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George Mason University PDC

Innovation Hall – Edible Food Forest

An edible food forest is a polyculture food production system intended to provide long-term sustainability with minimal external inputs. Food forests rely on a framework of perennial plants that function in concert to provide soil fertility, grow biomass for soil building, create areas of shade to aid in water retention, and attract beneficial insects that feed on crop-destroying species.

Once established, food forests can play host to many annual food crops that are staples in most western diets. Annual plants in a perennial polyculture provide the additional benefit of attracting animals which help add fertility and necessary disturbance to the system; ensuring that portions of the food forest are continually being renewed rather than growing towards a climax ecosystem where nutrients are locked in a matrix inaccessible to humans.

The practice of establishing food forests is one of many techniques employed in the field of Permaculture to repair the damage caused by, and offers an alternative to, conventional farming methods. Permaculture is a system of environmental design employed to bring human living systems in line with sustainable practices. Permaculture is often used to describe perennial, no-till food production systems but is more clearly defined as a system that cares for the Earth, cares for humans, and returns surplus production to the greater ecosystem. By understanding Permaculture in this way, one can apply its principles to many aspects of life including housing, business, and interpersonal relationships.

The design methodology employed by permaculture practitioners follows a framework called The Scale of Permanence. This framework helps the designer to remain focused on holistic design by requiring that attention be paid to all of the interrelated systems in a given area. For example, when a Permaculture practitioner is employed to provide a Master Site Plan, the first step is to analyze the site in relation to:

  • Climate
  • Landform
  • Water (flow, rainfall)
  • Access & Circulation (of people and animals)
  • Microclimate (areas where certain climate features are enhanced or buffered)
  • Vegetation and Wildlife
  • Building, Infrastructure & Waste stream