Food Forest: What it is and how to start one

A food forest is a food production system that mimics a woodland ecosystem with the  planting of edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals grown in a succession of layers.

Just how a forest exists perfectly well without any human intervention whatsover – there’s no mowing, weeding, spraying, pesticides, fertilisers nor nasty chemicals involved – food forests attempt to learn from the natural environment of forests and how they grow and sustain themselves in order to create forests that produce food we can eat.

Food forest gardening has become synonymous with permaculture, whereby people design earth-friendly systems that are put in place permanently, and work with little outside management.

In a food forest, vegetables, herbs, as well as fruit and nut trees are planted similarly to the way they would grow in the wilds of the forest. Typically, these types of gardens are designed with seven different layers, as opposed to the single layer found in a conventional garden.

Those layers include the canopy, which consists of fruit and nut trees; the lower tree layer, where you’ll find dwarf fruit trees; the shrub layer, where you’ll find things like blueberries and raspberries; the herbaceous layer, where perennials, herbs, and leafy greens grow; the rhizonosphere, where root crops grow; the soil surface for cover crops; and the vertical layer, which includes vines.

Food forests can yield nuts, fruits, herbs and annual crops. Once a food forest becomes established, it requires little input and minimal labour, whilst continuing to produce harvestable yields.

These food-producing forests also create a natural habitat for animals and insects and plants with greater pest resilience, producing continual food without annual tilling, pesticides, fertilisers or other high inputs of chemicals or energy.

While food forests have often been associated with community efforts, many individuals are creating their own food forests in their own gardens.

New Jersey-based gardening enthusiast James Prigioni started his own food forest in the garden of his suburban home in 2011. Today is garden is a blossoming food forest filled with an abundant supply of edibles grown without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and fertilisers.

For anyone wanting to start their own food forest, his YouTube channel is a wealth of useful information offering practical, and general gardening tips applicable to growing in all climates. In the below video, James Prigioni gives 10 tips on how to transform a lawn into a food forest.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at

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