Edible forests, otherwise known as food forests, are based on permaculture design and are intended to be self-sufficient by working in harmony with nature. They combine the aesthetics of a public park and the concepts of a community garden in order to create a space that offers food for the public. The main idea behind an edible forest is that all the food produced is free to take.
How can edible forests can sustain themselves? Biodiversity — the variety of life in a particular ecosystem — allows the forest to become self-functioning. Various species of trees, shrubs, ground coverings and vines all work together to maintain healthy soil, natural irrigation flows, sun exposure and pest control. This method also limits the use of pesticides, herbicides and intensive-labor techniques that are found in industrial agriculture.
Edible food forests are beneficial in urban areas where there is limited vegetation, and they can also help limit the “heat island effect” — a phenomenon that occurs when a city or metropolitan area is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. Furthermore, edible forests address food access issues by providing greater options in regions where healthy food can be difficult to find or afford.
Michael Bomford of the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems program of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, located in British Columbia, noted that 16 percent of energy used by the U.S. goes into feeding people. When we think about the energy used for food production and distribution, we can’t forget to include the operations and management of food processing plants, packaging, transportation, retail (grocery stores) and restaurants. Most, if not all, of these components are eliminated by cultivating food in edible forests and community gardens.