It’s July 2012, and new saplings and shrubs at Roger Williams Park hover around three feet tall. But in five years, the site will sprout tubers and leafy greens – even offering medicinal herbs free of charge to visitors. In 30 years, the small pocket of land will provide nuts, mulch, fruit, and fuel to those who pass by. This new edible forest is an exciting development for Providence, Rhode Island food production and landscape design.
Based on a number of sustainable design principles, edible forestry cultivates a highly integrated ecosystem by mimicking wild woodland landscapes. Through thoughtful planting, edible forests provide food and forage suitable for human consumption.
Roger Williams Park’s new edible forest is one of the few urban design projects of its kind in the country, and arose out of a partnership between the park, the University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners, and a local student. The project broke ground in April 2012 adjacent to a community garden. The siting was strategic; just outside the park is a Providence neighborhood classified as a USDA food desert. In addition to serving as a riparian buffer for a nearby pond, the edible forest aims to supplement long-term food production for city residents.
As the project develops, people will undoubtedly draw parallels to similar projects. Seattle’s Beacon Hill Food Forest has received a great deal of coverage this year as the largest edible forest in the country, funded in part by a $20,000 grant from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. Others may have heard of the Guerilla Grafters, a renegade urban gardening group in the tree-lined haven of San Francisco, where members splice fruit tree branches on to other city trees.
Like any contemporary design initiative, these projects have their critics. Opponents often cite potential sanitation and property concerns, as edible forests have less monitoring than, say, a gated community garden with assigned plots and raised beds. Some say that public spaces invite the opportunity for rogue plantings, where individuals could plant unwanted species in the area. Others argue that people could eat items off the ground and contract disease. In defense, organizers point to the large groups of volunteers and project coordinators who have enlisted to ensure the long-term safety and viability of the edible landscape.
Uncertainties aside, projects like the Roger Williams Park Edible Forest represent a growing trend in urban landscape design. They’ve even spurred their own online campaigns to crowdsource funding for new forest projects.
Let’s hear it: what do you think about an edible forest being built in one of your own city parks?
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