By Rani Chehal-Bassi
The idea of Permaculture is about creating very intelligent design systems that work with the natural power of the ecosystem and using these harmonious relationships to create gardens and forests that provide for themselves. Self-sustaining gardens become producers that are not forced to be dependent on chemical companies that poison our agricultural food supply. Gardens and parks are created with a companion planting concept that also creates beneficial animal, plant, and insect relationships. Basically, a food forest garden is a planned ecosystem that functions the way nature works.
A man living in England, by the name of Robert Hart adopted the idea of forest gardening during the early 1960s, and became the pioneer. Hart began farming with the intention of providing a healthy and therapeutic environment for himself and his brother. He had discovered that taking care of livestock, unruly vegetable beds and massive orchards, were tasks beyond their time and stamina. However, a small bed of perennial vegetables and herbs he planted were looking after itself with very little human intervention. He was unaware that this system of agro-forestry was being used in many parts of the world already. From the agro-forestry point of view, perhaps the world's most advanced forest gardens are in the Indian state of Kerala, which boasts no fewer than three and a half million forest gardens. With inspiration such as that, Hart pioneered a system used worldwide today based on the observation of a natural forest and how it was broken up into distinct levels. The system is called, the seven layers of the forest garden.
Forest gardens are very common in many countries and known by various names such as: home gardens, family orchards, agro-forests or gardens of complete design. You can find them in places such as South India, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Sri Lanka. They have been shown to be a significant source of food security for local populations and also a growing trend in even more urban cities and towns. Many communities around the world are adopting this very old idea. It is probably the world's oldest form of land use and most resilient agro-ecosystem. They originated during prehistoric times along jungle-clad riverbanks and in the foothills of regions with abundant rainfall. Gradually, humans improved their immediate environment; useful tree and vine species were identified, protected and improved while undesirable species were eliminated. Eventually, superior plant species were selected and incorporated into the gardens, resulting in abundant edible food forests that yielded a slew of fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries and the alike.
A contemporary example of this idea being taken to the next level is in the city of Seattle, Washington. The Beacon Food Forest is a project created by a community group that is already well underway. It will become the United States very first public food forest, providing an array of edible fruit-bearing plants including apple, pear, persimmon, chestnut and walnut trees; and edible berries such as blueberries, raspberries and lingenberries. It is being developed on a seven-acre plot of land, just a few miles from downtown Seattle. The goal is to mimic self-sustaining nature while providing free, healthy food to the local community. Citizens will be invited to harvest foods on the honor system, encouraging them to take only what they need but save some for others as well.
Permaculture seminars and how-to clinics are available in abundance these days. I hope to see a day where all people know how they can turn their homes into lush, productive gardens that can catch and store rainwater, grow fruits and vegetables and produce many more important essentials needed in their lives, without complete dependence on outside sources. By redesigning our homes and communities we can start living and producing everything we need in a local, sustainable and beautiful way!