Edible Food Forests; Delicious Magic In Your Backyard

Ever wanted to pick a peach straight from a tree, while walking past fragrant herbs and lush groundcovering plants, listening to the birds sing and bees buzz while you relax less than a 20 minute walk from your home?

Welcome to the possibilities of a world where every city is interested in forest gardening and edible yardspaces!

Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers, to build a woodland habitat.

In the 1980s, Robert Hart (in Shropshire) coined the term “forest gardening” after adapting the principles and applying them to temperate climates. His theories were later developed by Martin Crawford from the Agroforestry Research Trust and various permaculturalists such as Graham Bell, Patrick Whitefield, Dave Jacke and Geoff Lawton.


The concept of a food forest has its roots in permaculture, a philosophy (our guideline for our work!) that advocates for managing agricultural landscapes in harmony with nature. The practice emphasizes perennial, low-maintenance crops that leverage natural nutrient inputs, drainage patterns and climate to achieve a self-sustaining, food-producing ecosystem.

A food forest is quite literally a forest that produces food for people (and the occasional little visitors) to eat. Nut and fruit-producing trees and shrubs are planted with herbs, vines and ground flora that produce fruits, vegetables, and edible greens and roots. Urban communities are increasingly taking up the practice as a way to put underutilized city land to work and combine urban agriculture goals with goals for open space, recreation, and community development.


One great local example of an edible food forest is the Beacon Food Forest, located in Beacon Hill. The amazing team and volunteers there work to reduce agricultural climate impact, improve our local food security, provide educational opportunities, and celebrate growing food for the benefit of all species.

The Beacon Food Forest (BFF) started in 2009 as a result of a permaculture design course final project. To pass the course four students selected the BFF’s actual site and created a dream design which demonstrated all the design elements they had learned in the course. The best tools to come out of this final project were a full size landscape design drawing, which they used to present their concept to the community and Seattle City agencies, along with the language to support this design. The schematic designs below held a lot of leverage. The design, drawn by a certified Landscape Architect, fit the actual topography of the site and had massive community support and input.


Phase I for Beacon Food Forest

Phase I for Beacon Food Forest

Full 7 Acre Proposal



Read more about them here!

Forest gardens are still common in the tropics and known by various names such as: home gardens in Kerala in South India, Nepal, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania; Kandyan forest gardens in Sri Lanka; huertos familiares, the “family orchards” of Mexico; and pekarangan, the gardens of “complete design”, in Java. These are also called agroforests and, where the wood components are short-statured, the term shrub garden is employed. Forest gardens have been shown to be a significant source of income and food security for local populations.

Are you interested in helping spread the word about the wonderful community advantages of food forests? Check out ways to volunteer at your local P-Patch, meet with with community members to get one started, or start thinking about ways to turn your yardscape into a sustainable and culinarily advantageous space!

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