The forest garden of Martin Crawford
The forest garden of Martin Crawford

A forest garden is a garden modeled on a natural woodland.

If you leave your garden alone and do nothing in it for a long time, it turns into a forest; a forest that is unfortunately unlikely to provide you with the food you need. But if you work with nature in the same direction by turning your garden into a food forest by copying the principles of a natural forest, you will have food in abundance. That is forest gardening.

Definitions of Forest Gardening

Forest gardening is a food production and land management system based on replicating woodland ecosystems, in which trees and plants have been replaced by fruit and nut trees, bushes, shrubs, herbs and vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans.

A forest garden is a designed agronomic system based on trees, shrubs and perennial plants. These are mixed in such a way as to mimic the structure of a natural forest – the most stable and sustainable type of ecosystem in this climate.

History of Forest Gardening

Indigenous forest garden
Indigenous forest garden

Many indigenous cultures have a long history of growing food in a way that resembles a forest. Japan also has an ancient tradition in forest gardens. Geoff Lawton recently discovered one in Morocco that is 2000 years old. Forest Gardening is nothing new. Only for ‘western’ cultures that have grown used to monoculture food production systems.

Robert Hart introduced forest gardening in Wenlock Edge in Shropshire in the UK in the 1970′s.

Martin Crawford is arguably the most well known forest gardener in the UK. He is the director of the Agroforestry Research Trust in Devon. You can watch a video of him here.

Benefits of a Forest Garden

Picture of the 7 Forest Garden Layers by Graham Burnett
Picture of the 7 Forest Garden Layers by Graham Burnett
    1. It makes maximum use of space by growing plants in up to 7 layers (stacking) and by using succession.
      • Canopy: Trees and shrubs are the backbone of the forest garden. The canopy consists of the tallest of these. Fruit and nut trees are a great edible choice.
      • Under story (low-tree , shade tolerant tree layer): Dwarf fruit and nut trees.
      • Shrub Layer: Woody plants such as raspberries.
      • Herbaceous Layer: Herbs, self seeding annuals and perennial vegetables.
      • Vertical Layer: Climbing plants and vines.
      • Ground layer: Ground cover, creepers, no more than half a foot tall.
      • Rhizosphere: Root plants such as carrots, beets, and Jerusalem artichoke
      • Succession: Growing plants that make use of sunlight at different times in the season, on the same space.


Some people count an 8th layer: The Mycelium Layer, a network of connection that transports information and nutrients between the elements.

Feeding birds in the forest garden helps to bring in phospates.
Feeding birds in the forest garden helps to bring in phospates.


  • It eliminates the need for insecticides by choosing plants that attract natural predators to control pests, by choosing the best companion plants, by diversifying lots of different species and by choosing plants with multiple uses.




  • It eliminates the need for artificial fossil fuel based fertilisers by growing nitrogen fixing plants, the best composting plants and refining composting techniques.




  • It eliminates the need for weed killers and limits the need for laborious weeding by growing ground covering and allelopatic plants and green manures for mulch. Other ‘weeds’ are a useful resource of nutrients.




  • It is a low maintenance technique because of the choice of perennials and self-seeding annuals.




  • It increases the beauty of the garden by allowing birds, insects and amphibians to play their essential role of pest control, fertilisation and spreading seeds.



Pot Marigold is a great example of multi use plants. It attracts hoverflies that predate on green fly, are edible, have a positive allellopathic effect on plants growing around it and has medicinal properties.
Pot Marigold is a great example of multi use plants. It attracts hoverflies that predate on green fly, are edible, have a positive allellopathic effect on plants growing around it and has medicinal properties.


  • No need to drain land and destroy a naturally wet habitat. Shady and wet places that are unsuitable in conventional farming techniques produce successful crops in a forest garden setting.




  • A high diversity in the production makes sure there is fresh food in the garden all year round and increases the food security in a chaotic climate.




  • It brings our carbon footprint within sustainable levels by minimising and ‘ideally’ eventually eliminating the need for fossil fuels and by growing renewable resources.


Earth Ways started a Forest Garden at the Penninghame Estate in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland. You can see the photos of the start of it in the gallery.

Below is a copy of the text of the
Nyéléni, Mali
27 February 2015


We are delegates representing diverse organizations and international movements of small‐scale food
producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter
and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people.
Together, the diverse constituencies our organizations represent produce some 70% of the food consumed
by humanity. They are the primary global investors in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs
and livelihoods in the world.
We gathered here at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali from 24 to 27 of February, 2015, to come to a
common understanding of agroecology as a key element in the construction of Food Sovereignty, and to
develop joint strategies to promote Agroecology and defend it from co‐optation. We are grateful to the
people of Mali who have welcomed us in this beautiful land. They have taught us through their example,
that the dialogue of our various forms of knowledge is based on respectful listening and on the collective
construction of shared decisions. We stand in solidarity with our Malian sisters and brothers who struggle –
sometimes sacrificing their lives – to defend their territories from the latest wave of land grabbing that
affects so many of our countries. Agroecology means that we stand together in the circle of life, and this
implies that we must also stand together in the circle of struggle against land grabbing and the
criminalization of our movements.
Our peoples, constituencies, organizations and communities have already come very far in defining Food
Sovereignty as a banner of joint struggle for justice, and as the larger framework for Agroecology. Our
ancestral production systems have been developed over millennia, and during the past 30 to 40 years this
has come to be called agroecology. Our agroecology includes successful practices and production, involves
farmer‐to‐farmer and territorial processes, training schools, and we have developed sophisticated
theoretical, technical and political constructions.
In 2007 many of us gathered here at Nyéléni, at the Forum for Food Sovereignty, to strengthen our
alliances and to expand and deepen our understanding of Food Sovereignty, through a collective
construction between our diverse constituencies. Similarly, we gather here at the Agroecology Forum 2015
to enrich Agroecology through dialogue between diverse food producing peoples, as well as with
consumers, urban communities, women, youth, and others. Today our movements, organized globally and
regionally in the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), have taken a new and
historic step.
Our diverse forms of smallholder food production based on agroecology generate local knowledge,
promote social justice, nurture identity and culture, and strengthen the economic viability of rural areas.
Smallholders defend our dignity when we choose to produce in an agroecological way.
Agroecology is the answer to how to transform and repair our material reality in a food system and rural
world that has been devastated by industrial food production and its so‐called Green and Blue
Revolutions. We see agroecology as a key form of resistance to an economic system that puts profit before
The corporate model over‐produces food that poisons us, destroys soil fertility, is responsible for the
deforestation of rural areas, the contamination of water and the acidification of oceans and killing of
fisheries. Essential natural resources have been commodified, and rising production costs are driving us off
the land. Farmers’ seeds are being stolen and sold back to us at exorbitant prices, bred as varieties that
depend on costly, contaminating agrochemicals. The industrial food system is a key driver of the multiple
crises of climate, food, environmental, public health and others. Free trade and corporate investment
agreements, investor‐state dispute settlement agreements, and false solutions such as carbon markets, and
the growing financialization of land and food, etc., all further aggravate these crises. Agroecology within a
food sovereignty framework offers us a collective path forward from these crises.
The industrial food system is beginning to exhaust it’s productive and profit potential because of its internal
contradictions – such as soil degradation, herbicide‐tolerant weeds, depleted fisheries, pest‐ and diseaseravaged
monocultural plantations – and it’s increasingly obvious negative consequences of greenhouse gas
emissions, and the health crisis of malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, colon disease and cancer caused by diets
heavy in industrial and junk food.
Popular pressure has caused many multilateral institutions, governments, universities and research centers,
some NGOs, corporations and others, to finally recognize “agroecology”. However, they have tried to
redefine it as a narrow set of technologies, to offer some tools that appear to ease the sustainability crisis
of industrial food production, while the existing structures of power remain unchallenged. This co‐optation
of agroecology to fine‐tune the industrial food system, while paying lip service to the environmental
discourse, has various names, including “climate smart agriculture”, “sustainable‐” or “ecologicalintensification”,
industrial monoculture production of “organic” food, etc. For us, these are not
agroecology: we reject them, and we will fight to expose and block this insidious appropriation of
The real solutions to the crises of the climate, malnutrition, etc., will not come from conforming to the
industrial model. We must transform it and build our own local food systems that create new rural‐urban
links, based on truly agroecological food production by peasants, artisanal fishers, pastoralists, indigenous
peoples, urban farmers, etc. We cannot allow agroecology to be a tool of the industrial food production
model: we see it as the essential alternative to that model, and as the means of transforming how we
produce and consume food into something better for humanity and our Mother Earth.
Agroecology is a way of life and the language of Nature, that we learn as her children. It is not a mere set
of technologies or production practices. It cannot be implemented the same way in all territories. Rather it
is based on principles that, while they may be similar across the diversity of our territories, can and are
practiced in many different ways, with each sector contributing their own colors of their local reality and
culture, while always respecting Mother Earth and our common, shared values.
The production practices of agroecology (such as intercropping, traditional fishing and mobile
pastoralism, integrating crops, trees, livestock and fish, manuring, compost, local seeds and animal
breeds, etc.) are based on ecological principles like building life in the soil, recycling nutrients, the
dynamic management of biodiversity and energy conservation at all scales. Agroecology drastically
reduces our use of externally‐purchased inputs that must be bought from industry. There is no use of
agrotoxics, artificial hormones, GMOs or other dangerous new technologies in agroecology.
Territories are a fundamental pillar of agroecology. Peoples and communities have the right to maintain
their own spiritual and material relationships to their lands. They are entitled to secure, develop, control,
and reconstruct their customary social structures and to administer their lands and territories, including
fishing grounds, both politically and socially. This implies the full recognition of their laws, traditions,
customs, tenure systems, and institutions, and constitutes the recognition of the self‐determination and
autonomy of peoples.
Collective rights and access to the commons are fundamental pillar of agroecology. We share access to
territories that are the home to many different peer groups, and we have sophisticated customary systems
for regulating access and avoiding conflicts that we want to preserve and to strengthen.
The diverse knowledges and ways of knowing of our peoples are fundamental to agroecology. We
develop our ways of knowing through dialogue among them (diálogo de saberes). Our learning processes
are horizontal and peer‐to‐peer, based on popular education. They take place in our own training centers
and territories (farmers teach farmers, fishers teach fishers, etc.), and are also intergenerational, with
exchange of knowledge between youth and elders. Agroecology is developed through our own innovation,
research, and crop and livestock selection and breeding.
The core of our cosmovisions is the necessary equilibrium between nature, the cosmos and human
beings. We recognize that as humans we are but a part of nature and the cosmos We share a spiritual
connection with our lands and with the web of life. We love our lands and our peoples, and without that,
we cannot defend our agroecology, fight for our rights, or feed the world. We reject the commodification
of all forms of life.
Families, communities, collectives, organizations and movements are the fertile soil in which agroecology
flourishes. Collective self‐organization and action are what make it possible to scale‐up agroecology, build
local food systems, and challenge corporate control of our food system. Solidarity between peoples,
between rural and urban populations, is a critical ingredient.
The autonomy of agroecology displaces the control of global markets and generates self‐governance by
communities. It means we minimize the use of purchased inputs that come from outside. It requires the reshaping
of markets so that they are based on the principles of solidarity economy and the ethics of
responsible production and consumption. It promotes direct and fair short distribution chains. It implies a
transparent relationship between producers and consumers, and is based on the solidarity of shared risks
and benefits.
Agroecology is political; it requires us to challenge and transform structures of power in society. We need
to put the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons
in the hands of the peoples who feed the world.
Women and their knowledge, values, vision and leadership are critical for moving forward. Migration and
globalization mean that women’s work is increasing, yet women have far less access to resources than
men. All to often, their work is neither recognized nor valued. For agroecology to achieve its full potential,
there must be equal distribution of power, tasks, decision‐making and remuneration.
Youth, together with women, provide one of the two principle social bases for the evolution of
agroecology. Agroecology can provide a radical space for young people to contribute to the social and
ecological transformation that is underway in many of our societies. Youth bear the responsibility to carry
forward the collective knowledge learned from their parents, elders and ancestors into the future. They are
the stewards of agroecology for future generations. Agroecology must create a territorial and social
dynamic that creates opportunities for rural youth and values women’s leadership.
I. Promote agroecological production through policies that…
1. Are territorial and holistic in their approach to social, economic and natural resources issues.
2. Secure access to land and resources in order to encourage long term investment by small‐scale
food producers.
3. Ensure an inclusive and accountable approach to the stewardship of resources, food
production, public procurement policies, urban and rural infrastructure, and urban planning.
4. Promote decentralized and truly democratized planning processes in conjunction with relevant
local governments and authorities.
5. Promote appropriate health and sanitation regulations that do not discriminate against smallscale
food producers and processors who practice agroecology.
6. Promote policy to integrate the health and nutrition aspects of agroecology and of traditional
7. Ensure pastoralists’ access to pastures, migration routes and sources of water as well as mobile
services such as health, education and veterinary services that are based on and compatible
with traditional practice.
8. Ensure customary rights to the commons. Ensure seed policies that guarantee the collective
rights of peasants’ and indigenous peoples’ to use, exchange, breed, select and sell their own
9. Attract and support young people to join agroecological food production through strengthening
access to land and natural resources, ensuring fair income, knowledge exchange and
10. Support urban and peri‐urban agroecological production.
11. Protect the rights of communities that practice wild capture, hunting and gathering in their
traditional areas – and encourage the ecological and cultural restoration of territories to their
former abundance.
12. Implement policies that ensure the rights of fishing communities.
13. Implement the Tenure Guidelines of the Committee on World Food Security and the Smallscale
Fisheries Guidelines of the FAO.
14. Develop and implement policies and programs that guarantee the right to a dignified life for
rural workers, including true agrarian reform, and agroecology training.
II. Knowledge sharing
15. Horizontal exchanges (peasant‐to‐peasant, fisher‐to‐fisher, pastoralist‐to‐pastoralist,
consumer‐and‐producer, etc.) and intergenerational exchanges between generations and
across different traditions, including new ideas. Women and youth must be prioritised.
16. Peoples’ control of the research agenda, objectives and methodology.
17. Systemize experience to learn from and build on historical memory.
III. Recognition of the central role of women
18. Fight for equal women’s’ rights in every sphere of agroecology, including workers’ and labour
rights, access to the Commons, direct access to markets, and control of income
19. Programs and projects must fully include women at all stages, from the earliest formulation
through planning and application, with decision‐making roles.
IV. Build local economies
20. Promote local markets for local products.
21. Support the development of alternative financial infrastructure, institutions and mechanisms to
support both producers and consumers.
22. Reshape food markets through new relationships of solidarity between producers and
23. Develop links with the experience of solidarity economy and participatory guarantee systems,
when appropriate.
V. Further develop and disseminate our vision of agroecology
1. Develop a communications plan for our vision of agroecology
2. Promote the health care and nutritional aspects of agroecology
3. Promote the territorial approach of agroecology
4. Promote practices that allows youth to carry forward the permanent regeneration of our
agroecological vision
5. Promote agroecology as a key tool to reduce food waste and loss across the food system
VI. Build alliances
1. Consolidate and strengthen existing alliances such as with the International Planning
Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC)
2. Expand our alliance to other social movements and public research organizations and
VII. Protect biodiversity and genetic resources
1. Protect, respect and ensure the stewardship of biodiversity
2. Take back control of seeds and reproductive material and implement producers’ rights to use,
sell and exchange their own seeds and animal breeds
3. Ensure that fishing communities play the most central role in controlling marine and inland
VIII. Cool the planet and adapt to climate change
1. Ensure international institutions and governments recognize agroecology as defined in this
document as a primary solution for tackling and adapting to climate change, and not “climate
smart agriculture” or other false versions of agroecology
2. Identify, document and share good experiences of local initiatives on agroecology that address
climate change.
IX. Denounce and fight corporate and institutional capture of agroecology
1. Fight corporate and institutional attempts to grab agroecology as a means to promote GMOs
and other false solutions and dangerous new technologies.
2. Expose the corporate vested interests behind technical fixes such as climate‐smart agriculture,
sustainable intensification and “fine‐tuning” of industrial aquaculture.
3. Fight the commodification and financialization of the ecological benefits of agroecology.
We have built agroecology through many initiatives and struggles. We have the legitimacy to lead it into
the future. Policy makers cannot move forward on agroecology without us. They must respect and support
our agroecological processes rather than continuing to support the forces that destroy us. We call on our
fellow peoples to join us in the collective task of collectively constructing agroecology as part of our popular
struggles to build a better world, a world based on mutual respect, social justice, equity, solidarity and
harmony with our Mother Earth.

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