Edible forests are sprouting up across America The farm at Coastal Roots Farm, a more traditional community garden. Coastal Roots Farm recently added an eight-acre forest garden to its offerings. (Coastal Roots Farm/Sterling College/Flickr/ CC BY)
Edible forests are sprouting up across America

Earlier this summer, Carol LeResche got the phone call she'd been waiting for. She lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, and was told a resident was picking zucchini at Thorne Rider Park.
"It's exactly what we hoped would happen when we put in the food forest," explained LeResche, the park's food forest coordinator.
In May, the Powder River Basin Resource Council in Sheridan received a $3,500 grant from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. The money was to help turn a former BMX park into an edible landscape. It's a place where all of the fruits, vegetables and nuts are free for the taking.
Unlike some parks with strict "no picking" policies, or parks where foraging is permitted but plantings emphasize aesthetics over edibles and just a fraction of the species can be consumed, food forests are designed to provide bountiful crops. Residents are encouraged to harvest them. And although there are no solid statistics on the number of food forests, the concept appears to be taking root.
At Thorne Rider Park, zucchini was the first vegetable to ripen in the brand new food forest. As the other edibles mature, LeResche hopes residents will dig up potatoes for supper. They can gather raspberries to make jam or snack on ripe figs plucked straight from the trees.
"We think it's important to put public food in public spaces," she said.
Food forests may seem like a spin-off of community gardens. But there are distinct differences. Residents often have to pay to rent plots in community gardens, invest in the seeds and devote the labor required to maintain their plots. This can be a burden for low-income families. In contrast, food forests are funded through grants. Until the forests are self-sustaining, volunteers handle the labor.  All that hungry residents have to do is show up and pick their fill.
Food forests also provide different kinds of fresh produce than community gardens, emphasizing perennials like fruit and nut trees and berry bushes over annual vegetables.
They also provide essential forest canopy that is lacking in urban areas. The canopy helps to minimize the heat island effect. It also provides community gathering spaces. Residents can participate in tours and classes or relax among the fruit trees.
"Our desire to be more connected to where our food comes from is one of the reasons there is a real trend toward integrating agriculture into neighborhoods and communities," explained Daron "Farmer D" Joffe. He is the founding director of Coastal Roots Farm, a nonprofit. It manages an eight-acre food forest. It is in Encinitas, California. 
Asheville, North Carolina, is believed to be home to the first food forest. Forty varieties of fruit and nut trees are found in the city's George Washington Carver Edible Park, which was founded in 1997. More than a decade later, similar projects began to sprout up in cities like Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and Seattle.
Most food forests are similar in approach. They bring together parks and recreation districts (which provide land), nonprofit groups and volunteers who handle the labor and maintenance. The designs are similar, too.
Food forests are based on permaculture design. It's a model that emphasizes sustainable and mostly self-sufficient agricultural production. To achieve this, most food forests incorporate stacked layers of edible plants from root crops, ground cover, vines and herbs to shrubs and trees. From the ground up, the edibles might include beets, strawberries, grapes, basil, blueberries, fruit and nut trees.
The food forest model, according to Joffe, requires less chemical fertilizer. It also is less labor intensive than conventional agriculture. An edible forest, like a hardwood forest, is designed to thrive without pesticides or herbicides or crop rotating, weeding or mowing.
Coastal Roots Farm has built food access into its mission for the food forest. The 8-acre forest was planted this spring. When the harvest is ready, a portion will be donated to food-insecure communities through food banks. The rest will be available for public harvesting.
But critics warn that these edible landscapes could be problematic. Since the concept is relatively new, and it takes at least three years for fruit and nut trees and berry bushes to start producing meaningful amounts of fresh food, it's hard to know whether food forests will have an impact on food deserts.
Volunteer-driven projects can fall apart if the group lacks cohesion or loses interest. Lack of funding can also be problematic. In Sheridan, the original $3,500 grant helped start the project.  LeResche estimated it will take $50,000 to complete the food forest plan.
Pests are an oft-cited concern, too.
"All trees need maintenance and fruit trees are no different," Joffe admitted. "If a food forest is well managed, there is no issue."
After all, LeResche explained, food forests are about a lot more than food. "We also want to provide a community gathering space that is productive and beautiful where people can cultivate a relationship with the land and get connected to delicious, healthy produce."

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Why don't all fruits and vegetables ripen at the same time?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • vmargaret-dav
    8/24/2016 - 04:41 p.m.

    In response to "Edible forests are sprouting up across America", I agree that it is good to have edible food where the public can eat and harvest it. One reason I agree is that if homeless people live nearby they can have a source of food and not starve. Another reason is that poor people who don't have a lot of money usually have to buy non healthy food because it is cheaper. Now instead of being unhealthy they can eat lots of fruits and vegetables. it says in the article, "All that hungry residents have to do is show up and pick their fill." A third reason is that it gives a space for the communities to have a gathering. Even though the food is free and the volunteers have to do all they work, I think edible forests provide healthy decisions and are good.

  • ialexis-dav
    8/24/2016 - 04:44 p.m.

    In response to "Edible Forests are Sprouting Up Across America," I agree that food forests are about more than just food. One reason I agree is that the food forest that that community has is mostly made up of volunteers, so lots of people can get to know each other just by going and helping out with the food forest. Another reason is that if you had a little spot in a community garden, you would have to pay rent for that spot, but in the food forest, you can do stuff for free. It says in the article that "We also want to provide a community gathering space that is productive and beautiful where people can cultivate a relationship with the land and get connected to delicious,healthy produce". A third reason is that they bring together parks and recreation districts, and nonprofit groups and volunteers.Also,everyone gets a chance to connect with nature again, or for the first time in there life connect with it. Even though food forests may cause a little bit of problems, I think that they are great ideas to bring people back together and are relaxing and fun.

  • dsarah-dav
    8/24/2016 - 08:58 p.m.

    My opinion on "Edible Forests Spreading Across America," is that I agree with those who are making the decision to have public parks with food you can pick off the plant and eat. The first reason why I believe this is that it can make family bonds stronger. Everyone want strong home relationships. It says in this article that,"hopes residents will dig up potatoes for supper. They can gather raspberries to make jam or snack on ripe figs plucked straight from the trees." That sounds like a fun thing to do with your family. Another reason why I support the edible forests is because it promotes healthy eating habits. There is no unhealthy food grown straight from the yard. These parks may inspire people to grow their own fresh garden in their yard. The final reason why I support parks like these is that if gives people fresh food. Of course grocery stores have fresh food to eat but it has a special taste when you pick it and wash it and eat for your own. Although you do have to see for your self if the plant food is home to bugs or if it has rotted I still am happy to know edible forests exists for their help with family bonds, promotion of healthy eating and the pride it will give you when you can tell yourself you picked up lunch.

  • carmenh-orv
    8/24/2016 - 09:43 p.m.

    All fruits and vegetables don’t ripen at the same time because some fruits and vegetables need different amount of sun and heat to grow, some need to be in the sun all the time to ripen. While some need more shade then sun for them to ripen.

  • jacobs-rhi
    8/25/2016 - 09:09 a.m.

    Because they aren't the same and different things take different time. If all the fruits and vegetables ripen at the same time then we would be over our heads with fruits and vegetables.

  • alexb-rhi
    8/25/2016 - 09:16 a.m.

    Because some take longer to grow. I think its cool that there is a food forest. It must have taken a long time to record all of the data for the food forest.

  • hannahg-rhi
    8/25/2016 - 09:18 a.m.

    All of them don't even when there plant at the same time. One reason is each plants sunlight and water are different.the other is just how long they grow in general.

  • austinh-rhi
    8/26/2016 - 08:48 a.m.

    Everybody would die.Nobody would know who garden is which.They will grow too tall.

  • blakew-rhi
    8/26/2016 - 08:49 a.m.

    Some don't grow as fast. And some do grow faster than others. Or some may have fallen off the stem and rotted.

  • bend-rhi
    8/26/2016 - 08:50 a.m.

    They are all grown different. They are all watered different. they a a different.

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