What Are Edible Forests?
Forests are also called Food Forests. This is a very popular garden
design from the permaculture movement although it has it's roots in many
different agricultural traditions.
forests are gardens designed to mimic the structure and functions of
natural forests. As in natural forests, most edible forest plants are perennials. In edible forests plants fill all available spaces
(tall trees, dwarf trees, shrubs, herbaceous layer, roots,
groundcovers, and vines). As with natural forests, edible forests are
mostly self-fertilizing and self-maintaining (this is the dream, at least). As with natural forests, edible forests support healthy populations of beneficial insects and animals. Unlike natural forests, however, edible forest plants are almost all edible, medicinal, or useful to humans in some way.
Why Are Edible Forests A Good Option for School Gardens?
Edible forests can be a perfect design choice for school campuses for several reasons:
(1) Edible forests are easier for busy school gardeners to maintain.
Edible forest plantings are not as fussy as annual vegetable bed
plantings. Because most of the plants are perennials, edible forests can
survive with a more sporadic maintenance, watering, and harvesting
(2) Edible forests are the perfect tool for teaching nutrition. Edible forests produce lots of fruit. It is easy to get kids to eat school grown fruit. Caveat:
most fruit trees take at least 3 years to bear substantial crops, so
you'll have to be patient. However, once they begin bearing, they
produce between 10 to 100 years (depending on the fruit). Edible forests also include berries, perennial greens and vegetables, tea and culinary herbs, and self-sowing annual greens. They are the perfect tool to get kids hooked on healthy, fresh produce.
(3) Edible forests are the perfect tool for teaching ecology and other science topics.
(4) Edible forests are beautiful, engaging spaces.
(5) It is easy to incorporate passive rainwater harvesting and stormwater filtering
into edible forest designs. Swales, infiltration basins, berms, and
check-dams designed to spread, slow, and sink water are easy to work
into edible forest designs. These design elements are tangible,
interactive ways to teach important ecosystem concepts such as the water
cycle or ecosystem services. They also serve as a springboard for
discussion of important socio-ecological topics such as water use,
drought, climate change, and sustainability.
(6) Edible forest planting and maintenance lends itself to inter-generational learning and community building. High
school students could propagate perennial edible forest plants and then
help establish edible forests at elementary schools. Plants from a
variety of food traditions do well in edible forests creating
opportunities for elders to use edible forests as a classroom for
passing on traditional food ways.
Edible Forest Links
A. Background Information about Edible Forests:
is a graphic (below title) which shows the seven-layers of typical food forests.
Note: I don't advocate planting the tallest layer (canopy) in school
edible forest gardens.
2. New York Times article about food forests
3. AP story about 7-acre food forest in park in Seattle
4. Mother Earth article with detailed description of edible forest gardening
5. West Coast Food Forestry---Link
to document on Scribd reader. This long .pdf is an excellent resource.
Explains concept of food forests in depth and also has useful plant
6. OaklandNorth article about the Oakland International High School Edible Forest from August, 2012
B. Edible Forest Design Tools:
1. Slide show which shows Edible Forest installation at Oakland International High School in June 2012 (This is the same slideshow playing below).
2. Edible Forest Plant List
Starter list of plants useful for edible forests.
C. Edible Forest Curriculum Resources:
1. Plant Cards---These plant cards are useful for designing, teaching about, and getting kids to interact with edible forests. There are 25 typical edible forest type plants in this set. The middle/high school cards have the most information; there is less text and bigger font on the 3-5 and K-2 cards. Thanks to teachers Jennifer Kelley-Dewitt (Oakland International High School) and Jeffrey Franey (Hoover Elementary) for helping develop these.
K-2 Plant Cards
Grade 3-5 Plant Cards
Middle/High School Plant Cards
2. Adapted reading from Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway
OIHS teacher Jennifer Kelley-Dewitt adapted this reading about edible forest gardening to make it more accessible for her English language learners. This is a great way to give an overview of edible forest concepts for a wide range of classes.
Growing a Food Forest Adapted Reading (3 pages)
Student Notetaker for Growing a Food Forest Reading (2 pages)