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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Forest Farming vs Forest Gardening

Appalachian Forest Garden. Photo by Katie Trozzo. (CC BY-ND 2.0)
There are five practices that are commonly classified as part of agroforestry: alley cropping, riparian and upland buffers, silvopasture, windbreaks, and forest farming. To these the authors of "Farming the Woods," Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel, would add forest gardening. I can see where they are coming from with this idea of dividing the two, but I'm not sure it's necessary.

Forest farming consists of wildcrafting and cultivation practices that take place beneath a forest canopy. That habitat is modified to provide appropriate shade, light, and other conditions to allow for growth of a range of nontimber forest products (NTFPs). These might include plants used for food or medicine, mushrooms, ornamentals, or other wood products. At first blush that certainly sounds like something that could also be described as 'gardening.'

The fundamental difference between forest farming and forest gardening is where each begins. Forest farming takes place in an established forest ecosystem. Forest gardening, on the other hand, builds forest where it did not exist (at least in recent history). Another point of differentiation can be found in the variety of species present in each. A forest farm has whatever is already growing in it, and perhaps also some few additional plant or mushroom varieties. A forest garden will tend to have a far larger variety of species present, as the gardener is trying to make maximum use of space, designed around the different growth patterns and harvest times of the various plants. 

It is my opinion that while it matters whether woody perennials are being integrated into a garden, or producing NTFPs in an existing woodland is the focus, they are two sides of the same coin. Really, it might be more practical to think of forest gardening as a subset of forest farming, rather than a different category entirely. Then again, I'm a novice with a lot to learn. In any case, the field of agroforestry is relatively young, and so no doubt the arrangement and definition of practices will change in coming years.