Food security is a growing concern. And not just over access to food, but access to healthful food. And rightly so. Global food systems are once again feeling the tremblings of supply interruptions. These stem from grain export bans in Russia and poor harvests due to drought and floods elsewhere. These are similar to the price shocks, hoarding and rioting that occurred in 2008 in the face of wheat and rice shortages. So, we may be in for another round of inflation in food costs. And this demands heightened food security awareness.

Food Security

Few things can provoke a stronger instinctual response than the prospect of food shortages. So it is not surprising that many are becoming aware of the vulnerabilty of our food systems. Especially when tied to global supply chains.

Price inflation and concerns about the quality and safety of food have also motivated a rapid expansion in community gardens. Around the globe, co-operative projects provide the landless and land-poor (though not necessarily lacking resources) with an outlet for gardening. This is a great outdoor activity with mental health benefits. It also helps to reconnect an increasingly urban populace with food production. And it gives people the opportunity to supply themselves with nutritious food of their choosing.

Food Forests

Building capacity and access to community gardens is of benefit to everyone. To be clear, I don’t think they’ll contribute greatly to global food supplies in the short term. But the individual and social benefits of participation, however small, in sowing, tending and harvesting some of your own food, are immeasurable. And I also believe that agroforestry, specifically through forest gardens, has tremendous potential to complement the community garden movement.

Forest gardens are structured polycultures of food plants. They combine multiple canopy layers of fruit or nut bearing trees, with shrubs, herbs and vegetable beds. All creating synergistic and sustainable production units. Utilizing applied ecological principles through companion planting, forest gardens are efficient, productive outlets for inter-cropping.

Community Benefits

The potential benefits of incorporating forest gardening into the community garden movement are many fold. They can enhance productivity, conservation and aesthetics, and all within confined spaces.

Many community gardens are located in small urban spaces. Expanding production vertically with shrub and tree canopy layers makes good sense to maximize the efficiency of food production per unit area.

Trees and tall shrubs can also function to mitigate some of the less pleasant aspects of city life. They dampen noise, trap pollutants, dust and odours. Trees cool and moisten the summer air. And, when of sufficient size, will shelter adjacent buildings from hot and cold. This decreases the need for air conditioning and heating, respectively.

Forest gardens also can serve as functional park and conservation areas. They can give refuge to small birds, butterflies and other wildlife. They build soil, and add positively to the visual landscape. All while still contributing to local food production.

Benefits on Many Levels

Community forest gardens can therefore fulfill the all the roles of community gardens in reconnecting urban residents with food production. And through this they contribute to community food security. And they also make the best use of available space in tight urban quarters. And equally important, they can be a source of ecological goods and services and visual aesthetics in the concrete jungle.

I’d love to hear from anyone who already participates in a community forest garden program or is planning one. Please share your story in the comment form, or send me a note via my contact page or Twitter.