Why Plant a Food Forest? Internship Highlights Thinking Long-Term

To read what else the internship program staff and interns have been doing, see Midwest Permaculture’s blog update.

We still have a few seats remaining in our upcoming internship sessions.

Hayden and Ernest walk along newly planted berm, where, in 10-15 years, a fruit overstory will shade the same place.

Hayden and Ernest walk along newly planted berm, where, in 10-15 years, a fruit over-story will shade that same spot.

Our spring interns, along with the internship staff of Ernest, Hayden, and Megan, have been busy digging into Permaculture ideas — literally.  Over the course of three weeks, we have designed, ordered, prepared, and planted a linear food forest, a multi-story edible patch of groundcovers, shrubs, fruit/nut trees, and companion plants placed along a water-catching swale.  As the forest grows, these perennials will be a lasting contribution to our yearly local harvest and provide us with tons of extra raw materials such as firewood for rocket stoves or our own living mulch.

But why plant a food forest, when it won’t truly be a forest until 10-15 years from now?  Food forests are the ultimate in slow food; in our fast-paced and mobile culture, this design doesn’t appear to work for us as individuals.

1095488_af5c674bIn my (humble) opinion, it isn’t working today simply because we haven’t recently been thinking long-term.   Imagine if your parents had planted a few trees for you at birth.  By age 20, you’d have raw materials at your disposal.  Sure, it’s not a new car, but even if you just chop up the trees for firewood, your effort is minimal.  Nature did most of the work.

Besides the estimable value of raw materials growing out of thin air, our interns brainstormed other ways in which food forest planting is useful:

  • If you are an orchardist whose wish is to maintain a healthy and productive orchard, a food forest design is insurance.  Also, with multiple harvest-able products, you aren’t putting “all your eggs in one basket.”
  • Learning to design and start food forests is a learning experience in itself, and is best learned through doing.  You learn not only how to plant a food forest, but how to work with others, and how to imagine how a place can change over time.
  • In 5-10 years when the forest does start producing, the harvest will be much more meaningful and will less likely go to waste.

Permaculture isn’t about designing something to be unchanging and final–nature doesn’t work like that– but it is about designing something that will be useful through multiple stages of growth, and not only to oneself, but to all beings sharing the same environment.  We (the intern staff) hope that this exercise in thinking long-term will, in itself, have a long-term impact.

Slide3-640x480Click here to read more about our food forest design and why we are using it in our Permaculture Design for CSC’s 8.7 acres.

Come visit our newly-planted food forest (and see other exciting innovations!) here on June 8th.

Integrated Gardening Techniques and the Garden Co-op

This 2013 growing season marks the beginning of stepping-up our integrated techniques in the community garden on the CSC property, just west of Stelle.  It is part of our Permaculture Land Design.

Some quick background:  The community garden is a celebrated part of CSC’s history.  Each year, residents of Stelle (and the nearby neighborhood) can choose to become part of CSC’s Community Garden Co-op.  It works differently than most community gardens; rather than renting plots, the garden is planned and managed by a Garden Manager.  

A past year's garden planning meeting, where the "what to plant" and "who will be planting" is decided.

A past year’s garden planning meeting, where the “what to plant” and “who will be planting” is decided.

The Garden Manager holds a yearly garden planning meeting to get interested members’ input on what to grow and how much time they have to work in the garden. Members spend time throughout the season helping to mulch, plant, weed, water, and harvest.  The general rule for the co-op harvest has been:  work a little, take a little; work a lot, take a lot.

It has worked well for some years; however, it is still a lot of work, and plenty of members fizzle out in their volunteer hours when it starts to get scorching hot outside.  What happens?  The un-watered, un-weeded garden starts to give diminishing returns.


Enter:  Integrated Gardening Techniques!  Some dedicated gentlemen (Ernest and Hayden)  have begun to rethink how to get the garden watered and weeded, to apply Permaculture principles to the garden and make it even easier than before to grow more food than before.  We like to call it lazy persons’ gardening.  What, exactly, are they doing? Continue reading

Workshop: Permaculture Orchard Design and Maintenance

Permaculture Orchard Design and Maintenance

Saturday, March 6, 2010
12:30 – 4:00 p.m
Location: Nisse Farm Manteno, Illinois

Planning an orchard?
Years since you’ve pruned your favorite apple tree?
Not sure how to care for your young fruit trees?

Whether you have one fruit tree or want to start a small orchard of your own this workshop will help you on your way. Join Mark Hoffman and Bill Land for an afternoon dedicated to orchard design and maintenance. Mark and Bill will discuss orchard design from a permaculture perspective including:

What branches would you prune from this established pear tree?

  • Planting fruits that perform well in our Midwest climate
  • Permaculture-based orchard location and layout
  • How and when to prune
  • Integrating the orchard with other plants as well as with animals
  • Managing pests
  • Harvest and storage tips
This orchard workshop will focus on integrating the orchard into your over-all food production system. It will also cover techniques for pruning and includes hands-on pruning practice. Handouts provided.

Pruning an established apple or pear tree is a lot like cutting hair. If you cut off a little too much, before long it will grow back and you’ll never know the difference. So….don’t worry about making a mistake. Apple trees grow vigorously and therefore are quite forgiving to the amateur pruner!

Note: please bring your own gloves. A pruning saw and/or pruning shears is desirable but not required.

What branches would you prune from this established pear tree?

Bio: Mark Hoffman

Mark is one of the founding members of the Center for Sustainable Community, having been engaged in the Stelle Community for over 20 years. Mark grew up on a wheat and cattle farm in central Kansas, and his farmboy roots provide the foundation for a number of agricultural pursuits include beekeeping, raising poultry, and operating the permaculture oriented gardens at the bed and breakfast he and his wife Guia operate two miles from Stelle. Professionally, Mark works as a technical writer, trainer, and engineer, and has served as the webmaster for the CSC website.