Food forest, edible forest garden, permaculture – all are terms for ways of creating a sustainable food producing system based on the interactions between edible plants and their surroundings. Woody plants and herbs are obvious components of the multilevel structure of a food forest but just as important (but a little less obvious) is the role of edible mushrooms.
On Wednesday evening I attended a public meeting in a nearby village for people who are interested in food forests. It was organized by a local Food Forester who has been promoting “alternative” ways of small-scale agriculture for many years. My purpose was two-fold: to ease my scepticism around the food forest “hype” and to try and work out why so many people are willing to commit themselves to this “new” form of (often) home farming.
The forthright and straightforward presentation of current insights and problems helped alleviate my ease around many former unanswered questions. Of course there is still alot to discover and to verify with research but the results of the presented projects seemed to be promising with lots of opportunities for more research.
The people attending the meeting listened very attently and had many questions at the end of the presentation. My impression was that there was a general feeling of submerged enchantment mixed with a heedless regard of knowledge and practical skills. Quiet a few of the attendees seemed to already have or were prepared to buy small areas of land to start their own food forest. At first glance there seemed to be more women than men and that all ages (of working individuals) were well represented. With all my experience of working with edible wood I know how much physical energy is needed to produce an edible result. Working with nature with little technological input means getting used to unwelcome surprises (pests and diseases), adapting to external situations (the weather) and especially figuring out what is going on and why. Optimizing the yield is a challenge that never ends and selling the products for the best price is quite another game altogether. Besides the fact that I welcome the increased interest in food forests, I think that many people are not aware of the effort that it requires, especially if the yields are expected to contribute to the costs of living. I still haven’t entirely figured out why (so many) people think that they can create their own food forest and expect to be able to “control” the output.
Not many people in the Netherlands, if any (that I know of), have yet intergrated edible mushrooms into their plans for a food forest. This is partly due to the lack of fully developed food forests with sufficient shade and also due to the lack of general knowledge about producing edible mushrooms. Fortunately there are lots of possibilities and enough to write about in a future blog! I would be happy to hear of any food forest project with edible mushrooms – let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Hans Kluijt from Country Winery with his paw paw trees