While I studied at Muhlenberg College, in pursuit of a degree in Environmental Science, I designed and implemented a series of ecological restoration experiments at Cedar Creek Parkway in Allentown. The purpose of my investigations was to discover the manner in which invasive species populate an urban area, which has been ecologically conserved, through the process of secondary succession. I have been able to garner some important insights from these experiments and they are directly informing this project that you have joined with me to complete.
Setting up those experiments at Cedar Creek, I spent hour after hour pouring myself into the native species that typically populate this area. Consulting with Professors, professional scientists, and informed naturalists, I gradually assembled a list of plant species that would serve the purpose of my experimentation. I worked with nurseries focused on them to acquire donated plant material. Then, I gathered students of Chemistry, Biology, and Environmental Science from the College and we got those plants into the ground.
The model I am working with as the conceptualization of the Food Forest continues is not very different from the one you just finished reading. The end game of this initiative is very different than that of those scientific experiments. But, let’s get to the end game a little later. We have to talk about the beginning first! And, since not all of you made the first meeting and to clear up some confusion – I figured I had better make this a little less esoteric!
This is neither a community garden project nor an urban farm. It is not about urban foraging. This project is also very different from the Food Forest projects that have been receiving attention out in Seattle and down in Asheville. This is an ecological restoration project that is focused on native plants with a plus. In many cases (blueberry, raspberry, wild cherry, paw paw, serviceberry, mint(s), elder flower, meadowsweet, etc…) these plants will be edible for human beings and serve a variety of purposes. Thing is, these plants are all here already and have been part of the community and culture of the Lehigh Valley for many years long gone to memory. We have been looking at lawns too long!
Now we understand the plants and the purpose. We will be designing this project to mimic the succession process that results in a healthy Silver Maple floodplain forest. So, while the vast majority of plants used will be ones that we can use too, they will be joined by native plants that while not necessarily edible for human beings – are vital to the health of a native ecosystem. Remember – all forests are food forests. Every bird, bug, bat, and microorganism out there needs to eat too.
So, what will this look like? Unfortunately, this sort of endeavor has no precedent that I can find to provide you with pictures of. We are going to show people how a forest can be functional in a modern urban society in a way that has yet to be demonstrated. This is the part that will be conceptual for some time. What we do – the green space of world we create – will become the image that defines projects like these going forward.
In addition to the forest we will be building, some great ideas came out of the meeting that I want to share with you here. This space can also be a place for art, music, theater, and even dancing. Amphitheaters that exist at the South Bethlehem Greenway and at Union Terrace in Allentown show this potential fulfilled. And, this is very important, I am primarily a scientist. I admit freely to a heavy love/obsession with J.R.R. Tolkien. I tell you this because these are the two main things informing my thought process on this matter. Help me think of things that I haven’t yet dreamed but you have! We will add things to this project as we go but it is a community effort.
There will also be a massive focus on public education with this project. We want to construct a trail that winds throughout the forest with signs explaining the things you see as they are happening. This will be ecological restoration as an experience. And, there can be trellises on this path with low hanging vines and maybe even some lights. Picture it. It is going to be so beautiful. Picture these things, dream big, and help me make this something that will be remembered.
As details are hashed out and plans drawn, we will share them with you through this blog and through our Facebook page. (And our Twitter once I ever figure that out…) For now, a second meeting has been announced and you can get the details on that from the Facebook page that this text links to. We are nearing 200 likes on Facebook and I really hope we can break that number soon. Help me share the page!
Lastly, please comment. Share your ideas. Add links to the Forest Page on Facebook. I want this project to exist in social media as a hub of ecological thought and idea sharing. Posts pictures of hikes and journeys you have taken in the wild. Share recipes and food you have made with the right ingredients. If you want to write an entire blog post – let me know!
Share the page. Share your ideas. And tell me what you are thinking!