What is a Food Forest, Anyway? And May-June 2017 Events!

Food Forests

At this point you may be wondering what all the hullabaloo is about food forests and why they are so dang awesome. One of the main reasons we are so excited to be in stewardship of a young food forest is because, simply put, it fulfills many of the core principles of permaculture. These include each element performing many functions, energy cycling, small scale intensive systems, accelerated succession and evolution of ecosystems, and diversity!

In general, food forests demonstrate the attitude of working with nature rather than against it to fulfill our basic survival needs. By facilitating the development of a forest ecosystem, we are increasing biodiversity and habitat in the region and forming a relationship of mutual respect and support with the natural environment. This is opposed to the relationship of dominance and control typical of industrial agriculture (and you know, the entirety of industrial, capitalist human society) where we exert our power over nature to extract what we want, at any cost.

Food forests differ from annual gardens in that the plant species are perennial – meaning that plants will grow back year after year! Although a young food forest may not produce as many calorie-rich yields as an annual garden in a year, the ecologic and hydrologic benefits sow the seeds for long term sustainability. Over time, a food forest may produce as much or more calorie yields than an annual garden, at far less of a labour cost. 

More specifically, a food forest can be thought of as a “vertical garden” – instead of thinking about how to arrange our food in rows on the ground, we think about how to arrange our food in vertical layers. From the ground-up, those layers include the rhizosphere (subsurface), groundcover, herbs, low shrubs, tall shrubs, sub-canopy, and the canopy. Each layer produces its own yield of food resources at different rates, and at different times of the year. In permaculture, we call this “stacking time and space functions”This is space and time efficient, and provides diverse yields!

Food forests allow us to plant species that are native to their surrounding ecosystems. For example, at the ACIL Permaculture Food Forest you will find plants that are native to Alberta boreal forest and plains ecosystems. This flips the conventional relationship of humans to nature in agriculture – instead of our agricultural systems destroying habitat and decreasing biodiversity, this creates native habitat and conserves regional biodiversity! In the spirit of stacking functions, many native bird species eat bugs and act as an integrated pest management system.

Trees themselves provide hydrologic benefits as well – they shelter understory species from harsh winds and sun, provide carbon-rich rainwater that has fallen through the canopy (throughfall), and they increase local humidity via water loss (evapotranspiration) through pores (stomata) in leaves. Increasing extreme weather events and rising atmospheric temperatures due to climate change are a reality. Planting food forests now will help mitigate those effects in the future, building ecologic and hydrologic resiliency.

In terms of soil health, tree litter and groundcover provide a constant source of mulch (nutrients and energy) for the plant species growing in the food forest. In addition, the majority of trees form symbiotic associations with mycorrizhae fungi. These fungi form around (ectomycorrizhae) or bury into (endomycorrizhae) tree roots, effectively increasing the surface area of the root system. The mycorrizhae send nutrients and minerals to the tree roots, and the tree roots send sugars back to the fungi. These fungi are beneficial for all trees, and increase the soil health of the forest. 

There are many more benefits of food forests, but this is a quick overview. If you’re interested, you can learn more about food forests here: https://treeyopermacultureedu.wordpress.com/chapter-6-trees/food-forests-or-forest-gardens/ and more about food forests in relation to the principles of permaculture here: https://treeyopermacultureedu.wordpress.com/chapter-2-3-or-the-11-design-principles-from-the-intro-book/

Upcoming Events

Monday, May 22 (Victoria Day) | 10am – 3pm | Intro to Polycultures Workshop hosted by Permaculture Gardener and Landscape Analyst Alexander Fraser!

Polycultures, or “guilds” as they are often called in permaculture, are the opposite of monocultures. A polyculture is any planting that contains at least two different plant species in close proximity, where those plant species are chosen intentionally for a variety of different reasons. Optimal polyculture plant species minimize competition, manage pests, and facilitate soil fertility. Come out and learn about Alberta-specific polyculture plant species, and help build and plant the ACIL Permaculture Food Forest’s annual polyculture “lasagna” garden. Let’s build a future where our food systems grow ecological resiliency!

FB Event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1881952978724093/

Saturday, May 27 | 10am – 3pm | Work Party! 

Have you been out to the site yet? If you’d like to get to know the place, get your hands dirty, learn through direct experience, and meet new people come on out! This will be a fun, low-key day filled with friends, snacks, and doing sweet tasks in the Food Forest. Building paths and borders, pruning raspberries, mulching, weeding, planting, sorting, organizing … the list goes on!

Sunday, June 4 | 10am – 3pm | Food Forest Fiesta! Intro to Food Forests and Permaculture Citizen Science 

Come on out for a double bill of workshops hosted by the Permaculture Designer Katie Ingram and Ecologist Anna Bishop. From 10am – 12pm Katie will lead a workshop on food forests- what they are, and how our site embodies the principles and theory discussed in this post. From 1 – 3pm Anna will lead a workshop on citizen science. This will include the theory of the scientific method and how we can apply it to permaculture, and lead a training on the types of data collection we will implement at the food forest throughout the season, so that YOU can take ecological data and “do” science whenever you visit the site! We will be observing flowering plants, pollinator species, surface water, and precipitation.

Springtime at the Food Forest!

Hello, welcome! Have we got some exciting things lined up for you (for us all!) at the Aspen Centre Permaculture Food Forest this season!

Wait – what? ACIL is somewhere ELSE?!

That’s right! The ACIL Permaculture Food Forest is a NEW land base for ACIL, just north of St. Albert. It is located on the Bococks Family dairy farm, which has been in the family for 3 generations – 100 years! This land has been stewarded a long time. John and Jennifer Bococks are amazing, supportive, knowledgeable folk that are happy to have us working on the Food Forest on their land. They provide us with help, resources, and stories, and we are so grateful to have them as our elders.

The Food Forest itself is a relatively small portion of the overall Bococks property. The previous steward of the Food Forest, John Freebury, worked the land for 3 years and accomplished an amazing amount in that time. The centrepiece of the land is a circular perennial forest garden with apple trees, cherry trees, pears, and many different native shrubs and herbs – hollyhocks, silverberry, raspberry, wild strawberry, saskatoon berry, dogwood, and so many more. There are also many dug swales to direct waterflow, an area for food forest sapling growth, a woodshed with plentiful firelogs, a garden shed for storage, space for a herb garden and an annual garden, and honeybee hives! We are excited to take on the stewardship of this land and its plants and bees, and welcome all ACIL members and non-members to visit, get involved, and share energy and inspiration.

We went out for our first real site visit yesterday (where the land wasn’t covered in snow and we could actually do some work). We organized garden pots, cleared a space for the annual garden and sheet mulched it with LITERAL sheet metal (when you’re on a 100-year-old farm you find some very “interesting” things lying around!), started a compost pile of dead perennials, and did a fair amount of site planning in terms of next steps.


Next steps – aka what YOU could get involved in! ^__^ We are going to be tackling some hefty “spring cleaning” for the next few visits in April – cleaning out the garden shed, pruning dead trees, organizing/moving all of the “interesting things” (junk) to more space efficient locations. Upcoming in the not-so-near future will be mulch mania!!! As well as digging out the annual garden beds and learning how to take care of our HONEY BEES. We would absolutely love your presence for any/all of these endeavors! Not only is it helping hands, it is bringing your own unique and vibrant energy to the site to co-create a space of community, friendship, and mutual respect and love for the earth and for each other. In times like these, that’s really what it’s all about.

Stay tuned for our next post – we will cover what a food forest actually is and how it compares to an annual garden, as well as the ecohydrologic benefits of mulching!

Stay beautiful! Keep growing <3