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About Us | Plants For A Future

The main aims of the charity are researching and providing information on ecologically sustainable horticulture, as an integral part of designs involving high species diversity and permaculture principles. Approaches such as woodland/forest gardening use a minimal input of resources and energy, create a harmonious eco-system and cause the least possible damage to the environment, while still having the potential to achieve high productivity.

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Plants For A Future: A resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants

Plants For A Future (PFAF) is an online free-to-use information database and associated website for those interested in edible and useful plants. Originally focused on plants suitable for temperate regions, it has now been extended to include many of the more important tropical and sub-tropical edible and useful plants. The PFAF website (https://pfaf.org) enables access to powerful search facilities, and in all the database now contains information on over 8000 plants.

These resources are maintained by a UK registered charitable company. The objectives of the PFAF charity are ‘to advance the education of the public by the promotion of all aspects of ecologically sustainable vegan-organic horticulture and agriculture with an emphasis on tree, shrub and other perennial species; and the undertaking of research into such horticulture and agriculture, and dissemination of the results of such research.


The charity was originally set up by Ken Fern and his wife Addy to support their work on ‘The Field’ their experimental site in Cornwall, where from 1989 they carried out research and collected information on 1,500 species of edible and otherwise useful plants suitable for growing outdoors in a temperate climate. Subsequently Ken Fern added to the database through desk and online research.

Before 2005, the Cornwall site was supported by a group of vegan activists and the group raised money to purchase a second site in North Devon with the aim of establishing an ecovillage. Unfortunately neither of the PFAF sites: Cornwall and North Devon, were able to obtain planning permission for building or living on the sites. It was decided to sell the North Devon site, and in 2008 the PFAF charity appointed a new set of Trustees and took over responsibility for supporting and maintaining the plants information database. Since then PFAF has employed a database developer/ administrator on a rolling contract basis. The charity’s office base is in Dawlish, Devon.

Since 2008 the Fern family have continued to manage their Cornwall research site, and also now offer their own version of the plants database (see http://plantsforafuture.theferns.info/ ) Therefore although the Trustees of the PFAF charity continue to maintain contact with the Ferns, they have no operational links with what is now termed PFAF-Cornwall.



In recent years PFAF has worked on extending and aligning the plants database with initiatives to promote and support ‘carbon sequestration’ and for designing ‘carbon farming’ systems and ‘food forests’: agro-ecosystems of perennial plants. The particular focus is on a subset of 1300+ plants that feature in the species matrices in two important reference books: The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security by Eric Toensmeier and Edible Forest Gardens: Ecological Design and Practice for Temperate Climate Permaculture by Dave Jacke.




  • Fern, Ken. Plants for a Future: Edible and Useful Plants for a Healthier World. Hampshire: Permanent Publications, 1997. ISBN 1-85623-011-2.
  • Edible Plants: An inspirational guide to choosing and growing unusual edible plants. Plants For A Future, 2012 ISBN 9781481170017
  • Woodland Gardening: Designing a low-maintenance, sustainable edible woodland garden. Plants For A Future, 2013. ISBN 9781484069165
  • Edible Trees: A practical and inspirational guide from Plants For A Future on how to grow and harvest trees with edible and other useful produce. Plants For A Future, 2013. ISBN 9781493736102
  • Plantes Comestibles: Le guide pour vous inspirer à choisir et cultiver des plantes comestibles hors du commun. Plants For A Future, 2014. ISBN 9781495914690
  • Edible Perennials: 50 Top perennial plants from Plants For A Future. Plants For A Future, 2015
  • Edible Shrubs: 70+ Top Shrubs from Plants For A Future, 2019. ISBN 9781791954949




There are currently five trustees of the PFAF Charity - see Trustees' biographies.

In recognition of the work of the Ferns, and for information about what they achieved, in 2009 the Trustees commissioned a detailed mapping and ecological Survey of The Field (see below). The Survey Report is available for anyone who is interested.


The Plants for a Future Concept

It is our belief that plants can provide people with the majority of their needs, in a way that cares for the planet's health. A wide range of plants can be grown to produce all our food needs and many other commodities, whilst also providing a diversity of habitats for our native flora and fauna.

There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. Large areas of land devoted to single crops increase dependence upon intervention of chemicals and intensive control methods with the added threat of chemical resistant insects and new diseases. The changing world climate greatly affecting cultivation indicates a greater diversity is needed.

When comparing a large cultivated field to natural woodland the woodland receives no intervention but produces lush growth and diversity of plants and animals. Yet the cultivated land supports very few species. The quality and depth of soil in a woodland is maintained and improved yearly whilst erosion and loss of soil structure plague the cultivated field.

Our emphasis is on growing perennial plants with some self-seeding annuals, a large part of the reason for this is the difference in the amount of time and energy it takes to cultivate and harvest crops. Annuals means the cultivation of the ground every year, sowing the seeds, controlling the weeds, adding fertilizers and attempting to control pests and diseases. It all seems so much extra work compared to planting a perennial and waiting to harvest its yield. Especially when you consider that even with all the effort put into growing carrots their yield for the same area of ground will be less than that of a fruit tree and will only last the one season.

Not only do people seem trapped in a method of growing with lower yields for far more input but also one that is damaging the environment and all the plants and animals that live in it.

Continued cultivation of the soil, whilst creating a desert to most of our wild plants and animals, destroys the organic matter and opens it up to the risk of erosion from wind and rain. The soil structure is damaged and becomes compacted leaving it unable to drain properly or allow plant roots to penetrate and obtain nutrients, and valuable topsoil is washed away in heavy rain.

A cultivated crop such as wheat has all its roots in a narrow band of soil with intense competition between plants for the same nutrients. Any nutrients below this belt are inaccessible to the plants. The crop is susceptible to the same pests and diseases and has similar climatic requirements, if one plant suffers they all suffer. The amount of energy used in producing high yields is far more than the food itself yields in energy. We do not believe this is sustainable.

When looking at woodland, almost no weeding is required, no feeding and no watering yet year after year a host of animals can be found along with the inevitable plant growth. A wide range of plants grows side by side each occupying its own space. Some with deep roots bringing up nutrients from beyond the reach of other plants. When leaves fall they provide nutrients and substance to the soil. Plants with shallow root systems obtain their nutrients from nearer the surface of the soil. The canopy of trees creates a shelter and temperature fluctuations are less extreme in a woodland environment. The soil is protected from erosion.

Woodland sustains itself and is highly productive due to its diversity which leads to a gradual build up of fertility. All the different available habitats allow a wide range of creatures to live in woodland, and the plants, insects and animals all work to create an altogether much more balanced and harmonious way of life. Another benefit of Woodland Gardening is that the high humus content of the soil acts like a sponge to absorb water therefore replenishing the ground water table.

Growing a diversity of plants emulating woodland, we can grow fruit and nut trees, under- planted with smaller trees and shrubs, herbaceous, ground cover and climbing plants. This way it is possible to produce fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves and roots throughout the year. Unlike the majority of cultivated food plants these have not been selectively bred to increase size of yield, reduce bitterness or increase sweetness, yet many of them are delicious and highly nutritious.

We aim to recover lost knowledge and learn more about the hundreds of medicinal plants that we can grow, in a race to find safe natural alternatives to drugs used today. Plants can also provide us with fibres for clothes, rope and paper, oils for lubricants, fuels, water proofing and wood preservatives, dyes, construction materials and more.

A large number of native broadleaf trees are planted to provide natural shelter and wildlife habitats. Trees are the lungs of the planet; they purify the air locking up carbon and have the potential for reducing the greenhouse effect. Trees protect the soil from erosion, encourage rainfall, and regulate the flow of ground water preventing flooding. Fallen leaves are an effective soil conditioner.

© 2010, Plants For A Future. Plants For A Future is a charitable company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Charity No. 1057719, Company No. 3204567.