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Food forests would be welcome in Spokane

Imagine this: You are out for a late summer walk in a Spokane park. You get hungry but instead of heading to the nearest fast food place you simply stroll over to the food forest for a handful of ripe plums or an apple or two. Then you stop at the vegetable patch to pick a fresh carrot and a cucumber for your dinner salad.

Sound farfetched? It’s not. Food forests are popping up around the world. A food forest is a gardening technique and land management method based on the concept of a woodland ecosystem of mixed trees, shrubs, small perennial plants and annuals. Instead of the traditional plants though, the food forest is planted with tall trees that bear fruit and nuts that overshadow medium tall shrubs that produce edible berries. These two layers then over shadow low growing plantings of vegetables, groundcovers like strawberries and culinary and medicinal herbs. Each layer of the food forest protects and nurtures the other layers so that they become largely self-sustaining.

One of the largest food forests in the country is under development in Seattle. The Beacon Food Forest is located on a 7-acre site in Jefferson Park and will eventually provide food for foraging as well as traditional community garden plots and an education center. The park is only 2 1/2 miles from downtown Seattle.

The food forest concept is also coming to Spokane. The Spokane Permaculture Study Group is building local support and resources to develop a food forest somewhere in the area. To help introduce the idea to the public, they have invited permaculture designer and educator Toby Hemenway to present a day-long workshop, Food Forest Design and Care for Cities and Suburbs. The workshop will be Friday, in the auditorium at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Browne’s Addition.

The workshop will cover the basics of designing, planting and maintaining a many-layered woodland garden of fruit and nut trees, perennial and annual vegetables, and flowers. The day-long class will provide both an understanding of the theory behind food forests and a wealth of practical information about which plants to use, where to start and what to expect as the food forest grows. The workshop will also look at ways to aid policy-makers in establishing policies, codes and rules needed to establish and maintain public food forests.

Hemenway is the author of “Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture,” the leading guide to the art and science of permaculture. Permaculture is an agricultural system or method that seeks to integrate human activity with natural surroundings so as to create highly efficient, self-sustaining ecosystems. It emphasizes the use of renewable natural resources to provide the needs for housing, food, fiber and livelihoods while at the same time enriching local ecosystems.