Permaculturists across the world are investing in highly valuable, long-term, naturally modelled systems called “food forests” that are self-maintaining and produce food, fiber, and building materials–a real, durable form of wealth that can enrich their communities for generations to come.
Well, that is, if those systems last!
In the modern world people often fail to see the value in things like free, high-quality food and materials. I’m convinced that if money DID grow on trees, people still wouldn’t take the time to pick it.
Whenever we plant trees and perennial crops, we do so knowing that most of their value lies well into the future, and that investment may not ever see its full potential. If it’s a public or community project, our work must demonstrate enough value year after year to clearly justify the maintenance costs and reward volunteers with the equivalent of a “living wage” for their efforts. If not, our work is likely to be replaced by something that’s seen as less of a “drain.” If our investment is in the private sphere, such as a home forest garden, then it will have to offer a similarly high value/low maintenance costs to future home owners.
For this reason, in my studies of Permaculture site plans, I’m always most inspired by projects that integrate these “productive assets” (like fruit and fiber trees, and forest gardens) into social and living space in a way that just works. This is a hallmark of the indigenous “forest gardens” found throughout the world, they are living spaces, work spaces, the places where life is lived out, where people WANT to be–and they just happen to produce 90% of the family’s food. If you’re not familiar with these indigenous forest gardens, here are a few short videos to provide an introduction. The first is a 300 year old food forest, with Geoff Lawton, and the second is Monty Don’s tour of a Keralan “home garden.” The section on Mr. Abraham’s Spice Garden starts at 34 minutes.
In Permaculture terms, these gardens “stack functions” providing both productive space and social space.
So, what are some of the ways people use outdoor spaces at home? Which of these can these be naturally integrated into the long-term infrastructure of a forest garden?
Outdoor eating/picnic/cookout area
Shady living space for hot weather
Warm/sunny space for cool weather
Outdoor gym, exercise space, functional fitness. http://youtu.be/vTJ9G5xGTz8
“Private” living space, where family members can go to be alone, study, meditate, take dates
Outdoor sleeping/relaxing space
Outdoor games, horseshoes, baggo, croquet, frisbee golf, hide and seek, tag…
“Strolling gardens”or “enterance gardens” were a popular place to walk with neighborsduring the victorian era.
Sunny space for some annual gardening.
Family picture backdrop
Natural swimming pool/water garden
Outdoor “stage” for music, presentations, plays
Spiritual spaces, sacred circle, meditation garden
The more life activities that can be integrated into our plans, the less likely it is that someone will remove a prized rare fruit tree to put in a fire pit. And the more a forest garden calls out to people to spend time in it, the more it will be valued and utilized.
And the same “stacking of functions” holds true for public space, too. In fact it’s probably even more important. Some examples:
Small, intimate concerts
A bike/walking trail
Senior pictures and other portraits
Vermicomposting near the fishing spot
Athletic fields–yes, even these fields of grass could benefit from Permaculture design! Imagine low-maintance trees next to the bleechers, providing a shady place to sit and fruit planned to ripen throughout the sport’s season. Meanwhile, edible hedgerows provide a windbreak around a soccer field…
And this list is just a start. What other social functions can be integrated into our sites?