Planning Your Community Food Forest

Take a moment to plan through all the phases of a community food forest project: from initiation to maintenance, to planning for the future.

At the Fargo Forest Garden in Portland, Oregon, mounds of soil were constructed across the site to replicate forest floor terrain, as well as to create microclimates and soil conditions favorable for selected plants. The mounds also help direct water runoff into pathways engineered to channel water to a gravel patio. (Photo by Catherine Bukowski.)

Our experience studying and leading community food forests taught us that starting with the basics and seeking to understand fundamental management phases leads to effective planning. This is true whether the food forest is an independent project or part of a larger community initiative. Thinking about phases helps leaders identify and plan for when, where, and how to direct precious resources instead of trying to do everything at once. The Community Food Forest Handbook provides a general overview of the following five main phases associated with project management and relates them to community food forests:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Establishment
  • Monitoring and maintenance
  • Closure

The phases are listed in the order they occur when applied to projects that have a linear timeline. However, we found that these phases often did not occur in a linear fashion for community food forest projects. For example, one section of a site might be in the establishment phase, while another previously established section is in the monitoring and maintenance phase, while yet another area is being planned for a future planting. These phases do not only apply to the installation of plants either. Volunteer education could be in the planning process while another is currently being implemented. At the same time, the steps to close down and document a recent workshop might be taking place while future visioning is happening for the next. Soliciting feedback from participants and deciding whether or not to offer the same or a similar workshop in the future is part of closure. The information gathered provides direction for planning the next volunteer education phase. Let’s take a look at the initiation phase:


Initiation is the origination and early evolution of an idea. It starts when the idea is born and gets underway when the thought is shared with others to test the potential. With positive feedback, excitement begins to build. This is typically the phase when people reach out to those they know could be interested in the idea to gain support and encouragement. This is an exhilarating time for a community food forest project. Brainstorming is a great and exciting way to generate ideas and start working on details such as what species will be desirable. It is tempting to start on a detailed food forest design, but typically a full design is a product of the planning phase due to the importance of first acquiring land and seeking community input. While visiting food forests across the country, it became evident that it is next to impossible to predict how many people may be involved when initiating a community food forest. There may be scores of people involved or just a handful and it is best to prepare for both.

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