Episode 162. Food Forests for Resilience

This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 1st of April 2019.

Jon Moore reporting!

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

As I think I’ve said before, the paradox of ecological systems is the seeming contradiction that the more complex the system is the more stable it becomes. The problem we face is this: ecological systems are not mechanical. This takes some getting used to. We are living is a society still based upon the wonders of engineering. A sort of hangover from the industrial revolution. That we are in the midst of the IT revolution should lead to different understanding. From the mechanical to the network, so to speak.

To that end a more complex “agricultural” system will be more resilient. Think of the interwebs design. It’s function is generally to connect two points: a host and a searcher. The best way to do so is not always the shortest distance. The system was designed to function after  nuclear holocaust. It will therefore, keep taking side routes until the connections can be established. There is no centre. This is worth remembering.

In Nature there is no centre either. Energy flows through ecosystems in a manner more like the www than an internal combustion engine. And in an internal combustion engine is a piece is removed, things start to deteriorate. Even if it’s just the oil cap. Given time the engine will cease to function.

In an ecological system, say a forest, removing an old growth tree actually allows for the rebirth of other species in the space provided. This leads, in a roundabout way, to our first post this week from the site Floratube: Forest Garden With 500 Edible Plants Could Lead to a Sustainable Future.

As you may guess from the site name, Floratube, it is a video based site. Yet we have some text as well.


This type of agroforestry mimics natural ecosystems and uses the space available in a sustainable way. UK-based Martin Crawford is one of the pioneers of forest gardening. Starting out with a flat field in 1994, his land has been transformed into a woodland and serves as an educational resource for others interested in forest gardening.

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Martin the makes a valuable point in video that I’ll paraphrase: It’s not the slowing increasing temperatures that cause plants trouble, it’s the sudden extreme events like, storms, winds, floods and droughts. End of paraphrasing. You can see in your mind’s eye the effects of say flooding on a wheat crop or hail damage in an orchard. 

What Martin is advocating for is a food forest. He explains his system without the use of the word Permaculture but he describing a temperate climate food forest as per permaculture. It doesn’t matter how we get to the solution, just that we do. The accompanying video is only 3 odd minutes in length and well worth a look.

And now from the blog, Loving Health & Wealth comes the post: Food forest and why you need one!


A food forest is a place to grow vegetables, fruits, nuts and berries year long. You can also grow herbs and plants for medicine. Eventually your food forest will become perennial so you do not have to keep replanting each year. Food forest have many levels of canopy and high biodiversity. A food forest mimics a forest ecosystem but has edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. A successful and abundant food forest can take anywhere from 5-10 years to grow.

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The keyword as I understand the process is “succession”. This is where land left alone will proceed through a series of plant types until it reaches a maximally complex system for the climate. Across the steppe, the pampas, the prairies and the Serengeti, this is usually a grassland based system. Yet this is so much more than just grass. There are many species of grasses, true enough but also legumes, herbs, scattered trees, in places and, we now know, huge underground complexes of fungi connecting the plant roots.

When we move to wetter climes and this is covered in the video mentioned before, land left unsupervised, that is left alone to do its thing, becomes deciduous forest. That being so and we understand, to some extent the process of succession, we can affect the fine shape of the forest by using food plants to create the system we’d prefer. As ever, hubris needs to be guarded against but this process is reasonably well understood. 

From grasslands with grazers removed, sheep, goats, cattle, horses and so on, then shrubs start appearing out of nowhere. These are followed by pioneer species of trees. In the European context this is things like hazelnut and Australia and I suspect, southern Africa with acacias. These are followed by larger longer lived types until the canopy is filled and individual trees come and go. 

We can choose from huge varieties of apples, even more pears, some hardy stone fruits as well as the traditional forest trees. Oaks produce acorns for pigs, beech, beechmast for the same pigs. In Eucalypt forests, food is a different proposition. They can and do produce huge amounts of material for bees as well as their timber, as do the other post pioneer species. 

As a mature thing, forests and by inference food forests have about seven layers: high trees, shorter trees, shrubs, low growing perennials, ground covers, root crops and climbers. Getting to this setup will take time, five years seems to be a minimum. I could see a situation where abandoned land could be tweaked with food plants and the time frame shortened but not by much.

I realised I’ve been thinking of a succession process on out current block. It is currently pasture, old tired pasture with the ground covers, blackberry, trying to take over. The pigs will deal with that as we renovate across the place but  at least one tree layer appeals on a deep level. I’ll probably go with a mixed species set of hedgerows but a food forest is something to consider. 

And on that note I’ll draw this episode to a conclusion.

Remember: Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

The podcasting checklists are still available over at Jon Moore Podcasting Services

Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.



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Forest Garden With 500 Edible Plants Could Lead to a Sustainable Future



Food forest and why you need one!


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