By Vina Medenilla
Jo Anne V. Coruña is a writer and visual artist who juggles her career and family life while also cultivating a food forest within their 1,000 sqm residence.
She was raised in Metro Manila and one of her earliest memories linked to gardening is of her mother tending to purple orchids. Her childhood exposure to nature, however, was insufficient to motivate her to grow plants like her mom.
It was after a few months of living in the rural side of Japan that Coruña and her family found inspiration and drive to build their own garden back home.
“We would stroll everywhere and see edible gardens cared for by mostly elderly people,” Coruña recalled.
Like other folks stuck in quarantine since 2020, Coruña, with the help of her husband and kids, grabbed the opportunity to plant more trees and plants in their house in Bacolod, Negros Occidental.
The family considers their abode as part of their so-called ‘food forest’ since humans are part of the ecosystem, too.
Coruña also enrolled herself in a permaculture design online course and had the privilege to apply the lessons from the course immediately to their plot of land.
The permaculture way
She employs permaculture principles in their food forest called Food Forest Maria, after her in-laws, as well as Maria Orosa, a Filipina food preservation pioneer and innovator.
“I think it is more apt to say that I am a full-time practitioner of permaculture, which involves farming or gardening, but extends to our family life, our home, my work, and the bigger community as well.”
She added, “Permaculture, as a design framework, enables us to look at the spaces we live in and design them in such a way that everything works together and makes life better for all, humans and non-humans alike.”
When she’s not in the garden, she’s either homeschooling her kids, cooking for the household, or working on her passion projects and collaborations. The food forest and the lessons she’s learning from nature are constantly with her while she performs her responsibilities.
And that’s how permaculture works for this grower.
From one to a hundred
From one durian tree that was the first tree they transplanted to currently over 100 plant species, the family’s food forest continues to thrive to this day. Most of what’s planted in it are perennial varieties, or those that are planted only once yet can live for a long time.
“As with most permaculture food systems, our food forest and kitchen garden have mostly perennial plants, which are generally more robust and hardy. Given their longer lifespans, they also allow for a more complex ecology to exist. Insects, birds, and other animals are able to find their niches in our food forest,” said Coruña, who is also a certified permaculture designer.
Their family’s favorite edible perennials are katuk (Sauropus androgynus), Sissoo or Brazilian spinach (Alternanthera sissoo), cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella), and Philippine spinach (Talinum triangulare).
Some other items that can be found in Food Forest Maria are jackfruit and mulberry, as well as native trees like bangkal (Nauclea orientalis), salingbobog (Crateva religiosa), aratilis or aratiles (Muntingia calabura), and alupag (Dimocarpus didyma).
One of Coruña’s goals is to plant Philippine native trees, so she can produce edible fruits and nuts for human consumption, while also providing food and habitat for the wildlife.
Two secrets to a prolific food forest
Coruña hasn’t watered any of her plants since the beginning of 2021, except for the new seeds sown straight to the ground or in coco pots. Her secret? Mulching.
To retain soil moisture, she uses grass cuttings or living mulch aka ground covers like makahiya (Mimosa pudica), clover (Trifolium), and Pinto peanut (Arachis pintoi). These mulches lessen the need to water the plants frequently.
Another essential approach she uses is the banana circle, a permaculture composting technique in which a compost pit is placed in between banana plants to nourish them with adequate nutrients.
“We have never watered our banana plants and we’ve never fed them any sort of fertilizer except for the kitchen scraps that we’ve put in the compost pit,” Coruña added.
Despite only relying on rainwater and banana circles, the Coruñas are already expecting their second harvest of Blue Java bananas, which are said to taste like ice cream, soon.
These are just two of the many methods that have helped Coruña’s food forest thrive.
Coruña has a website called amidst the green, which contains permaculture field notes, studies, artworks, and other projects she produced. There, she shared and explained 12 permaculture principles that she also applies to herself and her food forest.
Two years in and the food forest has grown significantly, and so did this gardener.
Photos courtesy of Jo Anne V. Coruña
For more information, visit amidst the green