Who Wants to Cultivate a Food Forest?                                                               

by DAVID AUSTIN, UF/IFAS Extension, Highlands County

To grow your food is to know your food.

Step outside your door and gather the ingredients for a salad or pick some fruit for breakfast. It wasn’t so long ago that people lived that way and grew much of what they ate. With the convenience of grocery stores, we probably won’t go back to those days, but making better use of our landscapes is an idea many are embracing. Maybe it is time to consider planting a food forest. 

What Is a Food Forest? 

A food forest is planting edible plants in your yard in a way to copy a forest and using natural techniques to closely resemble what you might see in nature. In this case, I simplify it by making it a food garden that replaces parts of what is traditionally ornamental landscaping. Adding techniques of Florida Friendly Landscaping™ and paying attention to soil health will also be part of the class. A food forest might also be called permaculture or regenerative agriculture. 

Eat What You Sow 

There is a learning curve to growing your own food. I won’t try to convince you otherwise. There are a few keys to success, and the one that I believe makes all the difference is persistence. Every successful gardener that I’ve known, whether they grow edibles or ornamentals, has this in common: They work at it. The difference between those who make it look easy (we say they have a green thumb) and the rest of us is they really love growing things. When you love to do something, it’s my belief it becomes easy. To get started, you only need to love the idea of growing your own food. If you can become persistent, you will eventually crawl over the top of the learning curve, stand up, and see it unfold before your eyes. 

Where to Start

This will be a lifetime endeavor of learning. You will never know it all, and you will continue to learn but you must start somewhere. You could head to the internet where the information is abundant … maybe too abundant. There will be methods, schemes, and miracles. You will see them all and you will be amazed. Luckily for you, UF/IFAS Extension, Highlands County is offering a class on cultivating a food forest in your yard. It will be June 15 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Bert J. Harris Agricultural Center in the Sam Polston Auditorium. Call the Extension office at 863-402-6540 to register or drop by the office at 4509 George Blvd. in Sebring. The cost of the class is $10 paid in advance at the Extension office and $12.51 online.

What You’ll Learn

The class will cover techniques for making your yard into a place to supply you with healthy foods. There will be an emphasis on creating healthy soils, plant choices, placement, and care. We will introduce you to perennial plants that grow year-round. Some with seasonal fruit and others with edible foliage. We do not cover many fruit trees in this class. We will be offering an Edible Treescape class on July 20.  

Whether your yard is a blank canvas or already landscaped, it’s time to use some of that space for plants that provide food. If you are ready to start this adventure, we are excited to be part of it! Attend our vegetable garden class in August to round out your beginning knowledge. The rest is up to you. Email me at davidaustin@ufl.edu and I will add you to our monthly newsletter. 

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