The Grove's New "Food Forest"

According to Project Food Forest, a food forest (also called a forest garden) is “a diverse planting of edible plants that attempts to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature. Food forests are three dimensional designs, with life extending in all directions – up, down, and out.”

There are seven layers of a food forest – the overstory, the understory, the shrub layer, the herbaceous layer, the root layer, the ground cover layer, and the vine layer. Using all the layers allows more plants to grow in an area without any competition for resources like water and sun.

Because of the way food forests are designed, planted and grown using permaculture methods, they need little to no human management such as weeding or fertilizing. Forests are rich in biodiversity and highly fertile, meaning they’re ideal for growing many different kinds of food.

This year, The Grove received $1,500 in funding from the Judy Beck Grant to begin planting a food forest onsite. The Grove currently has apple and pear trees in the area that was John Kennicott’s orchard in the late 1800s. While we cannot say that these trees are from the original orchard, they are descendants from the original orchard. This discovery inspired the idea of planting a food forest in The Grove’s Natural Resource Manager Meredith Churchman’s mind.

Upon further research, Grove staff found the original orchard area would not be a suitable location for the food forest onsite. Instead, the Food Forest will be located near the Grove Schoolhouse. However, Meredith hopes to explore options to graft these descendent trees in the future so that they will be brought into the food forest.

Grove staff have cleared the area that has been designated to become the food forest and have begun the installation of the upper and lower story, which consist of fruit trees, nut trees and shrubs. While researching the varieties of plants to incorporate into the food forest system, Grove staff have carefully considered the balance they will play with the native systems surrounding the area. Staff have also worked to identify edible plants that are native to our area.

We anticipate that the Grove’s food forest will be fully functioning in 5 years, with each year steadily increasing production. It takes several years for perennial plants to get established and start producing either fruits, nuts or root.

In addition to planting the remaining layers within the food forest, future plans include installation of a fence, small footpaths within the food forest borders, and interpretive signs.

“I am really excited that the staff, public and even myself will be able to develop a deeper connection with nature by knowing how these plants can be used,” said Meredith. “My hope is that the food forest will be an awesome learning tool for visitors of the Grove. We can use the food forest to develop educational programs about sustainable food production and possibly, in time, preservation. It will provide volunteers a hands-on approach to learn applicable gardening skills and traditional knowledge about plant and human interactions through food or medicine.”