Thursday, May 7

Food Forests in Ireland?

Community Garden motivator, creator and leader through Co. Donegal, Joanne Lindsay Butler, has been posting a few features about food forestry, on Facebook. A short article she reposted from the BBC News got me thinking.


The BBC News feature, about the UN 'Food Forum On Forests' is short but focused and echoes one of my mantras ...

"When we talk about food security we need to stop focusing simply on calories. It is hugely important to recognise how much of a balanced diet comes from outside of conventional agriculture, particularly from trees and forests".


I will link you to this News item at the end here ....

The idea of 'food forests' or even smaller scale 'food woodlands' seems to be a tough challenge to focus on in Ireland. It seems that almost every farmer I talk to about this in Ireland believes the idea is 'aery faerie' unworkable or utter nonsense. The fact that in some countries 'food forestry' provides 80% or more of the national income is regarded as 'their ways, but not our ways' as if change does not happen. It seems that 700 years ago 80% of Erin depended on their food and shelter and fuel coming from their work with forests. So it was once 'our way' ... and could be again.


The big problem, possibly, is when a farmer's perception of forestry is mindset into believing that forestry is similar to planting cabbages and potatoes, and harvesting being similar too. You get a tree species, plant it in rows, watch it grow, clear fell harvest, sell the crop, and make some money.


More important, many farmers look at what grants they will earn much more than what profit is made from food produced. Grant guarantees provide major security from hassle with banks and repayment of huge overdrafts.

Several farmers I have spoken to also believe that the forestry granting is far too unstable compared to cattle and sheep. They believe that government policy changes could alter or take away grant payments a few years into the growing of the trees. So trees are put aside despite having the potential to earn twice as much over 20 years than cattle ever will.


Add to that, I have heard from some enthusiastic farmers who wish to dedicate some of their land to re-creating 'near to nature' woodlands and forest but finds that the Irish government demands that at least 35% of the allocated land is used to grow monoculture sitka spruce and European firs. If they do not comply then grants will not be paid. If this is so, then I believe the Irish forestry policies stink!


Like with most eco friendly projects I think we have to steer clear of government connection and national policies and do this for ourselves.

The starting points are spare tracts of land on our own property or local tracts of land that can be leased, borrowed, or purchased cheaply to co-ordinate local community gardens. This is also perfect for established community gardens to expand into.


That lovely spiral herb garden is from the community garden in Bray, Co. Wicklow.

Of course, for familiarity, and proven success, a community garden is best started with raised bed gardening and polytunnels if they can be afforded. The next step is trying out a Permaculture Food Woodland though.


Over time, these community projects will set an example, and set a template, that I believe farmers, and even local politicians, will eventually take notice of. When they do, of course they will promote the ideas as policy and claim these ideas as being their own new revolutionary concepts.

No matter, if their egos rule. If this is what it needs to make a culture of Food Forest happen in Ireland, and in any country, who cares who get the credit? Credit for actions does not feed us, though it may attract the odd brown envelope for favours when corporate interests seek to get their own exclusive rights.


For right now, the starting points in 'forest farming' in Ireland are the increased growing of hazel nuts, apples, including crab apples, berry bushes, herbs, perennial rocket and grazing by hens, ducks (though ducks will polish off the rocket), maybe other animals when trees are matured.

I bet several of you reading this have more thought and experience with this than I do?



I will be coming back to this subject quite often through this blog.

click here for the BBC News link about this 

click here for Joanne Butler and OURganic Gardens

click here for 'Food Forests Living Web bigger jpg

click here for 'Food Forest Living Web' downloadable poster

click here for Fruit And Nut Forest Farming workshops in Ireland

click here for a good simple check list for setting up your 'Food Forest'