7 December 2020

Decoding Nature's Bounty:
9 Layers of Regenerative Food Systems

Discover the magic of a tropical regenerative food system, a place where perennials and medicinal plants coexist in a harmonious symphony of growth, rather than in orderly, annual rows of crops. At the heart of this system is the core principle that nature flourishes best when left to its own devices, hence these ecosystems are designed to mirror the structure of a natural forest. They are optimized to make the most of every inch of space, horizontally and vertically, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that thrives on mutual support.

So, what are these fascinating layers that make up a regenerative food system? If you're a green thumb just getting started with this concept, we're here to guide you. Knowing which layers to cultivate in your food forest is crucial for maximizing productivity. While some might lean towards certain layers, we recommend starting with the larger trees and working your way through the layers.

1. Canopy/ Tall Tree Layer
These towering giants typically reach over 30 feet. This layer is home to timber trees, large nut trees, and nitrogen-fixing trees. However, larger fruit-bearing trees can also find a home here, depending on the species and variety. e.g. coconut palm, mahogany, kapok

2. Sub-Canopy/ Short Tree Layer
This layer generally ranges from 10-30 feet. The majority of fruit trees fall into this category and in smaller food forests, they can also serve as the canopy layer. e.g. nutmeg, cacao, orange

3. Shrub Layer
This layer, usually up to 10 feet high, is populated by fruit-bearing bushes, along with many nut, flowering, medicinal, and other beneficial plants. e.g. Suriname cherry, coffee, coco plum

4. Herbaceous Layer
This layer consists of non-woody plants. It's a haven for culinary and medicinal herbs, with a multitude of other beneficial plants. e.g. Motherwort, Cuban oregano, perennial vegetables

5. Ground Cover Layer
There's a fair overlap between this and the Herbaceous Layer. However, plants here are typically shade-tolerant, hug the ground closely, and are dense enough to cover any bare soil patches. e.g. Mimosa, Thyme, Clover

6. Underground/ Root Layer
The realm of root crops, many of these plants also find a place in the Herbaceous Layer, the Vine Layer, and the Ground Cover layer. e.g. Yucca, sweet potato, yam

7. Vertical/ Vine Layer
Vines and climbers span multiple layers, depending on their growth pattern. Not only do they enhance forest productivity, but they can also serve as ground cover. e.g. Passion fruit, grapes, chayote

8. Aquatic/ Wetland Layer
This layer might not always be present, but it can be an enriching addition to any food forest. There are numerous plant species that thrive on the water's edge or within water bodies, providing a plethora of benefits. e.g. lotus, watercress, papyrus

9. Mycelium/ Fungal Layer
This crucial, often overlooked layer, serves as the forest's communication network, ferrying nutrients and moisture across the ecosystem. It also offers an array of mushrooms, both for culinary and medicinal purposes. e.g., Oyster mushroom, wood ear, Haitian djondjon

Let's consider the ecosystem as a well-orchestrated symphony. Each layer plays its own melody, but together, they create a symphony of sustainability. From the towering canopies that provide shade and habitat, to the herbaceous and ground cover layers that add depth and texture, down to the root layer that anchors the system and the mycelium that binds it all together, each part has a vital role.

Adding the aquatic layer can introduce a new dimension to your food system, offering not only a new range of plants to cultivate, but also contributing to the overall health of the ecosystem by supporting a diverse array of fauna and flora.

The beauty of a regenerative food system is that it's more than the sum of its parts. It's a vibrant, dynamic system that changes and evolves over time. As your food forest matures, you'll find new opportunities for growth, new interactions, and, inevitably, new challenges. But the rewards — a sustainable source of food, a habitat for wildlife, and a beautiful, peaceful place to relax and enjoy nature — make it all worthwhile.

So, if you're ready to embark on the exciting journey of creating your own regerative food system, remember to start with the larger trees and work your way down through the layers. Remember, patience is key - nature will take its own sweet time. But once your food forest is established, you'll have a self-sustaining, resilient ecosystem that can provide food, medicine, and joy for years to come.

Experience the profound joy of living in harmony with nature through a tropical food forest. It's not just about cultivating plants; it's about cultivating a lifestyle that respects and learns from the wisdom of nature. So, why wait? Start your regenerative food system journey today and become a steward of a more sustainable and resilient world.