Our Living Seed Bank is an effort to collect, catalog, and grow as many different important Amazonian tree species as possible. Of vital importance to this collection are the over 70 species of trees planted to date that have edible fruits or seeds.
The seven acres (three hectares) of fruit trees that we currently manage include a stunningly diverse range of native and tropical fruits, from Avocado to Zapote. Though our emphasis is on fruit from the region-- and especially underutilized species with economic potential, from cashew to açaí to noni to camu camu-- we have sought out the widest range of fruits and nuts available for our tropical climate. Already-naturalized exotic fruits that enjoy an important place in local culture, such as mango, sit side by side with fruits previously unknown or rare in the region, like jackfruit and black sapote. Additionally, we have taken part in the informal efforts of local farmers to begin to domesticate and selectively breed certain wild jungle fruits (pama, charichuelo, and moquete de tigre, to name a few), thereby relieving pressure on the virgin forests as a source for fruit products whose harvest sometimes implies the felling of the trees. We revel in the local diversity of palm fruits, of which we have planted over a half a dozen species.
Rather than simple orchards, these heavily-planted acres of valuable and delicious tree crops are truly "food forests," to use the term of Bill Mollison, one of the founding fathers of Permaculture. The trees are planted in a multi-strata form that imitates the layout of a natural forest: tall, slow-growing hardwood trees grow alongside small and medium size trees, palms, and even vines, shrubs, and herbs. Soil-enriching leguminous trees, some bearing fruit themselves, are distributed throughout the food forest, as are food-producing bean varieties that double as nitrogen-fixing cover crops. Soil health is a major priority, and local materials such as sawdust, leaf litter, and brazil nut husks are used for mulches, ground covers, and on-site composting. The trees themselves also encourage soil health, blanketing the easily eroded tropical soil in mixed shade from above and holding the ground in place from the roots below. In short, our food forests are treasuries of extreme biodiversity, ever-improving soil quality, and the kind of harmonious inter-relationships among species that one would expect to find in a wild forest.