Is forest gardening the future of farming?

CarolineCaroline Los Angeles, CaliforniaPosts: 47 XPRIZE
edited February 2019 in Futures
Instead of neat rows of monoculture, does the future of farming have large scale forest gardens in store?

Forest gardens break the monotony of monoculture farming by mixing a diverse range of food producing plants that nourish each other, use different nutrients from the soil, and make the best use of space. They use less energy, are more resilient to changing weather conditions, and offer a more diversified source of livelihood.

Could they be the answer? What are the challenges accompanied with forest gardening?

Share your thoughts in a comment.


  • timsilmantimsilman Los Angeles, CAPosts: 58 XPRIZE
    @Caroline is this akin to permaculture, where there are multiple layers of vegetation that complement one and other by providing nutrients, cover and erosion control, sequential harvests, etc.?
  • CarolineCaroline Los Angeles, CaliforniaPosts: 47 XPRIZE
    @timsilman Yes! Forest gardening is a common practice of permaculture. Another term commonly used to refer to a forest garden is 'food forest'.
  • timsilmantimsilman Los Angeles, CAPosts: 58 XPRIZE
    @Caroline very interesting to learn about these terms. I wonder if someone with specific expertise in this systemic aspect of farming can help us unpack what the differences are? I'm sure with any technical field the terminology does matter, but I'm a beginner as it relates to this topic.
  • arshimehboobarshimehboob IndiaPosts: 78 ✭✭
    Jhumming Cultivation in India

    Shifting cultivation ‘slash and burn agriculture’ practice is a traditional system of agriculture that is being carried out in northeast India through centuries and is the basis of subsistence for rural population.
    The use of hill slopes for Jhum cultivation causes on-site effects of deforestation, loss of biodiversity both above and below- ground, loss of top fertile soil, reduction of water storage capacity and exposure of unfertile acidic sub-soil leading to low availability of soil nutrients and off-site effects of sediment deposition on water bodies in valley region and consequent environmental problems.
    Previously the land was the sufficiently prolonged fallow period (i.e. about 20-30 years), however the increasing demand for food to feed expanding population, there has been a recent strong trend towards shorter fallow periods (ca. <4 years) which does not allow the soil to restore its fertility sufficiently to support health of soil and sound production system. This has led to widespread concern about forest degradation, declines in soil fertility, crop yields, food security, and ecological balance of this region.

    Scientist now are trying to improve the efficiency of shifting cultivation sites by using the ecological principles of soil fertility management in natural ecosystems which is based on five basic principles: soil organic matter, soil water, soil fauna, nutrient synchrony, and integration of biological processes.
  • timsilmantimsilman Los Angeles, CAPosts: 58 XPRIZE
    @arshimehboob thanks for some local context on India. do you know how pervasive this shift in agro-ecology is in other regions? i've heard a lot about permaculture, etc. and there are a lot of momentum in localized examples, but I'm really curious if the community has any insights into the size of this trend globally?
  • covillercoviller Central New York, USAPosts: 2 ✭✭
    edited April 2019
    I agree with you that integrating trees into agriculture can address many issues and provide critical ecosystem services. I refer to this as agroforestry and I see it as one of the best tools in our toolbox to mitigate and adapt to the environmental degradation we face on many fronts. Much of our agricultural lands came from and move toward forest cover, so we may as well work with natural succession. Agroforestry is a broader and more widely used term than forest gardening. In its broadest sense, agroforestry is simply the integration of trees in crop and livestock growing systems.

    There's generally 5 or 6 categories of how it is applied in the USA: alley cropping, forest farming, silvopasture, riparian buffers, windbreaks, and forest gardening. You can read about the main 5 at The 6th one is forest gardening which is smaller-scale agroforestry, gardening to mimic the forest. That said, home gardening can be an important part of our food systems too, especially considering the challenges of changing climates.

    Lastly but certainly not least, like @arshimehboob described there's shifting cultivation techniques which integrate trees into agriculture to varying extents. In some cases these are some of the best examples of humans living in mutually beneficial relationships with their environment I've ever seen (e.g. Lacandon Maya agroforestry), yet sadly many examples are lost or threatened by the oppression and exploitation of indigenous peoples and the lands they steward. Slash and burn itself has earned a negative connotation, because of pressures on traditional land use and other factors leading those farmers to slash and burn in shorter rotations or with no reforestation at all (i.e. deforestation in Brazil to open areas for cattle monocultures) which can have devastating environmental consequences.
  • NickOttensNickOttens Community Manager Amsterdam, NetherlandsPosts: 899 admin
    Thank you for sharing your insights, @coviller! I'm afraid that, for some reason, your comment got caught up in the community's spam filter... Not sure why, but I've marked your account as verified so it won't happen again.
  • timsilmantimsilman Los Angeles, CAPosts: 58 XPRIZE
    thank you @coviller ! interestingly another community member @jonathankolber brought up permaculture and agroforestry in the context of the digital transformation in agriculture:

    my question there was what technological tools may be lacking currently to permit the acceleration of permaculture , and what other obstacles are out there preventing this from becoming a more well-utilized approach? the potential certainly seems to be there
  • arshimehboobarshimehboob IndiaPosts: 78 ✭✭
    edited June 2019
    Permaculture maybe the solution to India’s agrarian crisis and it finds purpose in India in light not just of the plight of our farmers, but also given the country’s poor-quality water resources, waning bio-diversity and soil health. The world of permaculture is based on a rock solid foundation - the synthesis between local, indigenous knowledge and modern appropriate technology.

    With varied and diverse complex ecosystem, the benefits of permaculture use are constrained by the broader agro-food system, resource entitlements, and other structural constraints.

    It is important to bear in mind that permaculture principles are not meant to provide a technical solution that is bound to work in any given place at any time, but are ideas on how to promote key functions of sustainable agroecosystems when applied to a particular region. Site specific design methods should prevent typical mistakes when dealing with complex systems.

    For eg, Permaculture Principle II: Catch and Store Energy the introduction of solar panels to harvest water and wind energy .
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