What Inspired Us

Exploring the Roots and Inspirations That Sprouted The Biggest Mini Forest Initiative

This project was started by Luís Afonso and Ana Laura Cruz, but it is willing to gather many other people who want to leave behind something positive for future generations.

Regenerative agriculture, including agroforestry, syntropic agriculture, and the Miyawaki method are something that we have been following, studying, and practicing during the past few years. That fostered in us the goal to attract many more people to create systems that can produce quality food, create food sovereignty and at the same time regenerate the soil and ecosystems that have been destroyed for centuries by bad human agricultural practices. Also, not limiting these practices to the countryside, but also exploring them in urban areas.

In 2020, we didn’t know where to start, but with the knowledge and experience we had, we decided to create a Jungle in a Bathtub! And it worked! An old bathtub with good soil, earthworms, and hundreds of seeds quickly turned into a dense tiny forest.

At the end of the same year, we gathered all the family, and instead of decorating a Christmas tree, we decided to plant a small and dense forest of 54m², with all the plants and trees from our bathtub!

It turned out to be our laboratory, our orchard, our cool place in Summer, and our classroom, in Alcoutim, one of the most semi-arid areas of Portugal. 2 years later, our first Mini Forest was already a green island in the middle of the dry land.

Experiment on a bathtub

Mini Agroforest in semi-arid area at Alcoutim, Algarve 

 After that getting involved in many different Agroforestry systems, getting to know and work on different projects around Portugal. Through this journey, we decided to combine some principles of Syntropic Farming, from the Swiss farmer Ernst Götsch who developed his work in Brazil over the past 40 years, with the Miyawaki Method, from the Japanese Akira Miyawaki, who focuses just on soil and ecosystems regeneration.

We started to realize how complexity was a major obstacle when willing to create a significant change in the way we produce food and regenerate our planet. This realization led us to think about the concept of 'blocks' – self-contained regenerative systems that could be easily adopted and replicated by not only experienced farmers but also those with no prior knowledge of agriculture practices. A model that could be on a scale ranging from hundreds to thousands of implemented units.

We knew what we wanted, but didn’t know exactly how to do it until we met Miguel Cotton. The owner of an amazing project in Tavira, south of Portugal, the Orchard of Flavours. Miguel is focused on just perennial plants and trees that come from warm countries and that may be adapted to the warmer climate here in Portugal brought by climate change, and he has now more than 300 different species that you can find in his open-source database.

On top of that, The Orchard of Flavours had already a year old Miyawaki inspired food forest, composed of dozens of trees, bushes, and plants from around the world, just in 30m², and all covered in delicious fruits!

Miyawaki food forest at Orchard of Flavours

We were already in touch and discussing possibilities for the project design when, by a curious coincidence, Miguel and we were invited to create a big Miyawaki forest of 200m² at Quinta da Fornalha, in Castro Marim, also in the South of Portugal. 

Since we had no time, instead of 200m², we brought back the idea of blocks and did just 4m² in a workshop in order to teach people how to do it, so that they could continue using the same method afterwards. 

A great milestone to us, as it proved that the blocks idea where possible and it inspired us to create the model we have now. Miguel Cotton loved the idea and with arms wide open decided to host our first 2 official Mini Forests side by side located at the Orchard of Flavours. That's when we put into practice what we had as a dream! That was the beginning of network of regenerative systems.

Our Mini Food Forests are designed to give you guidance, nurturing your journey into regenerative agriculture with simplicity and abundance. It will show you different facades as:

1. Your Teacher: Starting small reduces the need for intensive management and resources, granting you more time to observe and understand the evolution of each plant in their unique environment. It's a personalized learning experience tailored to fit your location and climate.

2. Your Plant Nursery: The high-density planting in each Mini Forest makes propagation of various species more accessible. It transforms your space into a vibrant plant nursery, fostering the growth of diverse plants that can then be transplanted, seeded or directly propagated from roots or cuttings into your next Mini Forest implementations.

3. Your Vegetable and Fruit Shop: From the initial months up to 2 years, your Mini Food Forest becomes a source of fresh vegetables. As it matures, you can start collecting berries and fruits, providing you with a perpetual harvest of homegrown food.

4. Your Pharmacy: Beyond delivering high-nutrient foods, helping on the heath of the planet, sequestering carbon, regenerating soil,  avoiding erosion and sinking water into the ground, your Mini Food Forest can also serve you with a natural pharmacy through the use of medicinal plants that will enhance your immune system and well-being.

5. Your Fertilizer Source: Through constant pruning and laying the leaves, twigs and branches on the forest ground we accelerate nutrient cycling. Is the natural decomposition of those materials that you get from pruning that allows your Mini Forest to become a self-sustaining system, supplying the entire ecosystem with essential nutrients without the need for external fertilizers.

6. Your Connection to Nature: Immerse yourself in the beauty of a biodiverse ecosystem, right in your backyard. Your Mini Food Forest is a sanctuary, offering a slice of a healthy forest that can bring you moments of connection and tranquility.

7. Your Link to Like-Minded People: Sharing the experience, the knowledge and surplus produce from your Mini Food Forest can foster the sense of community that the Biggest Mini Forest aims to create, enhancing bonds and connections among the community.

If you're still wondering whether this is the right system for you or not, our advice is simple – start one, and witness firsthand which of these aspects becomes a reality in your unique journey.