Sunday, August 15, 2010

Food Forestry as Part of my Homesteading Plans

I have on occasion tried to describe food forestry to people, and I have always found myself lacking at communicating the concept.  I believe this is because it is not a field I have delved deeply into, so I don't know specific tactics that can easily transfer the knowledge from myself to another.  The knowledge that I do have has been from reading I have done in very technical form which does not easily transfer in casual conversation, as well as from videos.

I rarely embed videos in my blog because I feel like it is a cheap way of writing a post.  I want this blog to be a journal of my ideas and plans, not just a record of stuff I've found on the internet.  I want to make an exception today though, because I have found a video that I think is VERY cool, and because this video expresses a sense of food forestry that I find myself incapable of expressing through written or spoken word.  Geoff Lawton is a pioneer in the field of permaculture.  This video of him explaining and demonstrating the stages and layers of a food forest expresses in seven minutes what it would take me hours to get across to someone who has never heard of food forestry.

Food forestry is a field of study all its own.  Although most permaculturists consider it to be a part of a permaculture system, it is not a requirement.  The definitive guide to food forestry is a pair of books by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, Edible Forest Gardens, which can be found using the link to the left.  (If anyone who is reading this post is trying to figure out what to get me for Christmas, these books would be about the best gift you could give me.)

Food forestry is a large part of what I want to accomplish on my homestead.  Obviously the plants that makeup the forest on my property when I establish it in the pacific northwest will be very different from the sub-tropical plants you see in this video, but the concepts are the same.  I want to set aside a major portion of my land, perhaps 20-30%, and dedicate it food forestry production.  As the video demonstrates very well, this takes a lot of time and forethought, which is a reason that I consider my homesteading plan to be a lifelong pursuit.  If gardening, production of small livestock, and energy independence were the only concepts I planned on using to produce self-sufficiency using my homestead, then it would be ready in only a year or two after I found the land I want to live on.

However, my plan involves establishing and building sustainable, self-monitoring and self-regenerating systems which produce whether or not they are "worked" by human labor.  That sort of thing takes years, and if establishing mine takes as long as Geoff's, it would be at least 7 years.  This means that at best, if I were to magically get land tomorrow and start establishing my food forest right away, I'd be 34 before it reached that point.  In reality, I probably won't be able to buy land that I think is right for at least 5 years.  After I buy it, I'm going to want to just sit back and observe it for at least 1 year (and probably 2 or 3) so I can document what sort of ecological systems are already in place on my land as the seasons progress.  Only then will I begin to establish my food forest.  And only then will I be on what for me is the path to living on, developing, and passing on to future generations The Permie Homestead.


  1. Since writing the above post, I've been spending a lot of my day researching and enjoying food forests. I found another video that I wanted to share, and it can be found here.

    This is a nice example of a startup food forest that still has a lot of diversity. I may post more links if I find any that are very interesting, and already I'm formulating ideas for a more in depth post on my plans for food forestry.

  2. Kyle, thanks for the the post and for linking Geoff's video. I also found the video in your comment really useful.

    I got copies of the Edible Forest Gardening books at the beginning of the year. They are expensive but I can definitely recommend them - they give a great foundation in the ecology of woodland systems and also have lots of practical information as well as inspiration. They take a while to get through though.

    There is also a great new book that came out in the UK this year by Martin Crawford - Creating a Forest Garden: Working with nature to grow edible crops. It is based on years of practical experience from the Agroforestry Research Trust. It is a less expensive option, but covers the theory and design of forest gardens as well as a really wide range of species, with some nice pictures too. Whilst it is focussed on the UK there are hardiness ratings for all the plants. It is a good complement to the Edible Forest Garden books.

  3. Beautiful blog, and I totally have the same problem trying to communicate with people what a food forest is. Some want it in one easy sound bite, but then, if you give them the definition, they say it's too technical. Sigh.
    I've just found out about pc myself, but have met some really nice people already. I am planning on taking as many workshops as I can. I think it's good to just jump in and do whatever I can, even if I don't have the land yet. I'm starting off by growing seeds indoors. Good luck to you!
    p.s. I've got a youtube channel if you want to check out my collection of permaculture videos
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