Food forests

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Food forests

“Food forests” or “edible forest gardens” are a special type of forest that uses biomimicry to replicate the the biodiversity of a natural forest. Integrating many different layers in the food forest e.g. canopy trees, vines, groundcovers, root crops and fungi, in a strategic way allows the natural symbiotic relationships to occur, providing natural protection from pests, improving soil quality, and providing habitat for other organisms. The concept of “stacked polyculture” is often used in South America for growing commerical crops, for example, coffee shrubs grown under shade trees. The Incan culture regularly grew corn, beans, and pumpkin together, where the pumpkin provided a ground cover, the beans fixed nitrogen in the soil, and the corn stalks provided a structure for the beans to climb. Such polycultures are particularly advantageous in the tropics where the soil quality is poor. Although the jungle looks lush and fertile, the nutrients are being consistently leached from the soil due to the heavy rainfall. Most of the carbon and nutrients is stored above ground. When the natural forests are cleared for agriculture, the soil loses fertility very quickly. 

The Kadagaya campus is old agricultural land that was used for growing coffee, bananas, and avocado for decades. Over the past few years, we have been slowly planting food forest areas. The first step is to regenerate the soil with extensive mulching and nitrogen-fixing pioneer crops, such as legumes. In a few short years, we have seen major improvement in the soil quality by introducing a wider variety of trees and strategically mulching the forest areas. Our chickens are an important part of the process; they freely roam through the fruit trees, weeding while they look for worms, eating pest insects, and fertilizing the soil. In addition to edible species, we have planted forestry trees for timber and shade, and medicinal plants. 

A list of some of the species currently planted in our food forests is shown below.

CanopySub-canopyLower layerClimbersRoot crops
BreadfruitCoconutMedicinal herbsPassionfruitYucca
JackfruitFruit palmsPineappleFlowering vinesGinger
NeemBananaChiliLadies slipperTurmeric
AvocadoMoringaBeansSacha inchi nutsSweet potato
SapoteFeijoaFlowers for bees
Forestry treesCarob
Ice-cream beanTree tomato