing berry bushes, vines and herbs that require more sunlight are planted at, or outside, the forest garden edges where they can receive full sun.

Food Forest Abundance emphasizes additional environmental benefits of forest gardening. Planting trees will help reverse deforestation and provide more animal habitats. Food forests create diverse ecosystems for nature to flourish and provide more abundance. Regenerating soil through perennial agriculture and composting creates healthier plants, foods and ecosystems. By reducing the spraying and the consumption of toxic agricultural chemicals, forest farmers improve health for all of life. Permaculture gardening is gaining popularity for all of these reasons.

Wendy Nadherny Fachon is host of the Story Walking Radio Hour. Check out her podcasts – Food Forest Abundance and The Enchanted Edible Forest Wendy is growing her own edible forest. If you are interested in planning and planting your own food forest garden, contact Wendy at, and she can direct you to some great resources.

Listen to Story Walking Radio Hour with Wendy Fachon every Monday 9am & 9pmET on global syndicated Dreamvisions 7 Radio Network. Listen Live or Get our Apps
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