The nation of England was once a dense forest. Thousands of years of human activity have seen the amount of woodland decrease significantly. A flight above our island shows that although the rains make the land green, open fields now replace the woodlands that once dominated from shore to shore.
Turning back the clock
Forest farming is an agricultural strategy which involves the planting of many different plant species on the same site. Mature forest farms are environments of extreme beauty.
A forest farm is modelled on a young woodland – a canopy exists but enough light can penetrate to the herbaceous ground covering plants. A three dimensional system of herbs, shrubs and canopy trees – forest farms create edible produce at different heights throughout the year.
Through intelligent design different species interact to collectively maintain the soil fertility. As the vast majority of crops in a forest farm are perennial (living for many years) the soil is undisturbed by harvest – this benefits soil fungi and in turn the crops themselves.
Nature’s grand larder
Forest farming produces a wide range of edible products: fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, salad crops, herbs, spices and mushrooms. There is also significant scope for the production of herbal medicines, soaps and dyes.
Forest farming creates a riot of colour, scents and wildlife – this a significant step away from the uniformity of arable monoculture. Mechanised monoculture farming is optimal for seeding and harvest efficiency.
It takes multiple years to establish reasonable yields from a site, the target is to improve yield year on year. This is a characteristic of a perennial crop based site, there is no starting from scratch as with annuals.
Advantages of forest farms over arable monocultures
- Forest based systems are more resilient to climate crises – this will become of greater significance due to global climate change.
- The plant covered soil of a forest farm stays wetter in drought and is more stable in flood than open fields.
- Large perennial plants can more easily exploit minerals available throughout the soil due to their larger root systems.
- Forest farms sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into the soil and woody biomass of shrubs and canopies.
- Polycultures provide a greater variety of habitats for insect life, critical members of our Earth’s ecosystems.
- Plant diversity in agriculture is beneficial to wildlife, soil, the environment and people.