Friday, December 20, 2019

Two Paths into the (Food) Forest - Part 1 - Stories and Spaces

How do you start a food forest?  The answer may depend on how you define "food forest."

As I walk around the young food forest at Sage Garden Ecovillas, I often take note of things I'll do different next time I start a food forest.  The very definition of "food forest" that I gravitate toward now is different from the definition I had when we started this one.

When I first heard the term, I pictured a stand of trees that looked like a forest, but with species intentionally selected to produce food.  As I talked - "gossiped" may be more accurate - about food forests with other gardeners, urban farmers, ecovillage residents, and permaculturists, my mental image of the term incidentally acquired some depth and nuance, but it didn't fundamentally change.  So, when we started this food forest, my definition of the term was basically this:
food forest1 a really dense planting of food-producing trees and other plants in an arrangement that stacks multiple yields vertically on a single footprint of land and is incorporated into a permaculture design.
And I think that's a pretty common definition.  Only after our food forest started growing did I start to understand that the early pioneers who popularized the term understood it in subtly but importantly different ways.  I'm not saying the definition in common currency is invalid, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the corresponding methods used to start a food forest.  But I will say that after following that path once, I'm drawn to an alternative path suggested by the work of Geoff Lawton, one of the pioneers I mentioned.

When I say "pioneer," I should note something to be fair: Lawton didn't invent the concept or the term "food forest."  Robert Hart coined the term, but he didn't invent the concept either.  After creating such a forest, he learned that the practice was as ancient as it was obscure to western culture.  But even though Lawton's conception of "food forest" is modified from the original, ancient meaning, it's the one that intrigued me as I watched his video "Establishing a Food Forest."

This post is starting to get wordy, so let me leave theory for a bit and tell my own little story.

I imagined the "next time I start a food forest" wouldn't come until I opened the next experimental residence complex.  But I was wrong.

Right here at Sage Garden Ecovillas, the gradual expansion of the food forest
has encountered a barrier composed of the labyrinth, the future site of our pond, and a "low zone" imposed by traffic visibility requirements.  Together these form a sector where we don't plan to have any trees.  But in the disguise of an obstacle is the opportunity I've been waiting for to try a different approach - to take an alternative path into the food forest.
In the aerial view, the area outlined in red is the first food forest; in yellow is the forest-free sector; and in green is where we're planning the kernel of the second food forest.

I'll write later to describe in more detail the differences in theory and practice, but for now, I'll just hint that our second forest will involve more nutrient cycling right off the bat, less importing, and more support trees and sacrificial trees.

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