Food Forests are the most productive and resilient food producing systems. Once they are established they produce a wide variety of perennial foods with very little inputs for 100's of years into the future. We can help you design and implement food forests for any context.


A Food Forest is a cultivated perennial forest ecosystem that mimics the structure and function of a natural forest but consists of a wide variety food producing trees, shrubs, herbs, ground covers, climbers and roots. Food Forests are climate and bio-regional specific and are designed to be self-regulating, highly productive and produce food all year round, integrating small animals such as poultry, and when mature add immense long term food security value, beauty and bring the force of nature into your homestead.

Advantages of a Food Forest

When you look at the average garden, it doesn’t look much like a forest. In fact, in many ways a garden is the exact opposite of a forest. Throughout history, many people have been removing forests to create space for food production.

But it turns out that there is actually a lot we can gain by  forest gardening.

  1. Increased harvests by stacking crops and growing vertically.
  2. Less pest issues because of the overall complexity of the system.
  3. Creating a beautiful forest ecosystem in your garden that not only produces a wide variety of food, medicines and other resources, but creates the peace and energy of natural systems that can only come from ecosystemic synergy. This is not only a productive space but a space we can constantly charge our home environment with the energy force of nature. The forest becomes our teacher.
  4. No need for inputs once it’s established.
  5. It supports and regenerates the ecosystem processes on your property, increasing the effectiveness of the water and mineral cycles, hosting and supporting a wide variety of birds and other small creatures, harvests huge amounts of sunlight and converts it into resources we can use, producing large amounts of wood, genetic material, mulch, providing shelter from the elements

Food Forests reduce inputs in many ways

  • Placing emphasis on trees, shrubs, perennials, and self-seeding annuals,
  • Planting thickly and using ground covers to shade soil and suppress weeds,
  • Utilizing nitrogen-fixing and nutrient-accumulating plants, chop-and-drop techniques, and returning wastes to the land to create healthy soil rather than applying fertilizer,
  • Planting a diverse array of plants that attract beneficial insects to pollinate the fruit crops and keep pest populations from exploding and causing damage,
  • Utilizing several ground-shaping techniques to keep rain water on the site, and
  • Designing for placement of plants to create micro-climates and windbreaks.
  • Integrating livestock such as poultry to manage weeds, pests and to build soil health. They in turn provide a wide range of products that you can use.


The Structure and Design of a Food Forest

Food Forests have a specific design structure that replicates that of a forest. A forest is not simply a collection of trees, it is defined by a very specific structure, that can be very tall in the case of Tropical Rain-forests or very low and stunted in the case of Desert Thickets. Both are forests, however their environmental contexts create different scales. However the structure of a forest is present in both. If a forest does not have this structure, it is a stand of trees, like a plantation, not a true forest.

A food forest therefore contains this structure to some extent.

Generally, we recognize 7 to 10 layers of a forest garden,depending on climate context.

  1. The emergent layer, which is climate specific and can consist of tall palms that stick out the top of the canopy layer.
  2. The canopy layer which consists of tall trees and there are few of them.
  3. The small tree layer which sits under the overstory and consists of the bulk of the food forest.
  4. The Shrub layer, consisting of productive shrub like plants that often nested under the dripline of the small tree layer.
  5. The Herb layer, which often consists of what we call pioneer plants or plants that perform an ecosystem service in terms of soil fertility and pest control. This can also be berries.
  6. The ground cover layer, which often is leguminous or made up of runners such as Sweet Potato.
  7. The root layer, or underground layer which is made up of bulbs, edible roots, and the mycelium of fungi
  8. The climbing layer, which can be granadilla, grapes, kiwifruit, depending on climate context.
  9. In some contexts the hydro layer exists, which can be pond ecosystems and streams.
  10. The mobile layer, which consists of small production animals that are harvested.

Not all food forests will have all these layers, for example dryland food forests will typically have less plant layers due to water limitations and many of the functions of the different plants will be taken up by animals.

Food forests are complex guilds or polycultures, whereby all the different plants and animals are integrated with each outer in functional relationships. Connections between the elements of a food forest enable it to self-regulate or function like a natural ecosystem.

A guild is a harmonious assembly of species clustered around a central element (plant or animal). This assembly acts in relation to the central element to assist its health, aid our work in management, or buffer adverse environmental effects.


Food Forests are either established on slope or flatland. In each case the pattern of the food forest differs as a food forest is always planted into a water harvesting earthworks pattern.

Food Forest on Flat Land

Water harvesting earthworks form the mainframe design pattern into which food forests are established. On flat land food forests will follow a mosaic pattern if there is space or a strip pattern if space is limited and it needs to run along a boundary, for example. The trees are evenly spaced and they are planted into a berm and basin or what we call a Tree Pan. This catches and infiltrates rain water around the root zone of the tree and will cover its extent. Run-off water from nearby hard surfaces or slopes are directed into the tree pan, even gray water, overflow from rain tanks, etc. This builds a ground water lens under the tree and its guild that will reduce the need for irrigation.

Food Forest on Slope

When we establish food forests on slope, we use swales as the earthwork foundation so the food forest runs along contour. This not only provides stability it enables water and nutrient to be harvested, spread and infiltrated into the ground. This creates a ground water reserve that the food forest can draw on, substantially reducing irrigation and nutrient input requirements. This system is space efficient and creates an elegant strip forest system that is easy to access, hydrates along contour, which has downslope nutrient and water potential. Food forests are then planted in contour rows, with open areas between swales that can accommodate cropping, pasture, or ornamental systems.

Turn your garden into a Food Forest

We provide design, implementation & mentoring services to help you establish a food forest in your garden.

Design of Food Forests for any context and climate

Design of Food Forests of any size to fit any garden

Virtual and on-site designs

Design of water harvesting earthworks & irrigation systems

Assistance with procurement of plants, animal elements, irrigation system, mobile animal tractors

Implementation services available in Cape Town & Montagu region


Humid Tropical Food Forest

Humid Temperate Climate Food Forest

Dryland Food Forest in Jordan

Urban Backyard Sub-Tropical Food Forest, Australia

Dryland Urban Food Forest on the Pavement Verge, Arizona

Temperate Dryland Food Forests at Oudeberg Permaculture Farm

Temperate Drylands Food Forest Klein Karoo

Mediterranean Food Forest in Cape Town

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