What, you may ask, is a Food Forest?
And how on earth is that like a business?
As many of you know, I’m passionate about permaculture gardening — a way of growing fruit, nuts, herbs and vegetables in harmony with nature. Rather than trying to impose my will on the land, with neat rows of carrots in one bed and tomatoes in another, I plan and plant the garden in such a way that, over time, it takes care of itself.
Forest gardening is an ancient way of gardening that goes back to prehistoric times, when families tended the forests, nurturing the trees, vines and fruits that were useful to them and gradually eliminating those that were not. The Amazon rainforest, for example, shows signs of human habitation and forest gardening going back 11,000 years.
This is the most productive type of garden you can possibly grow. Per square metre (or per square yard), its yields are much higher and its maintenance much lower than our current monoculture farming practices. It’s a thriving, self-sustaining ecosystem, where every plant supports and feeds every other plant. Some bring in the pollinators; others provide the nutrients for the soil; still, others act as pest control and of course, many provide a bounty of produce. Importantly, it’s easy to care. Once the planting is in place, it needs very little by way of maintenance.
So How is Business like a Forest Garden?
As I plant the plum and cherry trees on the allotment this winter, I’m reminded of how much this project — taking a patch of overgrown land and turning it into a thriving and sustainable ecosystem has so much in common with growing a thriving and sustainable expert business.
I go through a similar process with both:
- Planning the garden
- Putting the infrastructure in place
- Preparing the soil for planting
- Planting the garden — for an immediate harvest, and for long-term sustainability and fruitfulness
- Tending the garden
- Harvesting and preserving the produce
And throughout, enjoying the garden — the joy of working the land and getting my hands dirty, the pleasure of a quiet break in a beautiful space I’ve created there, the delicious fruit and vegetables taken from the land directly to the table.
And, just like growing a thriving business, it’s a lot of work, especially in the early years. Today, let’s look at that first element: Planning
In her excellent book “The Garden Awakening” Mary Reynolds cites five elements for designing a garden in partnership with nature. Each one applies equally to planning a thriving and sustainable business in partnership with your nature — one that’s perfectly aligned with who you are and what you value.
- The tool of intention: magic unlocked
- Selecting areas to hold specific intentions
- Designing with the patterns and shapes of nature
- The power of symbols and imagery
- Putting your design on paper
The Magic of Your Intention
Your intention creates magic, by focusing your energy and emotion on what matters most you. It creates your reality. Using the tool of intention allows you to communicate directly with the land — your audience. The people you most love to work with.
Equally, it’s important to listen to your audience and understand who they want to become. What transformation do they want for themselves? So in designing an easy-care and thriving online business, you want to make sure that you create the most exceptional experience for these special people you want to serve.
Areas to Hold Specific Intentions
That means creating special spaces in your business for them to rest, refresh themselves, and learn & grow. Spaces surrounded by your offerings. Offerings aligned and in harmony with you, your business vision, your customers and their visions for themselves.
At the entrance to your garden/business, your intention is to delight their senses. Create an environment in which they feel safe and comfortable with you. Hint at the deep and lasting change you have for them should they choose to venture further into your garden and taste more of your offerings. It’s here that your prospects and leads first experience your business. Create a space that engages them fully. Your free content and lead magnets are the ground cover plants, herbs, strawberries, fragrant flowers and low shrubs, with the bees and the butterflies drawn to this amazing space.
Deeper into the garden, you find your customers, buying an offering from you for the first time. They are excited to be here, curious, and begin to engage with the garden at another level — they see more of the shrubs (low-cost offerings), a greater variety of ground cover plants (free content) and a distant view of the fruit trees and higher canopy — your revenue and top-end products or services. In here, they are in harmony with the earth — with their vision and know that your offerings are the answer they are looking for. They want to go deeper.
In among the fruit trees and high canopy, where you can serve them with great care and devotion, where they are truly recognised and their vision finally realised. They are at home, and so delighted with their experience with their transformation that they tell others, and draw yet more people into the garden to experience its delights.
Always a safe, sacred space. Always some magic; and always away in each space to make some money magic. The deeper they venture into your garden, the more magic and money you can create for them and for you.
Designing with the Patterns & Shapes of Nature
A forest garden consists of several layers which correspond with the way in which nature restores an area after a fire or other calamity. The first colonisers are the ground cover plants. These quickly cover the ground and protect the soil from erosion. They retain moisture and begin to draw the nutrients like nitrogen out from deep in the ground and make them available to other plants.
A few shrubs take hold as do the first trees. These grow more slowly and gradually take over. The landscape changes, as it becomes more of a wooded area.
A food forest garden design mimics nature. High canopy trees, like oak, broadleaf lime, willow and walnut, provide the shade. They are a source of food, firewood and building materials. The next layer is your fruit and nut trees, providing a bountiful harvest of produce for the table. Beneath them, in the next layer, you plant your fruiting shrubs — the raspberries, gooseberries, and Russian olive –for both bounty and enriching the soil. At a lower level, the ground cover plants. Your vegetables, not in pretty rows, but mixed in with comfrey, garlic, herbs and nettles to draw in the pollinators, nourish the soil and confuse garden pests.
It’s a perfectly balanced ecosystem. And once established, needs little by way of maintenance. Like a good business design.
How This Relates to your Business Model
Your free content corresponds to the ground cover plants in your garden. These are needed throughout the garden to protect the soil, provide it with nutrients, bring in the bees and provide fruit, herbs and vegetables for the table.
Some of your free content will enrich your audience, some will act as the draw — bringing them into the garden, some will ensure the business is always protected from erosion and unforeseen events, and some will provide an income. Because you’ll use this free content, and engagement with your customers and prospects to identify exactly the right products to create and offer to them. Maybe even selling them before you have them created.
Free content is strewn throughout your garden and even outside. And it’s different in each sacred space in your garden so that they are aligned with your customer’s needs and wants in that particular space.
Your Lead Magnet is your gated content — like the small shrubs and bushes surrounding that first sacred space, the first one a potential customer steps into. In this space, you’ll find both free content and gated content, ground cover plants and small, inviting bushes and shrubs. As the ground cover, your shrubs serve many purposes. Some supply nutrients to the other plants; some provide food and others attract pollinators. All of them protect the soil from erosion.
You’ll have several lead magnets, each one aligned with your vision and values, and all giving your prospect an engaging and memorable experience of you and your business. Magnetic, this space will make them feel at home, safe, secure, excited to take the next step with you, because they have already experienced change, already seen how you can help them achieve their vision.
Your Impulse Buy is the first, low-cost, high-value product your prospect buys from you. It corresponds to the second sacred space in the garden, and to the larger shrubs and huge beds that protect this area. And it marks a significant change in your relationship. They are now a customer. They’ve spent money as well as time in your garden.
The Revenue Product is your core offering; it’s where you make your most money and where you most delight your customers. It corresponds to the third sacred space in your garden and to your low canopy layer — the fruit and nut trees that are bearing the most productivity in the garden. This is the largest space, maybe with a wishing well or a wishing tree in it. A gathering place for those who really want to delve deep into the mysteries of creating a powerfully authentic and flourishing business online.
Further into the garden, lie your Top End Products, the ones that only a few will take up because these are for the deepest mysteries and deepest secrets of your craft. This is a deeply spiritual space for the select few who choose to venture there. It corresponds to the highest canopy layer — the broadleaf lime, the walnut trees, the hawthorn and oak sacred to the Druids. Long-lasting, steeped in meaning, eternal.
I call it F.L.I.R.T. The formula for a successful business online.
The Power of Symbols
Archetypes. I’ve spoken of them in my #TechTalks. They are powerful symbols because they are eternal. Shapes like the circle, a symbol of unity and oneness, speak to something deep within us, even if we’re not aware of it consciously. Something we know and understand intuitively at a very deep level. The Divine Feminine, the Divine Masculine. Metatron’s Cube — the map of creation.
Archetypes are also ways of being human that we instantly recognize. Whatever our culture, whatever our epoch, these archetypes are a part of who we are. Tapping into them, through ancient myths and stories, through sacred geometry, through taking on and appealing to a particular archetype in your branding and marketing messages, unlocks another dimension.
The Alchemist, the Creator, the Ordinary Guy or Gal, the Innocent, the Hero, the Mother/Father, the King/Queen — there is an archetype that fits you like a glove and attracts exactly the right people to you. The ones you are here to serve. Choose carefully. Check out “The Hero and the Outlaw” by Margaret Mark and Carol S Pearson, or Cerries Mooney whose free survey will tell you exactly what archetype to step into. This is powerful stuff.
Pen to Paper
Now it’s over to you. Get that design down on paper. Begin with the canopy. Decide on your dream service offering. The one at the top of your business model, and work down from there is a kind of cascade. Allowing the revenue product to drop into place, then your impulse buys and finally your lead magnets and free content.