Increasing the experiential value of a food forest can be done in an infinite number of ways; it is absolutely tailor-made. A place can therefore be given its own personal colouring by means of the assortment of trees and shrubs, the spatial layout and the introduction of landscape elements and user objects such as barefoot paths, cableways and overnight accommodation, and of activities and the various forms and intensities of support that go with them.
Food from the forest can also be part of this in many ways: food that can be picked at random, along certain routes or from seasonal forests, but also food that is part of bushcraft events, cooking workshops, tastings and processing festivals around specific products. Another segment of the spectrum of possible experiences could include more subdued forms of physical and mental relaxation, such as yoga, silence walks or meditation, where the quality of the living forest as a whole would form more of the basis of the experience, to be complemented by appropriate experiences of discovering, harvesting, preparing and eating food on the site itself. On this basis, an economic objective for such experience forests can be developed, and with this, the Dutch territory will be able to enrich itself in all imaginable and - as yet - unimaginable ways. It seems to be mainly a matter of the creativity of entrepreneurs to give hands and feet to this locally.
Biodiversity as a key theme requires a fundamentally different perspective on value than is usual in the economic domain. Whoever focuses on it will certainly be able to create value: natural values. Presumably also unique natural values. The route is via the introduction of the richest possible range of plant species, which strengthen the force field of ecological succession, and possibly one or more forms of soil treatment. However, a direct reflection of these values in the sense of monetary income is doubtful, at least in the current economic context. Nature entrepreneurs can, however, generate derived economic value, for example by offering paid guided tours to visitors, or by providing additional services such as forms of hospitality. A modest source of income could also be the small-scale sale of food products to a 'self-picking' public.
Higher biodiversity can also be expected to generate additional economic value for agricultural producers in the direct vicinity, for beekeepers, and for managing parties such as water boards or drinking water companies. The direct financial remuneration of ecosystem services such as pest prevention and water purification and storage is developing cautiously, and it remains to be seen when this will change and from what angle. In addition, the enrichment of existing forest and nature areas generates new knowledge that will be of value elsewhere through wider dissemination and exchange. However, without creative, integral and innovative arrangements, direct income in this 'branch of sport' cannot be expected.
For the time being, the choice for local biodiversity through a food forest therefore seems to be a matter of investment, and of forms of goodwill from society. This does mean that the initiator can take the freedom to focus on specific categories of natural values or certain qualities of biodiversity - and in the meantime generate additional income such as from visits and small-scale sales.
The short history of food forestry in the Netherlands has given birth to a field that is likely to have a rich future. Botanical gastronomy' unites knowledge and insight from two disciplines, and is a theme that can be developed into an economically viable model in physical locations.
The primary aim is to produce interesting volumes of edible species and varieties from a select palette. The choice of these species can start from a spectrum of species that has been built up in the meantime, which seem to deliver satisfactory quantity and quality in Dutch conditions, and which have gastronomic value. Undoubtedly, however, there is still much more to discover, both in terms of species and varieties in the forest and in terms of processing techniques in the kitchen. It goes without saying, therefore, that the success of this thematic interpretation depends on the inventiveness of both food-forest farmers and culinary adventurers. An appropriate package of harvesting techniques and moments can be developed per location, depending on the partners in the chain. A food-wood grower can take the harvest in hand - literally, or with the help of existing and still-to-be-developed technologies - and transport it to an external market. But selective harvesting by culinary entrepreneurs themselves or by intermediaries and/or subcontractors is also conceivable.
Apart from the direct production and marketing of food, a gastronomically designed food forest can also generate economic returns by using the place itself as a stage for education and experience, especially for specifically interested target groups. For example, a varied range of tours, tastings and cooking workshops can be developed, aimed at entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry, on a scale from global and generic to refined and specialized.
The theme of volume production for the realisation of a food forest is relatively close to common management concepts in forestry. It therefore offers a springboard to more diversity and functionality of existing forest and natural areas. The demand for wood will almost certainly structurally increase in the coming, climate-conscious era, and especially quality wood can then become a valuable part of "the mixed forestry business" for which food forestry will be an impulse. The prerequisite for success in this theme is the strengthening or restoration of ecological values and long-term coherence, with special attention to the soil.
Those who opt for volume production as their main theme will want to design a food forest in such a way that management and harvesting, plus any processing and transport, can be carried out efficiently in the future. Within this theme, the emphasis will be on the production of food with market value, and the growth of quality wood also deserves a place; moreover, it underlines a long-term development perspective. As an innovation, food forestry will thereby usher in a new era for 'dual-purpose trees', which in the course of their lives produce both food and wood. Their deployment offers a broad spectrum of as yet unprecedented management options, with more and new decision moments to guide stands in their development in space and time and their changing relationship to various markets for labor, food and wood.
Within this theme, it is essential for the desired growth, flowering and production that the chosen species and varieties are in the right place, such as in relation to sun and wind, and - both in space and time - from each other. For this, knowledge and insight into the ecology of potential species is indispensable, as is skill in designing with multiple variables. The choice of suitable planting material is also a distinguishing factor for success. This requires an examination of the available supply at nurseries in the wider area. Furthermore, the exploration and development of marketing channels requires specific attention; it involves flexible and creative entrepreneurship. In all this, a food forest can be deliberately broad in scope, but it is also possible to specialise in a limited range of products. In the latter case, it is crucial for the robustness of the ecosystem that sufficient biodiversity is maintained at all times.
The four themes worked out financially for Welna Estate
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Get started with a food forest recipe yourself
If you want to get started with a food forest budget yourself, take a look at our recipe tool. In it you will find food forest designs for six recognizable landscapes and exit situations. Think forest, meadow, high water table, fruit orchard, or cropland. You can also be inspired by what people want: recreation, regenerative, increasing biodiversity, etc. You can get additional information if you indicate what your soil type and groundwater level is in winter and then you will get a detailed, downloadable plant list, elaborated designs (much more than we have done for the above themes) and, you can, if you have a profile on the platform, start with a budget, based on eye views based on the recipe of your choice.