Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Let's Say You Want To Start A Food Forest?

Dear Folks,

When the subject of food sources comes up the range of sub-topics is all over the place, but essentially comes down to who produces it and where does a family obtain it?

It is a little to naive, I think, to allow ourselves to be complacent in the who and where.  The important sub-sub-topic is "do I have control" over the who and where?

A number of articles and a video has me trying to put together a simplified concept of growing some or most of your own food - on your property, or sharing the concept with others.

Food Forests are the antithesis of Food Deserts (a term which has come to mean the lack of commercial grocery stores or markets in an urban area - usually a city center but sometimes a blighted neighborhood).

City groups sometimes start food forests to give food to the public at large - notably Seattle Washington and Portland Oregon areas are in the early stages of creating public food forests, where people can literally pick a fruit off of a tree, vine or bush.

So what is a food forest?  Simply put it is a concentrated area producing food on plants.  That it may be part of a park or public thoroughfare is a strong anchoring point to create more appeal.  But it comes down to: Food for Free.  While not entirely free, much labor of love and time, possibly some donated supplies requires the start up and maintenance of the public concept.

I can't say enough how wonderful this idea is and there needs to be more.  If city landscapers are already cleaning and maintaining ornamental plants including litter clean up etc,. the transition to growing edible landscaping in its place is not out of the question (the usual negative is what about the debris, but the ground maintenance people are already cleaning up on a regular basis).

Okay so besides finding a project and volunteering, or starting a public one on your own, what does this have to with home gardeners?

It is about looking at some of the concepts of edible sustainability and food forests in your own back yard.

People get hung up on neat, tidy, orderly gardens.  Doesn't everything need to be in rows or contained, they ask themselves? Shouldn't I have a plan like an orchard setup, or do I have to completely scrape and till my yard to get growing?

Below I've included links to some basic ideas on transforming a backyard or even a couple of backyards into food producing food forests.

These are a combination of very, very old techniques, and keen observation of what nature does.

Some of the ideas you will see are:  nurse planting (using existing vegetation - even weeds - to start plants); density of planting for optimal over-head canopy and shade during the heat; using swales (berms) to keep and hold moisture; using heritage plants; and getting away from the idea that things have to be cookie-cutter orderly..

If you have ever seen an area in the desert where the water obviously drains into a "basin" and looked at the density of the growth vs. areas higher up with sparse growth you will understand more easily the ideas being illustrated.

Density of growth in the desert means less moisture evaporation, less water usage overall and larger more dense plant structures.  All of which equals more production capability.  A forest - but not a forest of orderly trees but a forest of great amounts of FOOD!

I hope these give you lots of ideas.  It is even possible to arrange your food forest in such a way as to need little or no added water over annual rain fall to continue production, after the initial baby-growth stages.

Geoff Lawton is well known to permies for his incredible work on transforming his own land and also showcasing other permaculture concepts.   If the video does not play for you you may need to enter your email.  He does not sell or share this and you will get updates of new video postings which you can always unsubscribe from - personally I want to watch anything he sends!

The use of swales from composting horse manure, native weeds and scrub bush, and making use of existing contours are some of the key concepts here.

Another component is the way to find water sources in dry areas, and make use of the source - in place.

The Kino Heritage Fruit Tree project is one I just learned about and it is fascinating.  These links describe elements of this project and a gentleman named Jesus Garcia who found his life coming full circle from what he thought of as poverty farming in Mexico to sustainable permaculture concepts in Tucson.  Be sure to click on the link for"Tasting History" a vimeo video of Mr. Garcia's journey.

The Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum is one of the hosts for the Kino project.

This nursery is one of those growing the Kino plants.  Native Seed Search is also involved in the project.

 I found myself particularly interested in the Sweet Lime, Quince and the White Pomogrante.

You can read up on one of the community Food Forests Beacon Hill.

And here for one in Colorado.

And finally Brad Lancaster in Tucson, shows water harvesting in urban settings - using run off to grow in concrete islands.

There is so much information on these concepts on line and on youtube.  I hope you do more of your own research and get planting, or expanding, your own food forest.

Nearly every article recently on food and health gets to the nutrient density of foods for maximum health - and the focal point of the whole topic is real food not processed.

To add to or start your food forest, right now, plant kale and sugar peas - work out from there :-)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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