Just 20 feet from the Sunrise kitchen is an experimental food forest packed full of rare species and admired as a biological treasure by modern-day permaculture enthusiasts.
This food forest is also a fruit orchard, home to trees bearing apples, pears, apricots, cherries, peaches and plums. Several varieties of shrubs, herbs, vegetables and tubers grow there as well. It is a working example of permaculture and a productive ecosystem for Sunrise Ranch and the surrounding area.
The garden was first planted in the 1990s. Before the garden was planted, the land was used as pasture for grazing animals. John Cruickshank created the garden in the late 1980s and began to plant more understory plants. He also started a nursery on the west side of the garden (many plants that were intended to be replanted elsewhere on the property still remain, which explains the high density of trees on that side). In 2010, the paths were redone with cardboard and wood chips; Soma Hunter hosted an event called Slow Down and Create, and a monument depicting the astrological birth chart of Sunrise Ranch was built in the northwest corner. In 2014, participants in Patrick Padden’s Regenerative Agriculture Studies course built a cob mermaid statue on that monument. They also helped revive parts of the permaculture garden for more robust food production in the following years.
Guilds — The plants are consciously arranged in a guild, or in such a way that they may positively affect one another. In the permaculture garden, valerian, comfrey and burdock unlock nutrients from deep within the soil and make them available to other plants while choking out grasses and retaining soil moisture. Guilds are often self-fertilizing and need very little supplemental irrigation once established.
Multiple layers — The garden occupies multiple layers in space, which increases its potential yield. For example, the fast-growing black locust tree provides a canopy for an apple tree and a smaller Nanking cherry tree. Black locust produces incredibly dense wood and fixes nitrogen into the soil.
Biodiversity — The garden is a natural habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and is becoming more complex and biodiverse as a result of animals bringing in and spreading seeds.