Food production is a topic which is important to discuss for obvious reasons. With agriculture taking a back seat due to poor pay scales and the vagaries of weather, land which can be farmed on is reducing across the globe. On the other hand, the population is increasing. How does one begin to bridge this gap between demand and supply? That was one thought.
The other is along the lines of what our late past President Shri Abdul Kalam ji advocated - that of planting food bearing trees which will prevent hunger as well as contribute to a thriving ecosystem.
The answer to both these thought processes lies in the concept of developing food forests. A food forest consists of planting a diverse range of plants, trees, shrubs, herbs and crops which are indigenous to a particular area. A food forest concept consists of seven layers. The layers are named as, the overstory , the understory, the shrub layer, the herbaceous layer, the root layer ,the ground cover layer and the vine layer. The mycelial layer (consisting of edible fungi) can also be considered as another layer.
In developing a food forest, the trees, the shrubs and the larger plants need a few years to start flowering. In the meanwhile the plants which have a shorter crop cycle like vegetable plants, greens, herbs and traditional grasses like heritage wheat, rice, millets etc begin to produce food from 3 months onwards.
The term food forest is because it is cultivated and planted in a manner where it will become a self sustaining forest but one that is filled only with edible plants and trees. What this does is that it creates a wealth of an ecosystem which sustains all manner of life.
The most important benefits of any forest is perhaps the ability to sequester the carbon dioxide. A food forest does the same. We all know that plants take in carbon dioxide, which is why rampant deforestation is causing so much damage. Trees trap the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and convert it into a biomass during photosynthesis. It does not end there. This carbon is then trapped inside and taken down to the roots where it lies and adds to soil health.
The sequestered carbon is then transported through a complex underground root system and is present in the floor of the forest just beneath the surface. When we uproot trees or dislodge roots we are in fact releasing more carbon to what is already existing in the atmosphere.
A food forest doesn’t provide just food for human existence. It also provides shelter, energy and anything required to lead a sustainable human existence.
When talks of food forests began to spread on a global scale, experts found that this concept has been in existence for thousands of years. Man has always had an idea to live off the land in a sustainable manner. In doing so we live in complete harmony without danger to the planet or to human lives.
Once the food forests begin to take shape, it requires little maintenance and turns into a living, breathing land mass which thrives and contributes to reducing the impact of climate change.
At TBOF, the food forest is taking beautiful shape and contains a mix of native fruit trees, ancient grains, medicinal herbs and lots more. It is a haven for biodiversity of all life forms .
The natural mulching which happens as a result improves soil fertility to a great extent. There is less evidence of pest attacks, disease and drought in the awakening of a food forest.
A food forest does not necessarily have to be large acres of land. Once the concept is understood, even a small plot can be transformed into a veritable eden. The choice lies with us.