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Scaling food forest to supply CPG company raw ingredients?

 
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Hey guys,

I'm a noob to food forests. In fact, just heard about them this weekend, but they seem awesome. For context, I'm the founder of Ample Foods, a CPG meal replacement, amplemeal.com.

In the consumer packaged industry, there's a long and convoluted supply chain to get a mono crop food processed and into a packaged food. It's shitty, because of the environmental concerns with monocrop agriculture, the lack of transparency to the end consumer, and less healthy products in the long run. I want to change that, and was thinking about ways to vertically integrate the supply chain, but do it in a more sustainable and ideally economic way.

Thus, the crazy idea: would it be possible to create permaculture food forests at scale, to the point where they could supply the raw ingredient needs of my CPG food business?

We're currently doing 7 figures in annual revenue, and the goal would be to scale the farm as our business grows, and potentially sell any additional food to other CPG food companies trying to do the same thing if we have excess food.

Initially, I was thinking about partnering up with food forests that already exist, then over the course of the next several years, invest in making our own food forest to supply the raw ingredients to the end product.

If we could do this, I think it could be super big for the agriculture and food industries, because as a CPG food brand, we could help popularize the food forest concept amongst consumers, and challenge other food companies to do the same, so that we shift the industry from getting raw ingredients from monocrops to food forests over time.


To that end, I have several questions about the feasibility of this all.
1. How much yield do you actually get?  I know, tricky question. depends on location and what's planted. I have a list of some of our ingredients below. As in, a quick google says you have to plant coconut trees 25 feet apart, so that's 70 trees per acre, yielding 6000 nuts per acre (assuming per year). But with multiple growth layers, would you have to spread those out, or likely just keep the same 25 foot separation and add to it with plants in lower levels?
2. How big can you make food forests? I see examples of individuals making them between 1-4 acres. Could you do it for a whole square mile or more?
3. If it does scale, what's the most likely limiting factor? Labor? Knowledge? Cost of seeds? Cost of land?
4. How many years would it take for this to start producing significant yield?
5. Are there examples of great farms to study from or visit to learn more?

And a few of our ingredients for context:
Coconut
Macadamia nut
Whey protein (I'm very interested in regenerative agriculture using animals like cows to do this as well, and would hope to incorporate that)
Collagen
Pea protein
Acacia fiber
Chicory root
Raspberry
Honey
Sweet potatoes

Thank you very much for humoring my idea!

Connor Young
 
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I think this is a fantastic idea! To better help you, can you tell us where you are located? How to set up a food forest varies according to multiple factors, including but not limited to…

Your growing zone https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/phzmweb/interactivemap.aspx
Climate type https://www.basicplanet.com/climate-types/
Soil type https://support.rachio.com/hc/en-us/articles/115010542588-What-type-of-soil-do-I-have-
What type of region you are in, or what does your land want to be if left totally alone. For example, where I am, it wants to be forest. If I do not mow an area, trees spontaneously erupt from the ground. Some other types are marsh, riparian, desert, etc.

Typically it is best to start with earthworks, to harvest and plant the water. Here is a thread showing some rainwater harvesting earthworks in Texas.  https://permies.com/t/110120/Major-earthworks-starting-central-texas

John D. Liu rehabilitates large scale damaged ecosystems. While it is not set up as a business model, I think your project can find inspiration there as well.
https://permies.com/t/22712/Greening-Desert-Documentary-Green-Gold

Improve your soil with advice from our own soil scientist, Dr. Redhawk https://permies.com/wiki/redhawk-soil

While I don’t remember any of the farms on the scale you are considering, here are a few things to get you started in your planning…

Travis Schulert has some advice about starting a permaculture farm. He is using a market garden to finance the food forest. The whole thread has good info that may translate to your project.

This orchard is set up for production, as a you pick farm…

The Permaculture Orchard : Beyond Organic is a feature-length educational film that will teach you how to set up your own permaculture orchard at any scale. We recognize the limitations of the organic model as a substitute to conventional fruit growing, and want to propose a more holistic, regenerative approach based on permaculture principles. Based on 20 years of applied theory and trial and error, biologist and educator Stefan Sobkowiak shares his experience transforming a conventional apple orchard into an abundance of biodiversity that virtually takes care of itself. The concepts, techniques and tips presented in this film will help you with your own project, whether it is just a few fruit trees in your urban backyard, or a full-scale multi-acre commercial orchard. Trained as a biologist and landscape architect, Sobkowiak has taught fruit production, landscape plants and design, and natural history of vertebrates at Montreal’s McGill University. He’s been teaching permaculture since 1995. From here.



Well, I hope that gives you some ideas.
 
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I'm going to ask what may be a stupid question, but what does CPG stand for?
Staff note (Nicole Alderman):

I think CPG=Consumer Packaged Goods.

 
master steward
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For a large scale food forest like system, check out Mark Shepard of Forest Agriculture Nursery Link.  He wrote a book on Regenerative Agriculture which is turning conventional farm crop lands into food forest systems.  His site is over 100 acres I believe.  No coconuts though, he's in Wisconsin.
 
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Looking at your ingredients, I'm thinking you'd need food forests in at least two different climates

Tropical:
Coconut
Macadamia nut
Acacia fiber

Temperate:
Pea protein
Chicory root
Raspberry
Honey
Sweet potatoes

Both Climates:
Whey protein (I'm very interested in regenerative agriculture using animals like cows to do this as well, and would hope to incorporate that)
Collagen


Often, when people think of food forests, they think of the different rolls the plants take:

Canopy Trees: The tallest trees, often nuts or full-grown fruit trees
Under story Trees: Usually fruit trees or hazelnut trees
Tall Shrubs: Raspberries/blueberries/etc
Herbaceous plants: chives, beets, etc
ground covers: plantain (that's what psilum husk comes from), strawberries
Tubers: sweet potato, chicory, etc
Vines: Peas/grapes/passion fruit/etc

I think, with large scale food forests, the trees are planted in rows, usually with the tree species in a pattern (like apple, cherry, chestnut) so there's less chance of disease. The understory plants are then placed radiating out from those roes, with a mowed alley between the forest row. The Permaculture Orchard is a really good example of this! The Permaculture Orchard is a really useful resource for this kind of food forest!

I'm thinking for your crops like pea protein, wheat grass, oats, and barely grass and also the peas, that you could grow those in a sort of paddock shift system that incorporates crop rotation. The cows (whey and collagen crop) would paddock shift through one large field, while the other field is divided into either rows or quadrants growing the peas, oats, wheat and barely. After the crops are harvested, the cows paddock shift through that field, while the other is sewn with a fall cover crop and then in the spring it grows peas/oats/barely/wheat. I've not grown on a large scale, nor done paddock shift, so this is just my understanding of Joel Salatin and Mark Shepard's work.

So, maybe you have a tropical food forest, as well as a temperate one that could even be on the same property as the paddock-shift system for the cows/grain crops?

Hopefully more people will chime in with more information and experience--I know I don't have experience with the larger scale permaculture, as my property is only a few acres!
 
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If you contact the Agroforestry Research Trust in the UK they could help enormously I am sure. This sounds so awesome!
 
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Connor Young wrote:... Thus, the crazy idea: would it be possible to create permaculture food forests at scale, to the point where they could supply the raw ingredient needs of my CPG food business?
... potentially sell any additional food to other CPG food companies trying to do the same thing if we have excess food.

Initially, I was thinking about partnering up with food forests that already exist, then over the course of the next several years, invest in making our own food forest to supply the raw ingredients to the end product.

If we could do this, I think it could be super big for the agriculture and food industries, because as a CPG food brand, we could help popularize the food forest concept amongst consumers, and challenge other food companies to do the same, so that we shift the industry from getting raw ingredients from monocrops to food forests over time.

To that end, I have several questions about the feasibility of this all.
1. How much yield do you actually get?  I know, tricky question. depends on location and what's planted. I have a list of some of our ingredients below. As in, a quick google says you have to plant coconut trees 25 feet apart, so that's 70 trees per acre, yielding 6000 nuts per acre (assuming per year). But with multiple growth layers, would you have to spread those out, or likely just keep the same 25 foot separation and add to it with plants in lower levels?
2. How big can you make food forests? I see examples of individuals making them between 1-4 acres. Could you do it for a whole square mile or more?
3. If it does scale, what's the most likely limiting factor? Labor? Knowledge? Cost of seeds? Cost of land?
4. How many years would it take for this to start producing significant yield?
5. Are there examples of great farms to study from or visit to learn more?
...
Connor Young


Hi Connor.

Finally owners of companies are starting to see the potential of food forests / permaculture! At least you are, Connor.

But (as you say) you are new to this. So probably you don't yet know permaculture isn't only about growing food in a sustainable way, it includes also the social side of organising companies.
That could be one of the reasons why most existing food forests aren't that large. A food forest of a square mile (or even larger) isn't impossible from the ecological viewpoint. But such a large food forest asks for a lot of human power! In permaculture the people working there are not only 'employes', they would be organised (f.e. in a co-op). Probably they would all be 'owner' of a part of the food forest. So I think that's an important 'limiting factor': the number of people who can work together in a well organised way, following the permaculture principles.

I wish you the best with your plans.
 
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Here are my thoughts to answer:

1. Yield: If Bill Mollison were here he would likely say that the "yield of a system is theoretically unlimited."  But to get an idea quantitatively, I recommend reading the book Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. On their website, check out the following

http://edibleforestgardens.com/files/docs/REVTab7.9Yields1-07.pdf
Also...
http://edibleforestgardens.com/files/docs/REVEstUseflLfTable-06-1-8.pdf

2. Scalability: As big as your have access to, and as deep as your dreams and pockets.

3. Limits:Limiting factors to forest gardening change over time:
  -Knowledge- There are diverse forest gardening crops that most folks in the US have never even tried.  Knowing what grows where and how is the first hurdle.
  -Location- As Joylynn mentioned, where you grow has constraints and opportunities.
  -Access to plants- Once you have a place, it can be easy to purchase certain trees/shrubs in bulk (I planted 1050 trees for my forest garden and farmstead this spring, and it was super cheap).  Some of the lesser known understory plants can be harder to come by depending on your location.  Others can be propogated quickly.
  -Labor & Time- If you have a place and source for plants, then it is just the "people" part that you need to get things in the ground initially.  With time, the diversity of structure of forest gardening makes mechanized harvesting more challenging.  Harvesting would be by hand, but the yields might be spread out over the seasons.  Then there is just the usual maintenance and waiting for growth phase, sprinkled with healthy observation and course correction.
  -Market- Lastly, this part is your expertise!

4. Time:Your yield will change over time.  At first, you may need to focus on the grasses and grains and annual crops, but as the shrubs and trees mature, so will their yields.  The chart linked above gives you an idea how long certain tree crops take to bear.

5. Examples: The book goes into a few case studies, but these are mostly on the smaller scale, super diversified for a home.  I imagine that there are farms out there on the commercial scale like you're thinking, but if not, why not be the first!  I'm just starting my own farmstead, and I'll keep in mind your ingredients when I do trial plots and gardens.

I'm not a consultant since I am still working up my knowledge and portfolio of experience, but it might be a good investment to sit down for a couple hours with one. They can help hash out your goals and come up with various courses of action.  Maybe you could pay them in shakes ;) I'd do it for shakes!

-Kilt
 
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I fully believe that what you are hoping to accomplish is not only possible, but is what we really need to do with our entire food system. More localized, many less petroleum miles, carbon sequestering food that enhances the environment instead of poisoning it. I think that the Savanna Institute http://www.savannainstitute.org/ is a great place to start, also as others have mentioned, Mark Shepard’s New Forest Farm is both an example of a 25 year old, +/-100 acre food savanna in Wisconsin and a great business model for such a system. I recommend contacting him, I believe he does consulting work as well.

I think that multiple smaller food savannas give much more resilience than one huge farm. By smaller I don’t mean 1000 little 5 acre farms, but small like 100+ acre farms instead. This is important with the unpredictable seasonal weather that is becoming much more common. For example, a smaller farm in the northeast may be hit by a late frost that wipes out the apple crop, however another smaller farm 100 miles south is completely safe from the same frost and has a bumper crop. If you have one 750 acre farm instead you could lose the entire years supply of a crop for various reasons, but 3, 250 acre farms you stand a much better chance of not losing an entire crop in a given year.

I have dreams of feeding my entire island community of approximately 2500 people with food systems like these, it is not something that can happen over night, but a long term 20 year plan certainly could.
 
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Great idea, Connor:
Yes, you would have to have at least 2, maybe 3 farms, due to the climatological differences of the plants-temperate or tropical. Sweet potatoes can grow in some temperate areas but produce very little in some. They do well in semi-tropical places like Georgia and Texas.  

The yield I get from my food forest is way more than you could get from the same space in monoculture.  It's pretty clear that your overall yield is bigger, but it may not be more for one single crop.  In addition, I can grow organically and improve the soil quality and contribution of insects and fungi over time , rather than gradually draining their value as conventional agriculture does.

As others have said, there is no ecological problem with large scale. The issue is organizing the people over time to take care of it, so that gradually nature will benefit but also do part of the work.

John S
PDX OR
 
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Connor,

As an Ample Lifer (small world), I must say I am EXTREMELY excited to see this line of thought.  Also, as for scalability, I am currently planning my 20 acre food forest system. I do hope this works out for you!
 
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I will share a small scale example to help you visualize the answers I can do.
I make a smoothie for each morning and most of the ingredients come from my homestead or other members of my co-op. The main ingredients are: Apple berry pulp, whole raw milk yogurt, raw egg and peanuts [could be pea powder]
As in your question the apple trees need to be spaced out. In my case 100 year old full size trees. In between trees I have berry canes [raspberry, Loganberry, Boysenberry, Hymalayan] To keep them orderly so that picking is efficient they need a trellis to hold them up and train them to shape. The trees act as the posts with a stainless steel eye bolt on each side long enough to allow the tree to grow around it I can have a row of trees and berries. In Glen County California there are mile square fields so the rows could be almost a mile long. In between the rows of trees would be a pasture lane with a rolling barn/pen which would have the shelter for a cow on one side of the center and chickens on the other. In the morning the cow goes out into her pen portion and eats the grass and drops manure. The chickens go out into their pen portion and  spread the manure and eat the pest insects.  In the evening you move the barn/pen forward to clean grass, milk the cow, collect the eggs and feed the chickens.
I have verities of berries and apples that ripen at the same time.  I pick the apples, cut them and put them in a steam juicer. while they are steaming  I pick the berries and the volume of the apples is reduced so I can add the berries and let them finish steaming together.  I draw off the mixed juice which is hot  and sterile enough to seal in jars or freeze. [It could be freeze dried]  The remaining pulp I run through a mill that removes the skins and seeds. This is also hot enough to be sealed in jars or frozen and could be dried to fruit leather or powder. Likewise the milk and eggs could be freeze dried.
So I is possible to have a self cultivating, self fertilizingng smoothie ingredient producing farm. In the tropics it could be coconut trees and vanilla vines. It could be peach trees and pea vines.
So yes this group thinks in terms of interlocking mutually supporting systems. they do not need to be a forest but they should not be a mono-culture that then has to receive a lot of outside input to provide the things that naturally occurs in a poly culture.
 
When I was younger I felt like a man trapped inside a woman's body. Then I was born. My twin is a tiny ad:
Groundnuts (Apios americana) LSU Cultivar ready to ship +chestnuts
https://permies.com/t/127392/Interwoven-Nursery-Groundnuts-Chestnuts
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