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What is a food forest?

Louis De Jaeger

1 mrt. 2024

The definition of a food forest is: • one designed by a human


• made up of different layers

• which mainly consists of a polyculture of

perennial and woody crops

• where food production plays an important role.

Different layers in a food forest

Think back to the previous walk you took in the woods. You see all kinds of trees and plants that together form an ecosystem. We can divide all the plants that grow there into categories based on the place they occupy in the forest. You look up and see very large trees that are more than 15 meters high. Below that you will see smaller trees that may only reach 8 meters high. Under these trees you will see various shrubs, below you will see herbaceous plants that cover the ground.

An existing forest as a source of inspiration for your food forest

If you think back on that walk any further, you should also remember that it is full of ivy. Both on the ground and high in the trees. If you look carefully at the ground during your walk in the woods, there is a good chance that you will also see mushrooms. This is the natural structure of a forest, consisting of a number of layers or floors.

A food forest mimics a natural forest

When designing a food forest, you imitate a normal forest, with the exception that you use as many edible plants as possible and that you create more open spaces. These open spaces are necessary in our climate to get enough sun into your food forest.

A food forest consists of thirteen layers:

  1. The standard low

  2. The half-stem low

  3. The big bush low

  4. The low stem low

  5. The small fruit layer (raspberry, honeyberry ...)

  6. The perennials (asparagus, rhubarb ...)

  7. The annual plants (tomatoes, carrots, grains ...)

  8. The ground covers (clover, oxalis, helleborus ...)

  9. The underground layer (tubers, bulbs)

  10. The mushrooms (shiitake, oyster mushroom ...)

  11. The climbing layer (grapes, passion flower ...)

  12. The animals (poultry, sheep, cows...)

  13. The water layer (shore plants, aquatic plants, fish ...)

To present complexity in a structured way, we have made such a clear division. In reality, these different layers overlap and sometimes even interweave each other.

Would you like to learn more about food forest design? Then read 'Design your own food forest' by Commensalist founder Louis De Jaeger or book a no-obligation phone call with one of our Commensalists.

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