Sustainable America Blog

Food Forests Take Root

Last spring, the city of Seattle announced plans for the nation’s first food forest, and people around the country immediately took notice. News of the 7-acre public park to be converted into a free, open, public food forest spread through blogs and other news publications and before long others decided to embrace the idea for their own community.

In Honolulu, Hawai’i, plans have been developed for a food forest in a currently run-down public park at the entrance to downtown Honolulu. The organizers of Friends of Kamalii Park took inspiration from the Seattle food forest initiative, and with unanimous support from the Downtown/Chinatown neighborhood board, the group hopes to make their vision a reality in the near future.

Meanwhile on the island of Kaua’i, the non-profit community group Malama Kaua’i has taken a few acres of donated land and converted it into a food forest for the North Shore Kaua’i community. Their mission is “to design, implement, and maintain regenerative food forests for the Kaua’i community.”

While food forests take some of their inspiration from the heritage of urban gardening and community gardening, they are founded on the principles of permaculture. The permaculture tradition strives to create agricultural environments which are naturally self-sustaining. Unlike a community garden, a food forest will ideally be planted in such a way that food will grow perennially without the need for human intervention or labor. In other words, once established, food will grow for free and be available for the picking because perennial plants are those that continue to provide food year after year without reseeding.

In a similar movement but on an individual scale, residents in Lenexa, Kansas, have been using their backyards to experiment with food forest permaculture techniques. Phil and Cheryl Kimmi leave a box of pamphlets on their front lawn so passersby can learn about all the edible, perennial plants in their yard. Identifying themselves as part of the food-not-lawns initiative, the Kimmis have a sign on their front lawn that reads, “Welcome to the Sustainable Suburbs.” Rather than planting a traditional garden, they decided to create a small food forest using the principles of permaculture so they could grow food with minimal upkeep.

And the Kimmi’s are not alone. Cultivate Kansas has been working on a public food forest in Merriam, Kansas, with the help of a slew of volunteers. They say that once the forest is well established it should provide fruit and berries for 20 years.

Food grown locally in smaller operations and consumed by nearby residents uses less oil for production and transportation and increases local food supply. Innovative initiatives like the food forest movement are a wonderful part of the solution, helping us achieve the two goals that are at the core of Sustainable America’s mission: decrease oil usage by 50% by 2035 and increase food availability by 50% in the same time period.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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