GIH

20 December 2020

A food forest is about more than just providing food.

We now know that by mimicking a forest, food can be grown with less effort but did you know that they simultaneously diminish the many problems that come with modern agricultural practices? When you think of a food forest, food is of course the first thing to come to mind, but that would just be scratching the surface. Food forests are so much more than that. They harbor biodiversity, stabilize the soil, prevent erosion, enhance the land's capacity to store water, and moderate air and soil temperatures.

Unfortunately, not too many people are aware of these problems, we can’t just expect everyone to be eco-literate or to know how to respect or become better caretakers of the world we live in.

Genetic Diversity

Seeds are living plants and keeping them viable over long periods of time, as we’ve learned, requires a lot more than a stock of jars. Like everything, seeds eventually degrade with time. It is hard to predict when seeds lose viability being why the primary use of our food forest is to serve as an open-source, living seed bank. An effort to collect, catalog, and continue to grow a diverse variety of food producing plants and trees which will allow them to continue evolving with our ever changing environment as our way to safeguard Haiti’s food security and seed sovereignty.

We need to keep our seeds alive by planting them, growing them, eating them, and sharing them. This will help future plants be better adapted to our environment while keeping us connected to the foods we love. We need to stop being so reliant on foreign seed companies selling us on monocultures and hybrid crops causing a lot of our traditional crops to disappear while trapping our local farmers into a destructive cycle of excessive tilling and using chemical on our foods.

In a natural forest setting, plants adapt and collectively build a resistance to things like pests, diseases, and climate change. There are also the health benefits, financial potential, and a variety of flavors that growing a food forest can provide over a conventional field of grains. Food forests can ensure food security of millions of people for countless of generations to come.

Wildlife Sanctuary

Before Europeans first arrived, the indigenous people here were already used to symbiotic forest system where working with nature to produce food rather than cutting down forests for monoculture fields were valued. They showed that our environment can be enhanced by adapting to it instead of fighting it and realizing the forests as a source of food and habitat more than just us humans unlike modern agriculture which creates unbalanced monocultures that are preserved through relentless chemical and biological warfare where nature is approached as something to be fought, conquered and controlled. This practice persist in not only destroying our environment but also ourselves in the process.

Today, almost half of the land on this planet is devoted strictly to agriculture and our ecosystem is suffering yet another mass extinction, but all is not yet lost. Food forests were typically thought to lack biodiversity compared to a primary forest, but we’re happy to say that we've found the contrary to be true. Food forests are habitat to an abundance of birds, reptiles , amphibians, and insects. Forests are home to almost half of the world’s species, with some of the richest biodiversity found in tropical forests like those here in Haiti. Many rare and endangered species call these secondary forests home, like the endangered Hispaniolan hutias (Plagiodontia aedium) that are currently residing in our forest.

Environmental Regeneration

The rate at which soil erosion occurs depends critically on the land's plant cover. Remove it, and the soil begins to crumble and being blown away by the wind or washed away by the rain. Forests are perhaps the best protection we have against erosion and are an important part of the water cycle.

Traditional agroforestry techniques have been used for centuries to produce food without causing long-term damage to the environment. Trees increase the soil's ability to absorb and retain water by helping slow runoff and allowing water to filter into the soil, they can preserve groundwater supplies that are important both to people as drinking water and to fish and other aquatic life in nearby streams and lakes. They also nourish the soil by maintaining high levels of organic matter while moderating soil temperatures. Studies have shown that the more closely an agricultural system resembles a natural forest, the less chance there of a negative environmental impact.

Climate Control

Forests are a huge influence on both local and, possibly, on global climate. Forests that are cut down and burned release their carbon into the atmosphere, adding to the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide which is one of the major contributors to the global warming caused by the greenhouse effect.

Living forests play the absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) during photosynthesis, in which they use sunlight to convert that CO2 into the sugars and energy they need to grow. The carbon is then stored in their trunks, roots and leaves as well as in the soil. Starting new and continuing to protect existing forests can therefore be one of our best chances to mitigate climate change.