Community Food Forests on the Rise

 By Catherine Bukowski and John Munsell

January 2019

Fruit or nut trees like this apple tree at the Bloomington Community Orchard in Bloomington, Indiana, are typically planted as canopy species. Shorter plants (shrubby perennials, tall herbs, or flowers) and ground covers are installed below trees or along the periphery of a patch depending on shade tolerance.(Photo by Catherine Bukowski)

Community food forests are capturing the imagination of people in neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the United States. Their popularity reflects a value shift in urban cultural pockets. The message is a desire for public space, where possible, to be ecologically designed with perennial and annual plants that produce food and herbal medicine, enhance nutrition, promote food literacy, and provide a useful and safe place to gather, recreate, and work together. This is all while engaging people in active participation to create the places they want to live in and to voice their opinion through action. By developing these spaces, people are stating that ecologically healthy green spaces and sustainable local food production are valued, especially in the face of urban population growth. Communities will innovate, using all the resources they can harness, to increase the presence and quality of such resources in urban landscapes.

Community food forests also serve a deeper purpose by helping community members form bonds through collective labor and learning. Participants often discover shared interests such as local and foraged food, social justice, environmental stewardship, resiliency, and self-sufficiency. Uniting around common causes, people invest in and build diverse assets in their community and this personal development and civic collaboration benefits society. Questions emerge on why we feel disconnected from land and how to develop the culture of sharing abundance, human skills, and knowledge needed for survival in the modern world.

Many communities today embrace the belief that local food should be readily available, and that much of it could come from within city or town limits using ecologically sustainable design and safe urban production methods. The reinvigoration of this form of community spirit has helped focus a new urban agriculture agenda. Community food forests are strongly linked to local food, food justice, and civic agriculture movements. Participation in a community food forest project can lead to critical reflection on our current agricultural system and urban landscapes. Typically it motivates people to work on influencing political action and policies.

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