Four easy, scientific and free online measuring tools are helping the food forest and scientific communities become wiser

Measure your food forest’s yield and support scientific research! 

Do you have or are you managing a food forest? And, do you want to know how much your forest yields? Then this tool is for you. Thanks to this tool, you can measure how good your food forest is doing on several points, such as biodiversity, or CO2-storage. You can also keep track of what the economic harvest is from your food forest.

The Plant has, together with the communication office de Lynx and Wageningen University & Research, conducted a project that allows you to monitor your food forest yourself at no cost. You can also compare with other food forests of the same age and on the same type of soil. This data is also shared via an Open Data source with any researcher who wants to look at it. So, while measuring, you are actively contributing to the growth of food forest knowledge!

Would you rather start measuring right away than continue reading? Then you can dowload the Field instructions and start measuring!

What are the requirements to participate?

Any food forest can participate. There is no selection upon entrance, and that means we are only giving advice. The only important thing is to answer questions as carefully as possible, so that we are not comparing apples with pears.

Regarding what counts as a food forest, the Greendeal voedselbossen gives the following definition: 

Food forests are human-designed productive ecosystems modeled after a natural forest, with high diversity of perenial or woody species, parts of which (fruits, seeds, leaves, stems etc.) serve as food for humans.

Food forests contain:

  • A canopy layer of higher trees;
  • A minimum of 3 of the other niches or vegetation layers that inlcude understory trees, shrubs, herbs, groundcovers, underground crops, and climbers; 
  • A rich soil life;

A food forest has a considerable size, an area of at least 0.5 hectares in an ecologically rich environment; in a severely impoverished environment, a larger area is recommended, up to 20 hectares.

This entails that food forests that are smaller than 0.5 hectares are more garden than forest. This size will likely not be able to fully deliver on the promises regarding a system without inputs, and test results which extrapolate to an acre will be somewhat more prone to error in these forest gardens

Moreover, food forests with ducks, chickens or pigs are agroforestry (silvopasture), according to this definition, and definitely a nature-inclusive type of agriculture, but not ‘actual’ food forests. This is because they function differently. However, if you do have livestock in your food forest, you are still welcome to participate. In the economic test you can indicate whether livestock has been placed in the forest. Please, be honest about this, because then we will compare your data with the other ‘food forests’ that have animals.

To summarize: all food forests on all types and sizes of land and with any kind of goal and owner are very welcome to participate. You are welcome in the community and your data are interesting to us. Our only request is for your honesty when filling in the tests.

What are we specifically measuring?

Ecology and economy

We have created four ecological tests for you to undertake, and each year you can conduct an economic report. The ecological tests are done in a so-called “tree plot”. For each hectare of your food forest, you choose an area that represents this hectare well. You choose a recognizeable or (hand) marked tree and trace a circle around it with a 10-meter radius. Download the Field instructions here (with thanks to Aequator Groen & Ruimte).

Biodiversity

You can measure biodiversity within your tree plot once a year by identifying the types of plants in the herbacious layer and counting how many of each species there are. You can do this test each year in May-June. An app such as PantNet can be very helpful for identification.

bodemprofiel

Soil profile and CO2-storage in the soil 

On the Southern side of your tree plot’s central tree, every five years you dig a 40cm-deep hole and identify the soil layers that you can see. The more organic material there is in your soil and the deeper it goes, the better your soil is doing.

CO2 storage in trees

In this test you measure the height and diameter of all the trees and bushes that are higher than 130cm and who’s trunk is wider than 5 cm. 

 You enter these numbers and in the first year you can know how much CO2 is stored in this plot. When you measure again in three years you will learn how much your food forest contributes to the desperately-needed storage of CO2. How cool is that!

co2opslag in bomen
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Soil animal life

During the yearly soil animal life days (early October), each food forest owner can measure the amount of soil animals in this same tree plot. We then gather the data from all participating food forests and submit it to the National count. In 2021, we want to see if we can join other National censuses in this way. 

Participate, and help your project and scientific research!

Make an account, meet other food forest owners in your area, and share untraceable data with science.

Download the Field instructions for the ecological tests here.

Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein
Bosgroepen