Large Scale Food Forests and Reforestation

Reader Contribution by Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo
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One of the first principles of Permaculture is disturbing as little as possible in regards to the natural environment within any ecosystem where it is introduced. Perhaps one of the most controversial propositions of the author in their book, is the introduction of large scale food forests, not only in areas where reforestation is needed, but in other areas where poverty and a notable inability to access fresh fruits and vegetables prohibits large percentages of the population from enjoying a healthy diet.

First and foremost it must be noted that food forests, when properly introduced, are in and of themselves a wholly and completely natural environment consisting of completely natural ecosystems. Food forests, when properly established, provide everything that is needed for all life, from the soil itself, to plant life and through all of the lower forms of animal life and move all the way up to provisions for the benefit of humanity at the same time. Food forests are capable of providing an ample supply of food with little or even no interference at all from human beings, while at the same time being wholly and completely self-sustaining.

Among the most well-known food forests is the one established at the Permaculture Institute established by David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. Once established, this food forest was allowed to grow unencumbered and unimpeded by human intervention for a period over fifteen years. During that time, not only did the food forest maintain complete ecological sustainability, but integrated itself into surrounding ecosystems as well, providing proof that these food forests can continue to grow and produce completely without human intervention.

There is an additional food forest growing in Vietnam in a location that has not been revealed directly, that has been maintained by one family for well over three hundred years that they can verify. At the time that Geoff Lawton, who was one of the original architects of the food forest at the Permaculture Institute, visited the food forest there in Vietnam, the work to maintain it seemed to be rather strenuous … as apparently it took the combined efforts of the couple overseeing that food forest. Never mind the fact that they were in their eighties … and still, despite their advanced years, were fully capable of maintaining a relatively ancient, incredibly productive food forest.

The same certainly cannot be said for more “traditional” monocrop farming. The more traditional farming methods are both labor intensive and very harmful environmentally, even on most “organic” farms. But what would happen to any of these types of farms if they were left unattended for hundreds or even thousands of years? Would they still be capable of producing a viable crop? In the case of “traditional” farming methods, the answer is most certainly a resounding “NO!” but in the case of the food forests?

To answer that question, the work of Geoff Lawton will be referenced yet again. Among his many films and lectures, are one where he revisits a food forest in Southern Morocco. By all estimates, this food forest was established sometime around the turn of the eras … that is to say, somewhere around the time of the Christ or the period right at the change between “Before Common Era” and the “Common Era”. This food forest has existed for some two thousand years, and it is almost certain that there have been decades if not centuries wherein it was not tended to by humans. Yet still, to this day, it continues to provide an amazing bounty of fruits and other produce, including the venerable grapes and olives the region is so famous for producing today.

These days, there is an intense focus on carbon dioxide, often at the expense of other, equally relevant discussions. The point of this article is not to debate the many different variants of carbon, or their impact or lack thereof on the environment. It should be noted however, that reforestation is seen as one means of increasing the environmental sustainability of the human presence on the planet, while also decreasing … or at least balancing and maintaining reasonable levels of Carbon Dioxide.

Reforestation over a great portion of the planet is already being discussed on a great many levels. Greenbelts are increasingly common in cities, in addition to small, community farms. Oddly enough however, there has been no concerted push to introduce food forests into either of these environmental equations. If reforestation and even forestation is going to occur though, why not introduce wholly natural ecosystems that are going to greatly increase the symbiotic relationship between plant life and animal life … including the human species?

Granted, there may be regulatory issues in some of the larger urban population centers, primarily centered around individual rights and responsibilities. Who would be held accountable when someone was to discover a half a worm in their apple? If someone were to get sick due to their consumption of the all natural growth in these food forests, would the taxpayer be put on the hook for all of their pain and emotional suffering? While it may seem almost laughable, reading such madness in print, these remain very real considerations that local governments must take into consideration before allowing for such an undertaking.

Still, in larger, more isolated areas of the country and the world where reforestation efforts are needed or even already under way, what is the harm in introducing wholly natural and complete ecosystems into the local environments? The food forests, by their very nature, would prohibit a great many of the devastating issues in some states, where the prohibitions prevent even the removal of dead brush, often resulting in catastrophic fires. (See the Yellowstone Fire as only one early example of good intentions gone bad

The nature of the food forests is such that they would utilize natural, albeit man-made watering, an ample supply of moisture from the natural runoff and moisture, a lively and healthy ecosystem within the soil itself, and even provide natural homes for much of the natural wildlife that people and governments are so rightly concerned about. Even if the introduction of large-scale food forests does create some initial controversy, it remains, as far as the author is concerned, a viable option that is worthy of much more than just passing consideration in this day and age of Sustainable Development.

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