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What is a food forest? And how can you kickstart your own?

· 4 Minute Read
food forest

Instead of large-scale monocrops covered in harmful pesticides, food forests mimic natural forests and provide a variety of fresh, local and organic produce. Especially for cities, these edible ecosystems provide a huge opportunity. But what are the exact benefits? And how can you kickstart your own?

If we take a moment to observe nature, we realize that forests do not require artificial interventions to remain flourishing. Food forests work the same way. These (semi) self-sufficient ecosystems produce a wide variety of crops, simply by letting Mother Nature run its course. In addition, they boost biodiversity, capture carbon and water, filter pollution out of the air, produce oxygen, cool cities down, bring communities together and restore the connection between people and their food. Because of this, everywhere around the world urban food forests are popping up to feed urban dwellers in a healthy and sustainable way.

Whether you are a city government official, farmer or urban citizen, we can all contribute to the ever-growing food forest movement. Here are some tips:

1. Think outside the box

Finding the right place for your food forest can be tricky, especially in cities where square meters are scarce and expensive. The best thing you can do? Connect with like-minded people and together think outside the box. Because if there is one thing that the floating food forest in the video below proves, it is that with a bit of creativity and imagination, any empty space could be moments away from becoming an edible urban oasis.

2. Watch and learn

Before you start planting, it is crucial to observe. During the first year you simply just watch and learn. What animals naturally reside on the land? What plant species are native to the area? And how does the land change throughout the seasons? Whilst you observe, you start to make plans.

3. Get the structure of your food forest right

At the base of every food forest lies a layered system Every forest in the world has a minimum of seven layers, and so does a food forest. The layers are: the overstory tree layer, the understory tree layer, the shrub layer, the herbaceous layer, the root layer, the ground cover layer and the vine layer. You can find out more here: that is inspired by the structure of a natural forest. To ensure all crops get enough sunlight, you start planting the so-called ‘overstory tree layer’ of your food forest in the north: the bigger trees that form the layer that overtop the rest. Then you continue to lower the layers down all the way towards the south.

4. Involve the local community

Recent studies from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Exeter confirm that there is a strong correlation between people’s wellbeing and urban green spaces. So, while you are at it, make sure to involve as many locals as possible in both planting and maintaining your urban food forest. It will boost people’s health and foster social cohesion at the same time.

5. Adopt a long-term perspective

It takes at least a couple of years before you start picking the first fruits of your labor, both literally and figuratively speaking. After ten years, a food forest comes to its full bloom. So when you kickstart your own urban food forest, it is crucial to be in it for the long run. And once you do, you will end up with a flourishing ecosystem that produces food in complete harmony with nature without you having to do more than occasionally intervene.

Keen to find out more about sustainable urban agriculture? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter or watch our online documentary. Inspiration guaranteed.