Food Forests in Ottawa

Looking west towards the future Blackstone Community Park. This sign is close to the Monahan Drain, part of the neighbourhood’s stormwater infrastructure. Photo by Glen Gower, reposted with permission from StittsvilleCentral.ca: http://stittsvillecentral.ca/letter-a-field-of-dirt-and-potential-in-blackstone/

Guest post written by Paul Wilson and reposted from StittsvilleCentral.ca with kind permission from publisher and editor Glen Gower. Check out StillsvilleCentral.ca for more great stories!

LETTER: A field of dirt and potential in Blackstone

January 29, 2018

(StittsvilleCentral.ca Editor’s note: I recently went for a walk with Paul Wilson around the site of the future Blackstone Community Park near his home. Like many new parks in our community, city staff are planning to build a play structure, a swing set, a splash pad, some sports fields, and so on. But when Paul looks out over the field of dirt and snow, he sees potential for a permaculture food forest. In this letter, he explains what the concept is all about. -GG.)

I would like to see all new community and district parks include food forests.  The initial Blackstone food forest can become a community engagement destination and support charity and educational engagement.  The food forest, and nearby park features, can provide outdoor community spaces for numerous activities, including quiet reflection or picnics, in a setting conducive to education on the benefits of planting edible trees. It is intended to develop close ties to the other synergistic groups in the region.

My goal is to establish organic food forests within Stittsville and City of Ottawa with an emphasis on permanent, restorative agriculture.  By design, a permaculture approach in these forests builds soil structure, uses less water and can yields a dramatic amount of highly nutritious food per square meter.

Caveat: I am using many words, definitions and images created by others.

While I’m not an expert, there are a few things I’ve discovered about creating more sustainable forests, in particular why permaculture is important.  While the name is tossed around or omitted sometimes (as it is assumed), it’s important because it is the design system for food production that can be sustainable and minimizes the maintenance issues associated with forest management.  For it to be used in city parks, low maintenance costs can make a difference.  For any volunteers, less work is better.

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centred around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.  Let nature do what nature does best: grow and evolve.

A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system which mimics a woodland ecosystem by incorporating edible trees, shrubs, perennials, mushrooms and annuals. This is more than a garden with trees.  It is a seven-layer system where a key aspect is diversity: a polyculture of native plants with careful selection of non-native and non-invasion varieties; promoting a symbiosis, less disease, longer grazing period for pollinators.

Permaculture food forest principles emphasize plant selections that are edible by people and support natural ecosystems such as bees, birds, and native inhabitants.

I think of the 3 P’s: Plants, Participants and Produce.  Key is a good design of plants and in establishing the forest, the multi-year approaches to creating synergies between the layers (it is easier than it sounds).  The participants are the people/volunteers, insects, birds, animals – the community enables the forest to thrive.  The produce is more than all the wonderful edibles and includes the environmental benefits, soil enrichment and all what may be viewed as intangibles – the ways the participants thrive in the forest… some claim, a “breathable, life enhancing, realm”.

I’ve always liked the following image to show the seven layers:

Seven layers of forest gardens. Via Wikipedia.
Image via Wikipedia

As described in the image, these are the edible polyculture layers:

  1. Canopy layer consisting of tall nut and fruit trees.
  2. Low-tree layer of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
  3. Shrub layer of fruit and nut bushes such as currants and berries.
  4. Herbaceous layer of perennial vegetables and herbs.
  5. Rhizosphere or underground dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
  6. Ground cover layer of edible plants that spread horizontally.
  7. Virtual layer of vines and climbers

The plants selected would be appropriate for our local community and climate zone, and suitable for a public park.

On Thursday, February 8, 2018 from 6:30-8:45 pm there will be a public information session on the proposed design plan for the Blackstone Community Park at the Goulbourn Recreation Complex. The current proposed plans for this park have recently been posted (you can see them here) but this current proposal does not fully establish a food forest; rather a provision for a future community garden and the initial planting of fruit and nut trees.

If you are interested in seeing a food forest in our community, please provide your input and if possible, attend the meeting. I’m hopeful many members of our community will take the time to express their views.  The city is encouraging residents to provide their feedback on the proposed plans to:

Paul Wilson
Stittsville

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