Agroforestry, when ecosystem is edible

Aug 29, 2016 | written by:

Forests like the Amazon has been breathing for about 55 million years. Over time they have created an ecosystem - which looks more like an endless relationship - composed of logs, shrubs, roots, creepers. What if everything in that long-living ecosystem were edible? What if the entire forest were an agricultural system? Nothing that man doesn’t already know: it’s called agroforestry.

The idea behind it is the integration of trees and cultures to benefit people and the agricultural system that can diversify and sustain forest and production. This idea has been around for millennia, in the form of Kerala’s home gardens, Mexico’s family orchards, and even ancient Mayan gardens. Forest farms are probably the world’s oldest and most resilient agrosystem, although, unfortunately, with the 20th century and the ongoing industrialization of agriculture, monocultures have prevailed. Fortunately, but forest farming is on the way back.

In the 1980s, farmer and naturalist Robert Hart, inspired by Keralan and Japanese garden systems, adapted the principles of tropical forest gardens and applied them to temperate climes. In his smallholding in Shropshire, England, the man nurtured a mind-boggling array of edibles: apple and pears, grapes and kiwi fruits, herbs and salad. Of course, not everyone has large gardens available, but cities with green spaces can start think about it. In general, the theory goes, a forest comprises seven integral layers, each of which can be used for crop production.

The canopy, the forest’s top layer, could consist of fruit; the shrub layer would include fruit bushes such as raspberries and blueberries; the herbaceous layer includes cabbage. Edible roots and tubers like potatoes should fill in the rhizosphere (the soil portion that surrounds the roots of plants). This method wants to play and mimic when it happens in a forest building their own customized garden. But we can also growing crops in a natural forest as happened with the Wellspring Forest Farm. Steven Gabriel, environmentalist and farmer, in upstate New York, cultivates a selection of products able to create for themselves a meal of several courses. The forest gives and gives the growth, while the man is protecting its biodiversity, preserving water and fertilize the soil. A relationship that can give them both, although the biggest challenge with forestry and making decisions is that a lot of those consequences of your actions, you’re not even going to see in your lifetime. Nature has its own time and they are long. Starting today will be the next generation to see and enjoy the results. Begin, however, it would mean deciding for the next generation and help to combat climate change.

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