An Experiment In Food Forest Design
By Daniel Dermitzel, Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture
Here at the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture we have been growing annual vegetables for many years. We have worked with farmers throughout Kansas City to develop and share better growing techniques to make small-scale urban agriculture more profitable.
More recently, some of us have become interested in soil-conserving agriculture, first no-till vegetable production and now multi-story perennial food forests. For those of us who are dependent on steady incomes from intensive vegetable production, these methods may sound impractical or difficult because they seem to require a lot of labor and / or knowledge, or in some cases produce a smaller harvest per acre than we have come to expect.
But the reasons to switch at least some of our land to soil-conserving techniques including food forests are powerful: less maintenance and inputs in the long run; soil conservation and carbon sequestration as well as insect and wildlife habitat. And perhaps food forests will one day become the way we plant our urban greenspaces and parks?
At KCCUA we have received funding from the Audubon Society and Toyota to take small steps toward converting a suburban quarter acre field from annual vegetable production to a food forest. We are starting from scratch, with little prior knowledge of perennial crops and we’re learning as we go along. We’ve read a lot of books to learn the basic principles of forest gardening and, more importantly, we have consulted with many local experts (many of them members of the Kaw Permaculture Collaborative) and we thank them and the Collaborative very much for their guidance.
The site for the KCCUA food forest is located in Merriam, KS, just a few minutes from our main Gibbs Road Community Farm. We used to grow tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions, edamame and many other vegetables here until 2009. But the frequent trips for planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, etc. cost us a lot of time and energy, so the idea of a lower-maintenance perennial food system appealed to us. Now we’re looking to plant a small experimental food forest beginning with the canopy trees in Spring 2011.
Our hope is that we can document our learning experience and share it with others. We’ll start that effort with a workshop on forest gardening in May 2011. Stay tuned for details on that coming very soon.
More information about the design process and the plants we will be growing at the KCCUA food forest will be posted soon. Check this website and www.kccua.org for information.
You can also contact Daniel Dermitzel, Associate Director and Farmer at the KC Center for Urban Agriculture (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information or if you would like to volunteer some time at the food forest.
Here are some pictures (above) of the site we’re developing and an image of the canopy and shrub layers as it is currently planned.
Daniel Dermitzel, Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture