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Can Food Forests fight Hunger?

 
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I just saw this article and it addresses an interesting question-can Food Forests really make a difference in hunger?

https://civileats.com/2019/08/14/can-food-forests-fight-hunger/


Whaddya think? I liked it. I also think that one big public food forest is not enough for an urban area. Many people should take it on.  Almost any homeowner can grow something. People can teach each other and share experiments.  Cuba had everybody growing stuff. Same with Russia. Italy does a lot of stuff like this too.

JOhn S
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In general, our experience of people is that absent some really powerful local cultural norms enforced by communities small enough for people to know each other well, community agricultural resources haven't worked out well.  I'm not saying somebody has to own it, but somebody needs to be responsible.  Or nobody is.  

Geoff Lawton loves to preach about the abundance that flows from well-managed food forests.  I like the idea of organizing those surpluses to alleviate hunger -- not a simple logistical task.  But I'm not convinced that large public food forests are the best productive model.  Having a few of them "out there" as educational resources strikes me as a fine idea, though.
 
John Suavecito
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I love to think about how abundance could be organized in the future.  In my neighborhood, we have a local sharing/trade group. Realistically, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, 50% of the group is 90% social.  Maybe there will be organized tour/shares of gardens.  Maybe people will come out in their spare time and help work on neighborhood food forests, getting food in return. Maybe it will be socially organized with musicians and health workers sharing ideas, like a farmer's market.   Maybe lonely old homeowners will encourage young energetic poor people to come and develop their land.  This sort of thing is already happening in many areas of the US.
John S
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I live rural, so it’s different for me.

And, sorry for the ramble, in advance. Perhaps morning will bring more clarity to my answer, but I wanted to post my thoughts tonight.



I organize community through my church, for personal reasons.

Each congregation is developing a loose ten year target for how many trees and shrubs to plant over the next decade. Our ultimate goal is about thirty fruit and nut trees per person, in order to account for crop failure, calories, and animal feed. The goals are:

To feed people already living here
To feed livestock
To feed future refugees
Environmental reasons and roles (extra cherries and mulberries for birds, trees specific to bees, etc)

The majority of this is taking place on private homeowner land. Each congregation will develop a community food forest as well, but mostly as a place of learning and as a source of scionwood.

We may also do more annual gardening, but it requires more commitment. It is however rapidly productive. We’re seeing a lot of hunger issues here now; food prices are rising. For years extra tree fruit went uneaten; now it is being snatched up, even stolen.

A few months ago I approached a pastor in town about doing a food forest there. She looked at me, wearily, and asked in a small voice, “Is there anything that can produce now?” Food prices have risen even more since then, because of the ongoing disaster in the Midwest.

I think one question that has to be asked is: What kinds of food are we wanting to grow? Staples are important, as is often brought up. One church grows a massive amount of potatoes for the food bank. Nut trees will be important, I think, though harvesting, processing, and defending from squirrels will be important.

Something that I see in the urban spaces that are nearish to me (but where I don’t live) is that there are movements (like “Food is Free”) that are increasing their production and connecting people with homegrown food. Urban spaces could produce a lot more food, but I don’t think they could be self sufficient. Maybe I’m wrong. If I remember correctly though, Cuba only ever grew half its produce in the cities, and never half of all its food including animal feed and calories. And the produce thing was probably using manure imported from the countryside. Which is fine, but a limitation.

I think in order to effectively deal with the problems we’re facing food forests will need to be scaled up massively, along with other solutions. Seattle’s food forest is only 7 acres, and a very small portion of it is planted. That is nowhere near enough to feed a city that size (for reference, we’re putting together a food forest that size for a town of 800, and about 4 acres of that has already been planted. And we aren’t stopping there).

So those are my thoughts on that
 
James Landreth
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I just read the article more closely.

Seattle's food forest, described as being well established, yielded 4,250 pounds in a good year. While I commend these efforts and this project, I have to say, my little town definitely produced more than that this year. Again, a town of 800, versus a city of 700,000 (millions if you look at the metropolitan area). There is hope, but we must drastically overhaul views and production.

 
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Food forests as presented in the Designers Manual and by Geoff Lawton, are not meant to replace annual crop gardens.  Most of the food eaten at Geoff's Zaytuna Farm is grown in the kitchen garden and main crop garden; mostly annual crops.  Mollison's vision seemed to be that food forests would surround and permeate all settled areas, not just be stuck in here and there like parks.  They are a way to provide a permanent food supply.

My opinion is, unless food forests make up much or most of the trees grown in a settled area, they won't alleviate hunger to any great extent.  
 
Dan Boone
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James Landreth wrote:The goals are:

To feed people already living here
To feed livestock
To feed future refugees
Environmental reasons and roles (extra cherries and mulberries for birds, trees specific to bees, etc)

The majority of this is taking place on private homeowner land. Each congregation will develop a community food forest as well, but mostly as a place of learning and as a source of scionwood.



I think this is an excellent model that leverages the best of both worlds -- private husbandry and communitarian shared resources where it's most vital.  (I know the single biggest limiting factor on all my food forest experimentation has been cost, difficulty of obtaining, or just complete unavailability of desired propagules.)  

I also purely love that y'all are planning for feeding refugees.  I try not to take counsel of my fears, but in my heart of hearts I do fear that the 21st century will be known to history as the century of refugees.  
 
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I think food forests can help feed the masses. Even in a bad year it can help somewhat. The problem is there are roughly 330 million mouths to feed in this country alone. That would require a lot of acreage to truly solve the problem. Far more than the few acres here & there that some cities are throwing at it. It's excellent they are trying but it will need to be ramped up in a big way. Big ag & big consumer oriented business won't like that. Which, in my opinion, is a good enough reason to do it.

One point I really liked in the article was it mentioned they are trying to grow food within 1/2 mile of the 80% of the population in the food deserts that many big cities have. I think something close to that standard should be mandatory. It wouldn't hurt if the school systems taught kids how to grow food starting at an early age. Some people don't even understand that carrots & potatoes come from the soil. They really don't. I once had someone say "I live in a city, the environment is for people out in the country."
 
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Can food forest aka a plot of land growing food provide a harvest that someone can eat, the answer is yes.

But I think that what you are asking is more along the lines of, 30% of the population/land is experiencing chronic hunger, how can we:
1) Give these many people access/ownership to huge plots of land
2) Provide seeds/starters/water/tools/etc to establish this food production system
3) Teach them the skill and buyin that is required to make this system self-maintain.

I mean take out the word food forest and put in orchard or conventional farm or even forestland with wild deer or river/pond/estuary with fish. And there will be alot of similarities.

Are we talking public food forest similar to public fishing, or wild harvesting of deer. Are we talking about grants to get a free farmstead/homestead. In truth we already have a kind of meat public food forest already as it relates to fishing and hunting.

 
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James, I hope to hear more about your progress in your community.

Especially how you've assembled this coalition of public organizations with larger private citizens willing to make use of their properties.

How were those people with private land encouraged to start experimenting with growing food? Have you applied for any grants, if you have what's the process like? What's your plan for food distribution, storage and processing?

Wishing you tons of success from MA
 
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https://www.terracorsa.info/chestnut/chestnut.html

Corsica's food forests, at a similar latitude to Boston, have fed the people as a staple for centuries, with the exception of a recent period social breakdown.  This was on private lands but was legislated on the public.  Each farmer had to plant 4 trees a year, chestnut, mulberry, olive, fig.  The chestnuts became the staple.

This is a tangible example of what's possible.

Of course, it doesn't feed people today, which everyone is always asking, and which our stomachs demand of us.  So transitional elements are needed, and that is fully compatible with a food forest.  As Mark Shepard has exemplified, though he's looking to pay the bills rather than to maximize calories, so his intercrops are /were asparagus.  You could so potatoes instead, you could do rows of wheat even.  But if we don't plant the trees today, we're very sure not to have them when we get hungry ten years from today.

The Boston Food Forest is rather neglected but hte trees may survive.  There are mature walnuts there, and oaks, lots of places.  No processing equipment for acorns publicly available, and unlike chestnuts they're not user friendly.  The food forest in Pennsylvania (more of an experimental breeding spot, from Dust Bowl times) is/was still growing in private individuals' yards decades later.  It's a good source of scion wood too, an activist has been taking scion wood from it and shipping to people.  I can't recall the name of the town but hopefully a web search will turn it up.

The communal, social, thinking element needs to be strengthened.  This is not an overnight change, it's a long-term process.  I appreciate Carl Ratner's argument (he's a macro-cultural psychologist and political scientist) that cooperation is neither natural to human nature nor naturally antithetical to it, but is instead a _skill_ we need to learn and which is vastly helped by overt education about how to cooperate.  There is one business school in the world that offers a cooperative MBA, according to Ratner's book.  It's both telling as to how little focus has been put on cooperation globally, and to the fact that there can be an accredited MBA that is based in a cooperative ethos rather than a competitive one.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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PS chestnuts in America--I don't pretend to know the right answer for this, but it seems like the answer is as always "ask nature."  There aer people trying to bring back the American chestnut, there are the Chinese, Japanese, and European ones, there may be chinquapin grafts or other creative workarounds.  

And chestnuts are much easier to get an immediate meal from than, say, acorns or walnuts.  Peel and eat, vs. hammer open soak soak soak soak soak drain boil soak curse at soak again gag and eat (for acorns) or smash it with an Incredible Hulk and an axe (for walnuts).

The other advantage of walnut trees is that they are already around.  Churches could invest the hundred bucks or so into getting hand-powered nutcrackers for hungry parishioners...or even level up to something bicycle-powered (?) that can do bulk smashings or electric.  Although it's not as much starch as a chestnut, it will fill you up with good fat and protein.  The walnut trees growing in people's yards, in public parks, in highway median strips even, produce a great deal of unused food.  
 
John Suavecito
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Great ideas, Joshua!
I have planted walnut trees in public parks in low income areas.  So far, they are all tolerated.  I tried to do it so no one would notice at first.  Portland is pretty pro that sort of thing anyway.

John S
PDX OR
 
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I think in terms of helping the fight on hunger, the battle is not in anything big, but lots and lots of micro-plantations.

I say this for one reason; look at the success of Victory Garden's during World War Two. As the saying goes: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time of course, but has it ever occurred to anyone, the world could be fed the same way; one bite at a time? I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I am convinced the reason Victory Garden's are no longer promoted is because of how successful they were. A Victory Garden/Food Forest Combination would inevitably be a great step in fighting hunger.

I do not have any issue with a city having one or two, but only because from their success, people could see that they produce food. I do not think one or two per city is the end-all, be-all, but if people could learn, and build upon them in a micro-setting, but prolifically, it would be a huge help.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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oh yeah, for intercropping with trees, https://permies.com/t/16269/Jerusalem-Artichokes-Sunchokes-Missoula.  (Paul's video down a few posts is great--https://youtu.be/kD1aHQ0ZtJ4).  

I'm not sure if I explained this right, but when you're starting a food forest, the really big overstory trees need to be far enough apart that they can coexist once htyer'e big, so you plant them wide for the future.  But in the meantime (many decades) they're still just sticks or small trees, and the space between can be used for other uses.  One important thing is to plant nitrogen fixers there which you later chop and drop--however, if you have hungry people in the meantime then you can use Mark Shepard's strtegy.

And sunchokes seem like a really great option, even easier than potatoes and somewhat less susceptible to bugs.  

Since sunchokes, despite some people's argument that their flowers are pretty like sunflowers, are not exactly the most photogenic in many people's view, nor are potatoes,   it helps the PR aspect of things to have them be a part of a "food forest" rather than a "garden", in my experience.  I think people have a more flexible sense of aesthetics when it comes to their expectations of forests.  (And of course forests are truly beautiful in their way!)
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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I'd lvoe to know more from the successful food forests (Vietnam, Africa) how the social stewardship works.  Immigrants I've spoken to from various countries have said that people just grow things privately in their yards and that there is very little sense of community anymore.  Yet somehow pockets of cooperation have managed to sustain themselves in the midst of the trend toward isolationism/individualism.
 
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The concepts in food forest do work with good design.

But for large scale, I am more in favor of alley cropping.      With this method you can use both machines and also do chop and drop.      A combo method I believe is best for large production.    I have yet to see a food forest yield as high as per say a Market garden for the size of land.
 
John Suavecito
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When we talk about yield of market garden vs. yield of food forest, we need to include various inputs.  Market garden requires more labor, water, pollinator services, disease effort, help for the soil over time.  
Food forest just requires more time to get established.  I think food forest is much better for someone who has another job, like me and gradually can tinker and experiment with it, to share ideas.  Someone who wants to relax, observe and enjoy nature's creativity after work. Forest bathing: nature's way to calm you down and see the beauty.

Market garden is a great way to feed a lot of people very soon with a lot of inputs. Also to make money.  They are both needed, but each has its place.

John S
PDX OR
 
James Landreth
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Mike Barkley wrote:I think food forests can help feed the masses. Even in a bad year it can help somewhat. The problem is there are roughly 330 million mouths to feed in this country alone. That would require a lot of acreage to truly solve the problem. Far more than the few acres here & there that some cities are throwing at it. It's excellent they are trying but it will need to be ramped up in a big way. Big ag & big consumer oriented business won't like that. Which, in my opinion, is a good enough reason to do it.

One point I really liked in the article was it mentioned they are trying to grow food within 1/2 mile of the 80% of the population in the food deserts that many big cities have. I think something close to that standard should be mandatory. It wouldn't hurt if the school systems taught kids how to grow food starting at an early age. Some people don't even understand that carrots & potatoes come from the soil. They really don't. I once had someone say "I live in a city, the environment is for people out in the country."




I agree that offsetting is still very helpful. For two years I had to grow a lot of my own food and animal feed, and I didn't have a lot of established trees. But I was grateful for the ones that I did have. 100 pounds of apples goes a long way towards replacing garden fruit, and was able to reduce the amount of annual garden I had going by quite a bit. I love gardening but it is intensive. I agree with John, that gardening has its merits but does take a lot of fertility resources, labor, and, in our region especially (in summer), water.

 
James Landreth
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Kamaar Taliaferro wrote:James, I hope to hear more about your progress in your community.

Especially how you've assembled this coalition of public organizations with larger private citizens willing to make use of their properties.

How were those people with private land encouraged to start experimenting with growing food? Have you applied for any grants, if you have what's the process like? What's your plan for food distribution, storage and processing?

Wishing you tons of success from MA



Thank you!

It’s been a bit of a juggernaut, getting everyone on board. I started with presenting at several Methodist churches about food forests and why we should do them at the church. Congregation members pulled in help from Girl Scouts, Master Gardeners, and others. People with grafting skills have come forward, among other abilities. I’ve put out the call on here and in other circles for plants, and I’m propagating a lot here. I’ve dug and potted up lots of groundcovers and fruit seedlings for rootstock. And I’ve got seconds trees that I potted up from a local nursery.

I’m now teaching regular classes as a volunteer at my church about everything from bees to home orchards/food forests. I will probably bring up permaculture soon enough, though I feel that that is a class unto itself.

For private land, I’m propagating trees to give out, and as I’ve said I’ve put out the call for donations too. I posted in a Buy Nothing facebook group asking who would be willing to plant and maintain a home orchard. So far the response has been positive and a woman has offered old fencing material to protect the young plantings.

As for getting people to experiment with growing food, it’s a mixed bag. Some people are fairly experienced with growing food but have let those skills go dormant in recent years. Some maintain a small garden. Some know absolutely nothing at all, old skills having been lost completely. So I have to meet everyone where I can. But people are very interested. (Part 1)
 
James Landreth
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I think the interest is genuine, but also comes from fear (of instability, rising food prices, and potential collapse). People have a lot of anxiety, so creating a positive focus for that--a lightning rod if you will--is important.

I expect there will be failures and frustrations, but I think it will be worth it. We must do something.

We have not applied for grants, no. We may in the future. I’m doing this through a beekeeping club too (Preservation Beekeeping Council), but grants are hard. And honestly, it feels counter intuitive in a way. We’re trying to take things into our own hands and do things as a community, and move away from reliance on this larger system which is fraught with problems and unsustainability. So far I’m amazed at the resources put forth by the community, especially one so poor.

Food storage and distribution is unclear. People already bring extra food from existing trees and gardens to church to share. That happened before me, without any prodding. So that is a good sign. I think people will probably share the surplus, as some forms of permaculture advocate.

We’re working systematically to rebuild pollinating insects as well. I’m making hollow log beehives, and a man is producing bird houses and mason bee houses to put up. We’re going to try to put them up all over, including at people’s houses. We’ve already seen birds and insects recover majorly at the food forest in my town. We’ve even seen birds of prey come back.
 
John Suavecito
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I have seen a lot of grants that aren't worth it.  If you complete this meticulous proposal for what we want you to do (not your idea) and promise to spend 15 hours working really hard on our stuff, we'll give you $35.  Not anywhere worth it.  

I also agree with James' concept that the community needs to come forth together.
John S
PDX OR
 
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