Food Forests Across America

For Erik Ohlsen, a Californian based Permaculture teacher and designer, 2009 is shaping up to become a year like no other.

"I run my own Permaculture contracting business and am about to launch a Food Forest campaign for 2009” he said. Erik’s dream is to encourage people to roll out a Food Forest systems across America.

“My vision is to educate communities as to the whole system benefits of food forests from, climate change to relocalization of food sources and creating oases of human settlement in our communities. To do this we will help students and interns design and install these systems.”

“We’re going to install Food Forests like a brush fire, and we can.” he says.

The start of a Food Forest. Erik is
standing in infiltrating water of a swale.
Notice green cover crop sprouting

“I have seen Geoff Lawton’s Food Forest DVD” said Erik.. “As a Permaculture and food forest designer, I just wanted to see how Geoff organizes his food forests. Honestly I was blown away by the video. The first time I watched it I actually had a hard time going to sleep because I wanted to go out into my property and start planting like crazy. I just moved into a new house and am currently designing a food forest there.

“Geoff’s video serves as a great reminder of how easy it can be to put in a food forest. He helps to take fear away from doing wrong and empowers viewers to get to work! This work is crucial for our global communities and the food forest video feels like a real catalyst for people to realize just how important and accessible this information and this strategy is.”

Erik’s desire to make a positive contribution to the planet started when he was in his teens.

“At the age of nineteen I became aware of crises going on in the world.” He said “I learned about the risks of genetically engineered seeds, mainly the Terminator seed developed by Monsanto. I got together with some friends and we decided we wanted to do something to help save the world. We started an organization to give heirloom seed gardens away to our community and abroad to build a safety net of heirloom seeds and produce food locally. We called our organization Planting Earth Activation.(PEA) We gave over one hundred suburban and urban gardens away in two years. We were pioneers of the volunteer based garden campaigns that now are sprouting up everywhere with Victory gardens and Food not Lawns etc.”

A fruiting Pink Lemon, the flesh inside
is actually pink!

Erik has been involved in Permaculture for the last 10 years.

”I just taught my 15th PDC this January in Cazadero, California” he says. “I’m a guest instructor for most of the PDCs that take place in Northern California.”

So what is Erik’s vision for a Food Forest Campaign?

“First let me share what I think the full expression of a food forest can be. Beyond the staple ingredients of a food forest; water harvest, tons of leguminous trees and plants, Fruit and nut trees, wildlife habitat, growing mulch and building soil, I also see some additional elements we can message as part of a food forest. Chickens, outdoor kitchens, greywater, gathering and celebration spaces are all elements that I think can be part of a full expression of a food forest. Combining the kitchen garden with the food forest with the social needs of humans seems like a great way to message a new aesthetic for landscapes.

Peach Poppy guild designed by Erik Ohlsen

“I believe that a key factor to halting energy decent and global warming is re-localizing community resource needs on a global scale. Food, water, social interaction, fuel, and energy, these can all be produced or managed locally. As a landscape contractor I see the aesthetic that people here in the Suburbs of US towns want. This cultural aesthetic of landscape is destructive, energy consuming, and pretty much useless. My goal is start a paradigm shift in the way that people view the aesthetics of landscapes and empower land owners to see their precious land as a functional part of their lives, a base of their resource needs and a solution to global scale issues (i.e., Climate Change, environmental destruction, etc.)

Eric’s Food Forest developing in it’s first year

“Once our campaign is underway and we are able to generate funding, we will stack an intern training element. The goal here is to train as many permaculturists as possible to be confidant designers and installers of these systems. As we change the community aesthetic, the market for food forests should begin to reach larger and larger scales. For this we will need many experienced Permaculturists to take on these projects. One part of this goal is to help the Permaculture movement get out of the cycle of always offering advanced training to inspired students that cost a lot of money. We want to be able to offer affordable training to people and eventually paid jobs. We need to get the PC movement out of the money rut and help provide right livelihood for those that want to make a career out of Permaculture. This point is very important to me and I am working on a couple other projects we are calling The Permaculture Skills Center and The Permaculture Business Alliance to also provide for this need in the community. Those projects will also help launch and supplement the Food Forest Campaign although the campaign will begin through my business Permaculture Artisans.

“Along with all of this is transitioning rural farms and orchards to more diverse and perennial food forest systems. This is already happening as part of my business and we will push for more and more of this in our campaign.”

A growing system

But how would one launch a campaign like this with limited funds?

“On the whole we will go wherever the funding takes us" says Erik. “Funding is the limiting factor. We are poised to plant food forests as many and as fast as we can with good design and lasting installations.”

“I have students practically knocking down my door to want to work with Permaculture Artisans. I’d like to give everyone a job planting food forests if I can. I now have a small group of highly trained installers that can train others when the money is there to bring more on.”

So what sort of skills is Erik looking for?

“At First I think I will need an admin and marketing team that can do some start-up work on a volunteer basis. Maybe 6-8 volunteers, 4 with good computer skills, 4 with good people organizing and Permaculture design skills.”

"It would also be great to have a couple of experienced fundraisers since the more money we can raise the more we can install food forests in communities that desperately need them and the more we can train new installers.”

Erik’s other dream is to take over vacant city lots, and transition public parks to food forest systems that provide a plethora of resources for local communities and wildlife.

“I have no doubt we will get there as the realities of re-localization campaigns and energy decent kicks in” he says.

If you can help or need to know more about the Food Forest Campaign contact Erik Ohlsen directly erik (at) or phone USA 707-332-8100.
Or visit