The crash of the U.S. economy in 2008 marked the beginning of a long-term economic recession that some commentators predict could lead to another Great Depression. Unemployment above 10%, slashed IRA balances, and rising food prices have many families wondering how they can stretch their food budgets and become a little more self-reliant by planting a garden.
Sales at seed companies ballooned in 2009 in response to these immediate fears. However, for those with an eye on larger issues such as the approaching end of cheap supplies of oil—which will impact the transportation of food to grocery stores, not to mention the delivery of those hybrid, one-season seeds—a longer-term solution is critical.
Legacy Food Forests – The Ultimate Hunger Solution
It comes as a surprising idea to many people, but if the goal is to feed a family there are more convenient and natural ways to grow food than the traditional one-crop-a-year garden plot of annual vegetables that requires so much time and labor to establish and maintain. Imagine instead walking out the back door and finding that every plant either provided food or supported those that did in a natural, cooperative ecosystem that basically took care of itself. Not only that, but imagine that this little Garden of Eden is a literal perpetual food growing “machine” that with very little maintenance can sustain the gardener in his old age and his children after him, a genuine legacy to be passed on to future generations.
That’s the idea behind a legacy food forest.
What is a Food Forest?
Food forests, also called forest gardens, are based on permaculture concepts. The gardening approach is holistic and imitates nature’s system of creating self-sustaining, inter-related, and multi-layered ecosystems in which trees, shrubs, plants, insects, and the geography of the area all work together to produce a balanced food-producing system.
Each species in the forest garden fulfills a specific need and contributes to the heath and productivity of the whole. Daffodils around a pear tree, for example, suppress grass that competes with the tree for nutrients, while comfrey attracts bees to the pear tree for pollination, artichokes add mulch, and clover fixes nitrogen in the soil. The process of creating these beneficial plant and insect relationships may take a few years, but soon the perennial forest garden produces fruits, nuts, vegetables, and salad greens for years with a minimum of ongoing labor and effort.
A “No Work” Garden
The forest garden itself takes care of most of the maintenance chores. Fertilizing is done by nitrogen-fixing plants and plants that bring up nutrients from deep in the soil. Pest control is taken care of by flowers that attract the pest’s enemies or by design – interspersing garden plants with other types of plants, for example, makes it more difficult for pests to find their food. Weeding is done using plants that shade the soil, making it difficult for weeds to thrive. The forest garden can even mulch itself with nutrient-rich leaves that drop to the ground at each fall and decompose.
Some adjustments do need to be made to the garden as it changes from a new planting to a maturing environment—for instance, trees will begin to shade out plants that used to do well in a sunnier environment, and those earlier plants will need to be replaced by more shade-tolerant varieties to keep harvests high. But compared to the amount of labor it takes to maintain a traditional garden, the work involved is minimal.
Legacy Forest Gardens for a Secure Future
No one can reliably predict the future, but one thing is certain—everyone needs to eat. Growing a forest garden as a legacy to be enjoyed in one’s old age or to pass on to others provides a measure of independence from rising food prices, recalls due to unclean food processing, and uncertainties about the future. A food forest garden is a great way to provide some peace of mind in these troubled times.