A food forest is intended to mimic the principles and functions of a natural forest ecosystem. Using perennial edible plants, stacked in vertical layers, it draws much of its insight from the external edges of a forest where light filters deep into the many layers of vegetation. Food forestry can produce high yields of food with less inputs and maintenance relative to conventional agriculture, providing inspiration and innovation as we strive to improve the sustainability of our food system.
Using the forest ecosystem as a guide, plants in food forests are selected to create supportive inter-connected relationships. For example, Yarrow is planted to attract pollinators to the site and draw up nutrients from the soil to feed the trees. Clover is planted to fix nitrogen and fertilize the trees. Comfrey is planted to provide a high nutrient mulch for the trees. These supporting plants are planted around food producing trees and shrubs, creating mini ecosystems called guilds.