Coconut Food Forest

We have designed an Organic, Regenerative Permaculture design-based Climate Smart “Coconut Food Forest” system in our farm on Pine Island in Florida, that can be scaled up to hundreds of thousands of acres in the Tropics. 

Food forest is a term used in Permaculture that refers to a self-sustaining system of growing edible plants mimicking a forest ecosystem. A food forest is built in succession according to the 7 layers of vegetation, made out of guilds of plants that support each other. This creates more diversified yield per acre and increases the profits in the long term.

This “Coconut Food Forest” system:

  1. Sequesters Carbon on a Large scale (approx. 70 tons / acre)
  2. Increasing yield per acre
  3. Planting crops (eg. Coconuts) that are most resistant to Extreme Tropical events like Hurricanes
  4. Diversifying crops for better climate change mitigation, climate resiliency and sales.
  5. Growing multi-season crops for yearlong income
  6. Designing financially productive Windbreaks to protect against Tropical Storms/Hurricanes
  7. Using Drainage ditches in the off-season to produce on farm Compost, Mulch, Wood Ash and Biochar, thereby Reducing off-farm inputs lowering cost of production and getting control over maintaining the fertility
  8. Simplifying and streamlining Compliance with USDA Organic standards to market produce
  9. Building Agrotourism & Farm education opportunities for additional revenue and local networking

Learning from research done in intercropping on Tropical farms in India and other countries and witnessing small scale production of local growers in USA, we found that Coconut trees (spaced in beds 20'-25’ apart) can be intercropped well in different guilds of shade loving / partial shade tolerate plants making “Coconut food forests”:

  1. Coconut Trees: Spaced 20'-25' apart
  2. Smaller trees: Papayas, Moringa, Bananas, Guava, Java Plum, Pineapple, Sapota, Custard apple, Jackfruit (pruned to small size), Mango - with bigger trees pruned to smaller size
  3. Creepers: Vanilla, Black Pepper and a few herbs
  4. Root Crops: Sweet potato, Turmeric, Yams, Cassava, Ginger.

Sweet potato also acts as a ground cover, providing living mulch, preventing soil erosion, retaining moisture, attracting beneficial pollinators and pest predators, thus protecting the carbon and fertility within the soil. Coconut provides a canopy & shade to shade loving/partial shade tolerant crops, and a trellis for Creeper plants. This planting is done in well-spaced (25'-30’ apart) long rows to mimic the regular commercial crop plantations so that usual large equipment can be used to keep costs low.

The drainage ditches dug in regular spacing recharge the aquifer, reduce irrigation usage and are multi-used in the off-rainy season to produce on farm Compost, Mulch, Wood Ash and Biochar, thereby Reducing off-farm inputs lowering cost of production. These ditches were excavated to be 6’ wide and 6’ deep for this purpose and so that skid steer can go in the ditches and turn/work the compost/mulch etc.  

 

3D Model: We use 3D model software Sketchup and a mapping software Maps to locate each of the existing coconut palm, represented by a 3D model of the palms. Location of future planting is also marked in the mapping. This gives us the ability to predict to how the site will react to the elements before implementing large changes.

Biodiverse Windbreaks for wind and water protection: It is demonstrated that Windbreaks protects crops and infrastructure from high wind and natural disasters. We are taking the existing hedgerows of palm trees and adding in native, multifunctional, and income producing windbreak plants. 

Benefits of Windbreaks

  • Block and disperse wind
  • Add biodiversity
  • Reduce impacts of storm serge
  • Add revenue from by-products

As the Largest Coconut Producer in the USA, we seek to help enhance the Climate Smart domestically grown Organic Tropical produce industry in the United States which is currently heavily import dependent from far distant countries with suspect climate credentials thereby emitting much greenhouse gases in its production and transport.

In the next three - five years, our focus is on continuing to develop pilots on 200-acres in Pine Island of Florida to be scaled up to 10,000 acres subsequently in other tropical regions of USA. 

Objectives in the next 3 years in standardizing Coconut Food Forests:

  • $50,000 in revenue per acre with Net of $20,000 per acre.
  • Sequester 70 Metric ton of Carbon per acre.
  • Reduce GHG emissions by 20% by comparison to imported Coconuts and other Tropical produce sold in the USA.
  • To commission 5 peer reviewed scientific papers to substantiate and improve on our practices in partnership with Land Grant Universities and non-profit research groups.

Project Partners

We are partnering (pending Grant funds) with multiple research institutions to document and assist in perfecting our Coconut Food Forest system to increase total production per acre and for the regenerative methods to reduce off-farm inputs while keeping the soil conserved and raising organic matter & carbon levels. 

  • The University of Florida Tropical Research Education Center (TREC): To investigate and document agricultural inputs, production, nutrient and water management cycling, pest and beneficial insect and microbial populations, and the economics of the production in our Climate Smart Coconut Food Forest.
    • Jonathan H. Crane, Tropical Fruit Crop Specialist. Will help us in selecting fruit and varieties for production, and provide research on Windbreaks.
    • Trent Blare, Agricultural Economist. Make predictions on farm revenue and research economically feasible production methods.
    • Zachary Brym, Agroecologist. Help Implement design systems of financially viable intercropped tropical fruit forests.
  • University of Florida- Soil, Water, Ecosystem Department: Gabriel Maltias-Landry Assistant Professor, Investigate and document changes to soil health during the transition to sustainable Climate-Smart Coconut Food Forest systems.

The Soil Inventory Project (“TSIP”), affiliated with Skidmore College: On farm visits they will take soil samples and utilize tools to measure, quantify, sample and distribute the results of the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil before, during and after the Coconut Food Forests are developed. TSIP has been working with Gopal Farm to quantify carbon sequestration on our farms in NY.