Restoring Ancient Food Forests

These island forests are being reestablished to produce food and herbs.

Restoring Ancient Food Forests | These island forests are being reestablished to produce food and herbs.

Forest farming is a very ancient and sustainable way to grow food. While this trend is starting to become very popular, it actually dates back to ancient times, according to the organization Food and Trees for Africa. While modern agriculture tries to shape nature, food forests offer a way of growing food that cooperates with the natural world.

Biodiverse food forests used to provide the Hawaiian Islands with plentiful food and medicinal herbs, but those days of abundance disappeared when colonists began cultivating sugar cane and pineapples, reported The Guardian. Large one crop plantations took over most of the island’s fertile land, leaving behind depleted soil.  Now farmers are restoring Hawaii’s ancient food forests.

An Uphill Challenge
While Maui’s forests on the mountains used to provide food sovereignty for the island, between 85 to 90 percent of the food is now imported, according to the state’s government. Maui is one of the largest islands in Hawaii.

With agriculture dominated by industrial farming and due to few restrictions on the use of pesticides, the state became the place where bio tech GMOs flourished in the US, according to the Guardian. Couple that with Issues like drought due to global warming and degraded soil, small-scale farming is very difficult in what was once a tropical paradise, according to the Guardian.

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Indigenous farmers are restoring food forests on Maui
But indigenous farmers –  known as ancient knowledge keepers – are part of a food and land sovereignty movement in Maui that is growing. “We believe that land is the chief, the people its servants,” Kaipo Kekona, an indigenous farmer told The Guardian. He and his wife Rachel Lehualani Kapu have transformed depleted farmland into a food forest on a mountain ridge.

The farm grows sugar cane, coconuts, papaya, mangoes, avocado, and coffee, under the canopy of candle nut trees. In the spaces in between the trees, sweet potatoes, taro, breadfruit, peppers and turmeric is grown. Only organic fertilizer is used.

“It’s a constant cycle, everything existing together at the same time, with crops always feeding the soil and nurturing each other,” said Kekona. “This is the essence of the forest food system, which our ancestors passed down to us over centuries.”

The couple utilizes traditional farming practices that include following the lunar cycle and tracking wind patterns. These practices were handed down orally for generations but now can only be found in recorded histories and archives. 

Growing food and Medicinal Herbs on Kaua’i
A food forest growing on the north shore of Kaua’i – nicknamed the garden isle because of its lush rainforests – was founded, planted, and cultivated by people in cooperation with nature, according to Hawaii Magazine.

The food forest grows avocado, breadfruit, and other exotic fruits. But the plants in this 2-acre forest do more than just produce food. The plants also help to support soil health. There are actually over 200 species in the forest that provide an abundance of fruit, medicinal herbs, and exotic Hawaiian plants.

“It’s about understanding all the forces of nature that are happening and present on the site,” Paul Massey, who was one of the founders of the food forest told Hawaii Magazine; “which are not static, but are changing through time.”

Massey and a community of other permaculture enthusiasts planted the food forest over a decade ago with the joint vision of creating a space for both people and biodiversity to thrive. The forest represents a return to the tropical paradise of years’ past.

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