Permaculture Food Forest @ Island Community Farms


The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.


Permaculture, a term coined from the words Permanent and Agriculture, and later expanded to include our overall culture, was popularized in the 1970’s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and widely made public with the publication of their book Permaculture One in 1978.  It encompasses an approach to living that includes modeling patterns from and working with nature, preferring no-till, perennial agriculture, and striving for self-sufficiency.  Permaculture is a growing philosophy of ecological design that emphasizes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and encompasses not only the “cash crops” – food, medicine and beauty, but the needs of those crops, by encouraging the presence of beneficial insects, and the planting of other plants that support them. A Permaculture system is self-sustaining and renewable rather than consumptive, taking advantage of nature’s systems, and improving rather than degrading over time.

Permaculturists generally regard the following as its 12 design principles:[1]

  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.


Food Forests

One of the more visible applications of Permaculture is the food forest.  A food forest is a stable forest environment that has been created intentionally, including all of the various layers found in a natural forest: canopy and under-story trees, shrubs, herbs, groundcovers, roots and vines.  Once established, a mature food forest produces large amounts of edible, medicinal and otherwise useful products for a minimum of effort and inputs. It utilizes “guilds” of plants that work together in synergistic ways to improve the overall health and production of the system.

Forest Garden Illustration
Image credit: Graham Burnett


The Francis P Silvia Food Forest @ Green End

The Food Forest that we are building at Island Community Farms is built around the following plants:

  • PawPaw: Pawpaws are native to North America.  In midsummer, they produce 1/2-1 pound fruits that look a little like a green papaya with yellow flesh and a few large seeds.  The flavor is described as similar to banana custard.  We have 7 varieties planted, and expect first fruiting to occur in 2018 or 2019.
  • Asian Pear: The Asian Pear will be one of the more recognizable fruits in the forest.  We have two of these trees planted, each with 3 or 4 different varieties grafted onto the same trunk.  We expect first fruiting to occur in 2014 or 2015. *Update: While these trees bore fruit starting in 2013, with the harsh winter of 2014/2015, they were girdled and killed by deer and will need to be replaced.
  • Che Tree: This unusual tree fruit hails from China, where its leaves serve as a backup food source for silkworms, and it is prized in its own right for its small red fruits which resemble a mulberry crossed with a lychee, with a delicious watermelon-like flavor which ripen very late in the season.  We expect our specimen to produce fruit in 2015-2016.  Food Forest Map
  • Persimmon: We have one Fuyu oriental Persimmon tree, which is a variety that is best eaten slightly soft.  We expect our persimmon to produce fruit in 2020-2022.
  • Jujube:  Jujube is the fruit for which the candy was named.  They are red or black and can be eaten fresh or dried.  Dried, the flavor is similar to that of figs.  They are also used in Chinese medicine to resolve a variety of symptoms, with antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-fertility (contraceptive) properties.  In the Americas, the Jujube is not bothered by any diseases or pests.  We have planted two varieties, including one with interesting, contorted stems, and we expect them to begin bearing in 2016-2017.
  • Beach Plum: The beach plum is native to southeastern new england.  The fruit can be eaten fresh, but is most commonly used for jam as they are quite small, compared to regular plums.  The variety we have chosen is called “Nana” which has larger fruits than its wild cousins, and will be planted as soon as it grows large enough to survive on its own.  It will be several years before it starts fruiting.
  • Korean Stone Pine: This is one of the pine species that produces pine nuts.  It will not start bearing for at least 7-10 years.

Along with these major trees, we have also planted raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, gooseberry, goumi, jerusalem artichoke and asparagus plants, and in 2013, will dramatically build out the herb layer, adding native perennial wildflowers to attract native pollinators and other beneficial insects, wild ginger, leeks, egyptian walking onions, mayapples, solomon’s seal, and ostrich fern, nitrogen fixesrs such as black locust, native false indigo, partridge pea, and clovers, as well as vines such as schisandra vine, maypop, hardy kiwi and hops.

New for 2016 is our Adopt-a-Tree program to help us maintain the Food Forest.  Maintain an area around one of the young trees and grow annual vegetables and flowers for yourself at the same time!  For more information, visit the page for the Adopt-a-Tree Program.

This is a 7-10 year project that is 4 years in.

^ “Permaculture – Peak Oil – The Source of Permaculture Vision and Innovation”. Retrieved 2011-10-21.