The farm started with a design that incorporated thousands of trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and more. The intent was to integrate sections of forested areas around the farm that would provide food for our customers, livestock, and wildlife, as well as habitat for that wildlife. The farm began with earthworks around the property that created berm, or basically very raised beds, which were created by digging out swales, or basically large trenches, uphill from the berms on contour. That would help to slow down and conserve water as it flowed down our hillsides. Since it is being slowed down on contour, it collects and spreads out more evenly and provides long-term drought and flood protection for the mini-forests (some like to call them “Food Forests”) we planted on our berms. You can search the internet for pictures of Incan terraces or rice terraces to get a visual. The roots of the plants are more likely to have moisture to pull from the swales during hot and dry seasons, and also not be sitting in water during heavy periods of rain and snow. Additionally, our livestock are run in and around these areas and the manure will improve the fertility. Can you imagine putting compost on thousands of perennials across 3+ miles of these food forests? Managing livestock through these areas is more effective and efficient.
So what are these young forests made up of? They are largely fruit and nut perennials. Our trees include apples, pears, plums, pecan, apricot, peach, chestnut, pine, pawpaw, jujube, persimmon, sugar maples, and more. The shrubs include bush cherries, currants, hazelnuts, elderberries, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, jostaberries, juneberries, goji berries, and more. There are many trees and shrubs that are primarily to benefit our wildlife and their ecosystem such as oak, crabapple, and black locust (which actually have edible value for us too, but aren’t as much of our focus). Beyond the tree and shrub layers, we have vining plants such as hardy kiwis and muscadine grapes, perennial cut flowers, native plants, herbs, and more.
Compared to our vegetable production, it will take many years before we can harvest a substantial amount of food from these food forests, and then many more years of increasing production. Over time, the level of maintenance will also reduce (although there will always be work to do such as pruning and mulching), while at the same time giving us a huge stock of plants that we can take cuttings and seeds from to propagate more. We have already started our nursery to be able to provide plants to our customers that would like to grow their own.