Monday, January 2, 2012

A food forest in West Brunswick? What? Where?

Once upon a time (about 15 years back) in West Brunswick beside a sports ground some right-minded locals built something that showed great foresight.

They showed one way that sustainable, productive urban horticulture can work on publicly owned open space. They established a food forest.

The concept of food forests isn't something I propose to explain. Others have conveniently done this already here (Wikipedia) and here (Permaculture Research Institute).

From Why Food Forests? by Angelo Eliades
In short it's a "system" for growing food that borrows from the principles of a forest. It uses "stories" or layers of planting starting with underground plants (those we grow for their roots) through ground-cover, shrubs up to mature trees and climbers. A key attribute of forests generally and one that food forests seek to achieve is their low maintenance: no mowing, weeding, digging, spraying etc. They tend to include edible perennials too so less planting/replenishing of plants is required. They just grow and produce food.

Around this forest, they built pergolas for vines to grow on, swales to manage water and had a fantastic iron sign constructed which announces that this place is - the food forest. It must have looked amazing (anyone got any pics from the old days?).

Stories abound as to what happened but some time later this thing that they had worked so hard to build fell into disrepair and remained almost untouched ever since apart from the regular crops of fruit and nuts that were harvested each year by locals.

Fast-forward to mid-2011
In August, Coburg Community Gardening was awarded a grant by Moreland City Council to rejuvenate this really remarkable asset, to reinstate the food forest for the local community to use and enjoy.

What makes it remarkable? A food forest on public land is a rare thing in its own right but the main drawcard is the trees.

Even without the underplanting of the other layers, this small group of trees catches the eye and the amount of fruit is impressive considering the trees haven't been pruned properly for years.

Where else on public land can you find a mature collection of more than twenty productive fruit and nut trees including:

  • mulberry, 
  • pistachio, 
  • apple, 
  • pear, 
  • plum, 
  • almond, 
  • hazelnut, 
  • olives, 
  • fig, 
  • apricot, 
  • grape vines, 
  • loquat,
  • pomegranate. 

Amazing. Go and have a look.

When it's finished
This food forest will be a more valuable asset to the people of Moreland. It will be more productive of course as the trees will be cared for and there will be all sorts of other food plants throughout the forest. Signage will provide information about the plants and how the forest works. Occasional workshops will help people learn how to care for the mature trees in their own gardens (surely every Moreland yard has some sort of fruit tree in it?). The place itself will be a nicer place to hang out it.

Apart from these tangible things though this food forest will also show how food can be grown in public open space with a bit of land, some hard work and the right frame of mind. Credit to Moreland City Council for supporting this project in so many ways other than the grant.

Get involved! 
Progress has been a little slow but when work really gets underway (hopefully early in 2012!) there will be plenty of opportunity for people to get stuck in and have a bit of fun, to learn about food forests and to meet others in the area.

Head over the the Coburg Community Gardening website and subscribe to their updates.
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