Forest and home gardens

By Katy Wilson

forest garden

Sometimes called kitchen gardens or forest gardens, home gardens are found in many humid and sub-humid parts of the world and are an important strategy for tackling poor nutrition and diets. Comprising of a wealth of plant and animal species they ensure a mix of foods are available to a household, while also forming a resilient agricultural and ecological system. A report for the International Institute for Environment and Development discusses the characterisation of home gardens, their prevalence and challenges.

In the first of a series of nine videos called Living with the Land, Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust  presents his 2.1 acre Forest Garden on the Dartington Estate in South Devon. What began as a bare field in 1994 is now a diverse area of trees, shrubs and perennial plants in multiple layers, which provide a wealth of products such as fruits, nuts and medicines, mimicking both the structure and services of a natural forest. The video shows the forest garden from an aerial perspective and highlights the little cultivation, management or energy expenditure such systems require, essentially self-fertilising and watering.

In the UK forest gardens may be just that, gardens (although during World War II allotments and home gardens provided 10% of food consumed in the UK on just 1% of the land). Whereas in other parts of the world such gardens are crucial to a household’s wellbeing and survival, providing the majority or even all of the food they consume. A study from Candelaria Loxicha, Oaxaca, Mexico, found that most home gardens were multi-purpose for this very reason, providing products for home consumption but also for sale, and for environmental services. Plant diversity, optimising resource use and resilience were key aims for farmers managing home gardens, a task that fell to both men and women. Both social networks and learning were important in creating and maintaining such home gardens.

While such gardens that are as ecologically diverse as in the featured video are still relatively rare in the world, movements to support permaculture and agroforestry as well as the rise of indigenous fruits and vegetables, for example in Africa, are turning people to the positive impacts such forest gardens can have on food security, nutrition, resilience in the face of environmental stress and on biodiversity. Indeed “not only are such small holdings more productive, but they provide a greater diversity of food, with a better range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals than do most commercial farms”.

Projects aimed at developing home gardens for food security, resilience and nutrition are few and far between although they can be part of broader movements such as climate-smart agriculture and sustainable livelihoods. The Lesotho Emergency and Resilience Programme, for example, implemented by the FAO and Lesotho government promotes the adoption and scaling of a package of climate-smart agriculture practices such as Conservation Agriculture (CA) and improved home gardening as well as nutrition awareness. This project, which has been running since 2012, has recently been announced as a finalist in the “Expo Milano 2015 Call for Best Sustainable Development Practices (BSDP)”. The Universal Exposition, whose theme is “Feeding the planet, energy for life”, will take place in Milan from 1st of May to 31st of October 2015 having as a theme.

Following on from the video in the Living with the Land series, which is narrated by Sir Tim Smit KBE, creator of The Eden Project, 8 more films will look at people’s innovations in finding alternatives to conventional agricultural practices, so often found to be unsustainable, in the UK. Topics will include urban permaculture, natural building and regenerative agriculture. They will be released each week in the run-up to the 12th International Permaculture Conference taking place in London on 8th and 9th September 2015, hosted by the Permaculture Association.

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