Guest Blog: "In A Downtown Church Yard, A Food Forest Sets Root"

What does it mean to strengthen our local food system? How do we care for each other and our children amid deepening economic and environmental stress? A couple Saturdays ago, an excited group of curious and committed parishioners and volunteers decided to answer these questions through joint action.

On this delightfully warm and sunny afternoon, we gathered on the front steps of Old West Church, United Methodist on Cambridge Street, Boston’s Government Center, not far from city hall. Reverend Sara Garrard and church leaders had been envisioning how to better demonstrate the church’s commitment to food and social justice. It was time to actively participate in the food movement that has been inspiring more and more of us to re-vision our own spaces to grow more nutritious food in the name of food justice and care for Earth.

In a collaboration with a local organization, the Boston Food Forest Coalition, the members of the historic Old West Church are creating the first small feature in a beautiful food production space called an “edible forest garden”. This approach to gardening is low maintenance as it mimics existing woodland ecosystems to create a tranquil park in which primarily perennial herbs, veggies, berries, and trees set the foundational layer of a harvestable bounty that will produce for decades without replanting.

That cheery Saturday, it all began with the placement of potted herbs spiraling up the steps to the church. Volunteers transplanted and seeded some of the most widely appreciated of our spice rack selections into a swirl of terracotta: Basil, Lemon Balm, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, and Mint. Organized by Boston Food Forest Coalition with a special thanks to Allandale Farm for its donations, this workshop taught attendees everything from how to assemble well-drained pots, to what potting mixes work well for herbs, to how to plant and tend to them and, most importantly, where to pick them from and some of the many medicinal and nutritional values to harvesting and using them together.

Along with the countless tasty and health-related benefits to growing and eating more varieties of fresh foods, is the community we build together as we laugh, learn, and share our cultures and our bounty. Although the steps are small, small steps such as these fill us with gratitude to be part of a societal shift, one that has begun to look both more inward to what we can do as a community, and outward to the entire web of life and those who are to follow after us.
 

Dan Schenk and Orion Kriegman are founding members of the Boston Food Forest Coalition, which is building a network of edible forest gardens throughout the city. We would love to hear from you!