Teague Cullen has some strong words about commercial agriculture. "Fucking bullshit," he says. "European bullshit."
Wearing dirt-smeared overalls emblazoned with a Green Day pin, Cullen stands under a walnut tree at the far end of Winslow Food Forest. Just over a half acre and tucked into a dead end near Portland's southeast border with Milwaukie, Winslow initially looks chaotic and overgrown.
But that's the way food forests are supposed to be, says Cullen, who runs the farm with his wife, Mel. Most American farms grow only one crop, he says, and farmers clear the land afterward, often by burning the fields. "So right from the beginning, it's destruction."
Basically a form of anti-agriculture, food forestry is based on the idea of creating an ecosystem instead of destroying one. The difference is that it's an ecosystem made entirely of stuff you can eat, like a more nutritious Willy Wonka forest.
Except Winslow is not quite yet a forest. Mature forests are like a multilayer garden, with multiple canopy layers of fruit trees and bushes standing over a sea of low lying vegetables. The apple trees strategically placed around Winslow's plot are still just twigs, so it doesn't have a closed canopy. But already, it's labyrinthine—rows of kale and chard, small Italian plum trees, five different types of fig trees and a cherry tree dotted with plump, glossy fruit.
As he samples multiple varieties of oregano plants, Cullen compares food forestry to a polyamorous relationship—instead of trying to force the land to conform to a predetermined vision of the perfect garden, you're constantly adapting your food forest according to each plant.
Winslow isn't their first go-around. The Cullens have already grown a food forest in Boring, helping clients develop their own biodiverse, edible gardens. They broke ground on this Portland forest in only November, but it already produces enough food that Winslow distributes to restaurants like Milwaukie Cafe and Departure, as well as to 15 private CSA customers.
It takes several years before a food forest becomes its own biodiverse ecosystem, but according to Cullen, it's worth it. "It's a lot like sailing, where you're waiting for this wind," says Cullen. Eventually, he says, "everything just locks."