Over the course of this summer, I had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects as the “Woody Plants” intern. Some of these included planting around 100 new plants in a newly constructed “council ring” area at the Nichols Arboretum, and paving a new path to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens’ “children’s garden” space. Amongst all of them, however, I consider the research poster project to have been the most enjoyable. At the beginning of the internship, my fellow interns and I were told that we would have to complete a poster project throughout the duration of the summer that dealt with a subject of our choice (as long as it was environment/sustainability related). After about a week of browsing, I final decided that “Food Forests” would be the focus of my project. After sharing this concept with my supervisor and gaining their approval, I began research on the topic immediately.
After completing my first day’s worth of research, with the help of a few sources, I arrived at the rough definition of a food forest as: “an intentionally planted garden that mimic the woodland ecosystems by substituting typical plant species with edible trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.” With this in mind, I began to look into the places in which they are usually found as well as the reasons why they are constructed. Gathering information from different sites, I found that most food forest projects utilize abandoned building lots, old dumping sites, or a variety of other generally unwanted spaces to start. Oftentimes started after the purchasing of a space, these areas allow the forest to exist in a community atmosphere so as to encourage positive interaction as well as natural awareness. When researching the purpose of most projects, I found that community engagement and commerce were amongst the most prevalent. Those who begin a food forest in somewhat of a less orderly fashion often consider the space free to the public, encouraging the planting of new, fruit producing plants and the taking of existing plants for consumption. When a forest is created with a more orderly layout, it is likely meant for harvesting, so that the fruits and vegetables produced might be sold at a later date. Despite the many kinds of food forest that exist, they all seem to do an excellent job of bringing peoples together as well as teaching the importance of the environment and the ways in which it sustainability supports life.
In all, it was a joy learning about food forests and their many attributes. My internship has taught me much about generally tree and shrubs species, but I would like the chance to work with more edible producing plants in the future. Edible plants are not of my highest interest, but working in some form of food forest seems like it would be fun!