A Slice of Eden – Backyard Agroforestry

The aim of this article will be to exemplify a few different takes on the residential agroforestry system that could be applied well to a house’s ¼ acre landscape area. A backyard food forest (or front yard for that matter) would be able to meet both the local food producing needs of a household while also providing a nice landscaping alternative. Residential food forests provide the capacity for many more people to get involved in growing their own food and learning about the intricate systems that we as humans can cultivate to work in symmetry with nature.

Explaining the Concept of a Food Forest

A food forest is essentially a long-term garden, with its backbone being perennials and trees; that utilizes natural processes and plant relations to increase yield and reduce pests. There are a variety of examples of successful implementation of this gardening concept all across the world, but a couple of good near examples include the market scale garden run by the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, which has a tour showing all of their many varieties and systems. The Institute is nestled deep within the Rocky Mountains of Colorado between Grand Junction and Denver. They offer tours and even have their own book at their website. Another example comes from Brad Lancaster and his neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona. Lancaster’s system has a greater emphasis on local and traditional food producing plants and water management integration. His Desert Harvesters network a has a variety of resources for desert gardening and he also has his own books on the subject.

What will work best in Albuquerque?

One of the greatest questions that any Burqueno should think about before implementing a garden should be about whether to xeriscape or make a water-using, food producing garden. Xeriscape is using local or minimal watering plants as landscaping. While a food producing garden will use more water than xeriscape it could still use less than a grass lawn, depending on what you’re growing. The question essentially boils down to whether or not you think it is worth the water usage to grow food or have a minimal effort, good for the environment, xeriscape. It really is a personal choice and preference.

The Raincatcher’s house in Santa Fe

For the sake of this article, let’s assume you’ve chosen a food producing garden. There is a good local example of a New Mexican food forest in Santa Fe. The Raincatcher’s house is a good example of what can be done locally while also looking nice within a residence. The home is utilized as an example for the local landscaping that can make a food forest on your own property. One of many things to do if you’re looking to make your own food forest by yourself is the types of crops you can grow. Here is a list of 50 food crops that grow in New Mexico. The Albuquerque area is a 7a and 7b on the USDA growing scale for plant resiliency.


For ease of implementation, it can make sense in certain instances to split aspects of your system between your front yard and your backyard. This is primarily because certain neighbors (we all have at least one) may complain about a less than Suburban front lawn, but people generally care considerably less about what you do with your backyard. To get around this and get the most out of this work around the front yard can be made into a pollinator garden to create a good and beneficial habitat for the pollinators that we want to help plant production. I like to call this the Semi-ornamentation part of a food forest as you will be creating a food forest for your pollinators; while maintaining a beautiful front yard that should keep those peskier neighbors away and bring the fun ones closer! A good resource for how to develop a pollinator habitat comes from the ABQ Backyard Refuge program run by the Valle de Oro Wildlife Refuge.

ABQ Backyard Refuge certified habitat sign

If you have more amenable neighbors than you can make your front yard like your backyard. The primary focuses of a food forest should be on mutually beneficial producers. A wonderful example of this is the Three Sisters system that has been utilized by Native Americans for thousands of years. The Three Sisters are composed of corn, beans, and squash. Each plant finds and utilizes their strengths combined with the others to become one of the best bangs for your buck when it comes to production in your garden. It is also a good idea to look into close knit systems like the Soil-to-Ceiling method/Self-Fertilizing Garden(SFG). The Veganic Agricultural network has a bounty of information on crops and layout plans to make things simple in a Self-Fertilizing Garden.

-Posted by Colin

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