Community Food Forests: Building a Core Group

Find the right people for your Zone 0: a group of leaders who will take on a rainbow of diverse roles to get your food forest off the ground.

The center of the Bloomington Community Orchard in Bloomington, Indiana is covered by a large patch of vegetation where visitors can walk among tall feathery shoots of asparagus and strawberry bushes. (Photo by Catherine Bukowski.)


When researching the project management phases of community food forests, we found that seeking partnerships was consistent during initiation and planning stages. The next step is naturally to start thinking about whom else you can get on board. Most leaders begin by casually communicating with friends and acquaintances they think would be interested in providing feedback on the idea. They also want to gauge who would commit time and energy to nourishing the idea and championing it in a way that would make caring for the food forest attractive among the next group of stakeholders.

These preliminary discussions with other like-minded individuals are a first and highly important step in identifying a group of community food forest stakeholders. At every site we visited, we encountered a core group of one to five people (occasionally a few more than five); typically two or three comprised the driving force behind the project’s progress and permanence. They were the “parents” who guided the project through the beginning years. The core group can be compared to tribal elders who protect and demonstrate the values of a community food forest and what it symbolizes. In short, they are the cornerstone of the system.

Zone 0 includes people who interact often and work together to approach stakeholders in other zones as the project matures. The ability to collaborate comfortably helps optimize project initiation and keeps morale high during challenging times. People who are passionate about the project and have faith it can work are excellent additions to the team, as are close acquaintances because they are usually the easiest to convince. A takeaway from our own experience managing a community food forest as well as our visits to other projects is that leaders talk about being strategic in terms of whom they involve in the core group or realize afterward that the reason it functioned well was because of the skills or knowledge of someone who was on the team. Ideally, it is best to know whom you will involve and what role(s) they will play.



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