Putting Food-Producing Elements in All Layers of the Food Forest?

Students of Geoff’s Online Permaculture Design Course have question-and-answer sessions where Geoff fields a number of questions every week and answers them via videos. This question was pulled from the 2021 collection. For an in-depth dive into all things permaculture, check out the free Masterclass http://www.discoverpermaculture.com


Should we aim to have food-producing elements in all layers of the food forest? Won’t the higher layers shade out the lower layers and make this difficult once the food forest gets to a certain level of maturity? I get the idea of succession, but why then do we say a food forest mimics a natural forest if all the layers are formed by edible (and support for the edible) species and we intervening so much? In tropical climates, it’s well known that some species like coffee and cacao like the shade, but in other climates, I’m not so sure. I can find edible perennial species for every layer of a forest in a Mediterranean climate but my doubt is whether they can co-exist and be productive at the same time.

Key Takeaways

The idea is to do the least amount of work for the most amount of production. In some areas, some things do shade out and move towards the edge as time passes. And, the food forest is not all food: there is timber, fiber, craft, dyes, fungi (food)… Things in the food forest do change over time, and it can layer itself with what currently fits. Or, we can more attentively manage it by adjusting the overstory and creating more clearings within the forest to aid the food-producing species.

In Holy Oaks, Massachusetts, with two feet of snow annually, Eric Toensmeier trialed over 400 perennial vegetables in his food forest on a quarter-acre lot, ultimately settling on the best 200 in the end. That’s a huge selection of perennials. There is plenty of diversity, even in cold climates. The same can be said for the tropics. You just have to realize how many choices you can have and extended the forest edge to produce it.

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About Geoff:

Geoff is a world-renowned permaculture consultant, designer, and teacher that has established demonstration sites that function as education centers in all the world’s major climates. Geoff has dedicated his life to spreading permaculture design across the globe and inspiring people to take care of the earth, each other, and to return the surplus.

About Permaculture:

Permaculture integrates land, resources, people and the environment through mutually beneficial synergies – imitating the no waste, closed loop systems seen in diverse natural systems. Permaculture applies holistic solutions that are applicable in rural and urban contexts and at any scale. It is a multidisciplinary toolbox including agriculture, water harvesting and hydrology, energy, natural building, forestry, waste management, animal systems, aquaculture, appropriate technology, economics and community development.

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