So What Is Forest Gardening?

Permaculture Cliff’s Notes

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    Food Forests: Practical Skills in Permaculture, a new Atitlan Organics Permaculture course February 2020 in Tziununa, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

    To forest garden, is to garden like a forest. Nature wants to be a forest in nearly all places on land and this is how it will express itself if given a chance. Every single plant and animal (whether it knows it or not) is helping to move the process through the slow and incremental stages of succession (the bird that pooped the seed on the concrete, the weed that cracked the concrete, the root that dug the hole and left the humus). Nature has many ways to find itself as a forest and this is its climax expression, whereby it stabilizes and hosts apex predators that keep the rest of life in check and provides great planetary services such as facilitating the return of water beneath the earth and the raising of clouds for waters distribution on land. The beauty of being a human with our dexterous hands and versatile minds is the ability to replicate and facilitate the processes of nature by accelerating the stages of succession, so that we can reap the bounty of a mature forest and all the stages of succession along the way.

    And thus, make a living by working with nature not against it.


    Food Forests: Practical Skills in Permaculture, a new Atitlan Organics Permaculture course this February 2020 in Tzununa, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

    The difference between a forest and a food forest is that forest gardens produce much higher yields of food, such as fruit, nuts, greens, flowers, shoots, fungi and many other products such as timber, medicines and dyes. The gardener selects the plants suited to their personal needs and those of the environment and then designs the forest to function as a natural forest. Unlike an orchard that has just one kind of tree, all at the same age, a forest garden has many layers of trees and plants that each serve different functions and support each other. For example, canopy trees, with smaller trees below wrapped in vines, and bushes and shrubs below that, followed by herbs, ground covering plants and even fungi. The key is in the layering, occupying niches and maximizing diversity whilst utilizing microclimates.

    A forest garden is a closed loop ecological system, meaning that it produces its own fertility, takes care of its own pest problems, produces its own wind breaks, nurses its saplings, and takes care of its own moisture needs just like forests in nature do. It does all of this whilst providing homes and habitat for wildlife who are also in service to the forest. Forest gardening is an ancient agricultural practice that was largely extinguished because of a trend towards grain production, raising herd animals and tree monocultures. Indeed, Guatemala was once covered in vast forest gardens that fed cities. Although forest gardens are rare today they can still be found in many parts of the tropics and a renaissance is also occurring worldwide.

    This kind of agriculture does not require the investment of machines that superimpose a forced regime onto nature. Instead the main investment needed is in knowledge; as every piece of land is different, not one template fits all. Practices like forest gardening whisper the promise of human integrated symbiosis with the earth.

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    Cat will be co-facilitating our brand new course Food Forests: Practical Skills in Permaculture this February. Check out this awesome opportunity to study Permaculture design with a special focus on the theory, skills and practices used in designing and creating food forests. 

    Sarah Wu

    Sarah is a clinical herbalist of 20 years, studying and practicing planetary eclectic, regenerative herbalism with a foundation in Wise Woman Reclaiming philosophies. Influenced by global traditions, Sarah focuses on local food-based healing and ethnobotanical traditions. She leads trainings and workshops in herbal medicine, Permaculture Design Courses, Therapeutic Deep Ecology, Social Permaculture, field-to-the-plate holistic nutrition, herbal first aid and Tarot. She is a passionate mentor and educator, who believes in the teacher’s role in unlocking the innate wisdom of the student. Sarah is the co-founder of the Village Witches project, and is a Co-Founder and Co-producer of Envision Festival.

    Laura Palmieri

    Laura ‘Lala’ Palmieri is a clinical herbalist, a biologist, plant and fungi lover and grower. She offers health consultations to balance body, mind and soul working with medicinal herbs and mushrooms. Her approach to health integrates the knowledge of many ancient traditions and teachers, fusing spirituality with nature, and science with alchemy through the transformation of the elements.

    Lala has spent her years in dialogue with Nature, which has fueled her passion to integrate scientific knowledge and the connection with all beings to help humanity. She integrates her practice with cooking, gardening, and exploring ecosystems. She teaches and facilitates herbal clinics and programs in permaculture, herbalism, botany, fermentation, and medicinal mushroom cultivation, with a regenerative earth care approach and techniques that are accessible to most. She and Sarah co-created the Envision and Cosmic Converge Herbal First Aid Clinics, other relief Clinics in Guatemala for the volcano eruption. You will find Lala crafting remedies for her diverse communities in Guatemala and Costa Rica, where she is actively creating a world with integrated healthcare.

    Holly Mech

    Holly fell in love with yoga because of the sense of connection she felt every time she came to her mat. She began teaching yoga in Chicago in 2011. Her desire to deepen her teaching and personal practice led her to continue her yoga education in California, Bali, Australia and Guatemala. Holly now travels around the world teaching yoga and facilitating yoga teacher trainings. She enjoys helping new teachers sequence yoga classes and incorporate philosophy into their teachings. Her classes are creative and dynamic with an emphasis on making yoga accessible to everyone.

    Holly studied English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and frequently draws inspiration for her classes from literature and poetry. When she’s not on the yoga mat she enjoys exploring nature, singing, dancing and working with textiles.

    Ashley McDonnell

    Ashley’s work focuses on resurrecting our relationship to the natural world through the development of earth based skills that deepen our connection to place while increasing our sense of sovereignty and resilience. Devoted to the arts of permaculture, natural building, herbalism and birth work as her mediums, Ashley explores with humility the diverse modalities that support us in living in right relationship with the world around us. She views permaculture as a practice that not only creates healthy ecological communities but one that helps to reweave the very fabric of who we are as people. Her work is an offering to the future.

    Zach Loeks

    Hailing from Ottawa, Canada where he and his partner run the 50-acre Kula Permaculture Farm, Zach brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the course. He works as an educator, designer, consultant and farmer, with an emphasis on integrating diversity, conserving soil and maximizing farm ecosystem services while maintaining high productivity.

    Last year Zach published The Permaculture Market Garden, which explores ways that permaculture can be scaled up be a profitable whole-systems enterprise. Zach is a leading figure in permaculture, who brings a new and exciting vision of how it can be integrated into the wider community and marketplace.

    Rony Lec

    Rony is one of the world’s leading experts in permaculture and Mayan ancestral knowledge. Rony has spent the last 20 years teaching and implementing permaculture throughout Central, South and North America focusing on promoting food sovereignty and preserving biodiversity for the survival of Indigenous communities.

    Through his extensive work with Indigenous communities on traditional ecological knowledge, seed saving, native plants, local/global food movements, livelihood security, and the interaction between communities and the environment, he has made a key contribution to the empowerment of Indigenous people around the world. Rony is a co-founder of IMAP.

    Neal Hegarty

    Neal is originally from Ireland. He grew up on a dairy farm and has been around animals all his life. He studied agriculture in Ireland and has worked as a permaculturist for the past 10 years. Neal was the Volunteer Manager at Atitlan Organics for 2 years before co-founding his own Permaculture-based enterprise, Abundant Edge Farm, in Tzununa. He brings a wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and energy into each Intro to Permaculture Course and Permaculture Design Certification Course and we’re happy to continue to collaborate with him!

    Shad Qudsi

    Shad Qudsi has over 13 years experience in organic and commercial gardening and farming. He is certified in Permaculture Design and has over 3 years experience in permaculture design consulting. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a double major in Applied Math and Psychology, Shad and his wife, Colleen, moved to Central America with only vague goals of farming at some point in the near future. In January of 2010, Shad and his wife bought and moved onto a very small farm located in the traditional Mayan village of Tzununa, which on the north shore of Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala. The farm developed into Atitlan Organics and now mainly focuses on greens and chickens, a large edible and useful plant nursery, a food forest, and training and education.  Shad is an enthusiastic teacher who truly believes in the work he is doing. Human resiliency cannot be erased from the landscape and now, it is coming back with a loving grace.