Garden City Vision
As the need for organic food increases, the need to grow our own food becomes more obvious. Organic food is extremely expensive and out of reach for a huge demographic in our communities. More than a year ago through my permaculture research, I found a number of cities looking at the idea of food forestry.
Food forestry uses biomimicry which is an approach to sustainable solutions by imitating nature. We look to the forest and see what it does and try to duplicate that. By doing so we limit the inputs required. Simply following a permaculture model of the least amount of effort with the most amount of gain. In other words we set up the plants to benefit each other and create enough ground cover to limit the amount of weeding and watering. Creating a beneficial polyculture, many plants working together rather than a monoculute which is one type of planting.
Some great examples are the University of Manitoba working with the community to create a Food Forest Commons at Darling Permaculture Park and Incredible Edibles in Todmorden, England . These examples confirmed my thinking that we should have access to locally grown free organic food. It occurred to me that cities spend a lot of money on their green spaces for aesthetic purposes only, when instead we could utilize these spaces for growing food whilst making them aesthetically pleasing.
My original idea was utilizing underused parkettes where we could plant a fruit tree, a fruit tree guild (guilds are plantings that benefit each other by attracting or repelling insects and work together to bring nitrogen to the soil) or simply a few berry bushes. I envisioned edible trails on existing walking and biking paths where families could walk or bike and stop for a fresh organic snack on the way. I saw it as a great way to include community gardens as part of the larger community by planting fruit trees and berries outside the garden fence for public consumption. I thought about changing the way we think of all our beulavard spaces and high traffic zones, planting to feed birds and bees. Edible trails throughout Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge.
I realized the red tape and bureaucracy would be lengthy, so Instead of going straight to the city, I decided to go to my local community center. The community center already has the connection to the city and possibly funds to make this idea become a reality. I then approached the community center and from there fortunately there were nothing but green lights. The community center manager loved the idea and immediately brought the city into the discussion.
The city also loved the idea for a number of reasons;
– Food forests do not require rotor tilling (keeping the soil structure in tact), saving the city from the cost of machinery and labor
– Food forests do not require a fence, again saving on costs
– After the first year or so depending on the soil, the city does not have to bring water to the site
– Once its planted, the local stewards (local volunteers interested in the forest upkeep) to maintain the garden which involves weeding (very little because the ground is covered), watering in dry spells, pruning and clearing away trash if any.
I created and hosted a Food Forest workshop to educate about the amazing benefits of food forests, but also to create enough interest that we would have stewards and people interested in the planting day. The feedback from the community was fantastic, everybody was completely on board with the idea of locally grown, accessible, free organic food.
After a number of meetings the city funded the project $1000 and Meadow Acres generously matched the $1000. So what was originally going to be three fruit tree guilds ended up being 6. The city also decided to use the food forest as a pilot project. It was surprisingly easy to get people on board with this idea, even the local teenagers loved the idea of free food. We had a fantastic planting day where people came from all parts of the Waterloo Region and as far as Toronto to volunteer their time to make this idea come to life.
People did have a concern that one person might take all the fruit, my answer is we plant more trees. If it were a maple it would not have any fruit, in this case we see the need and plant more. Another concern was vandalism, we had no vandalism of the forest. Lastly people were concerned that animals would eat the food. We planted things like garlic to deter animals, but at the same time, biomimicry is an inclusive idea, the forest benefits the ecosystem not discriminating against the animals. Animals are an integral part of a flourishing ecosystem. The Food Forest flourished and all involved were amazed to see how simple the process was and how easily it can be repeated throughout the city.
The Forest Heights Food Forest sparked another Food Forest project located in downtown Kitchener in Victoria Park. The Victoria Park Food Forest was planted in the fall of 2015.
Bringing you now up to present date, I was approached by a community member about starting a community garden beside the food forest. As we formed a committee and started talking further about this project we began to look at the entire Forest Heights catchment’s green spaces. Immediately as I saw the map, I thought yes, my idea of edible walking trails looked possible. The members on the committee loved the idea of mixing some community gardens with public edibles and food forestry in locations where community gardens are not possible due to location restrictions. We have a number of local landowners on board such as local churches, schools, townhouses and long term care facilities. We are super excited to include the Pollinator Fedge Project run by Seeds of Diversity among our champions for the Edible Trail project.
Through the media we are bombarded with so many global issues that effect us all. It is difficult at times to even read of the terrible things that are happening around the world. I am from the belief that every person can contribute and make a difference, no matter how small the contribution may appear. I often hear people say they want to do something, but don’t know what to do. When I introduced the idea of a Garden City with edible walking trails and access to locally grown, free, organic food they loved the idea, but then said they don’t have a lot of time. I then asked if they had one hour a week they would be willing to contribute and every time they said “yes”!. So then I said “if 10 people give one hour, all of a sudden we have 10 hours and with 10 hours we can really make a start”!