Food Forest Festival: Sprouting roots

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Right past the Ringling Museum while walking down Bay Shore Road, one can catch sight of the new student-made Food Forest as it’s roof tile bordering and vibrant flora first presents itself. With a makeshift wooden tent covered in multi-patterned tapestries, by a succulent plant segment of the vegetation, with mulberries reddening in front of a quaint pond circled by stones, this area shows the humble beginnings of a space ripe with potential.

The Food Forest Festival held on Saturday, March 18, was the tangible culmination of the hard work put in by New College students to advance the school as the leader in sustainability and eco-friendly practices it can be.

“We wanted to expand the possibility for New College to produce its own food and kind of show the potential of the climate in this area,” thesis student and Old Caples Garden Teaching Assistant (TA) for the past two years Joseph “Jay” McWilliams said.

And that’s exactly what McWilliams and current Vice President of Green Affairs (VPGA) Orion Morton have set out to do in the past year. By first creating an Edible Landscapes tutorial for themselves, the Food Forest became the grand foreseen project at hand with the idea of furthering sustainable approaches to the lifestyle on campus.

The Festival was kicked off with a work portion of the day that entailed weeding out the grass encroachment and shoveling heaps of mulch for the plants. This was followed by rounds of students that began participating on stage for different musical performances in an informal but fun-loving concert for the trees.

Students could sign up for a lime green metallic water container the phrase “Water is Life” etched into it and to add to the experience of oneness with nature, the Four Winds Café provided catering with food made in the Food Forest. Rice with chickpeas and salad was served on large green leaves for plates. I’m not sure how much more sustainable it could get.

“In my opinion, the Food Forest represented somewhat of a paradigm shift with the Green Fee because it was the first big project that had been undertaken since the first year or two of the Green Fee’s establishment,” Morton said.

The Green Fee is a fee administered by the Council of Green Affairs (CGA) and is meant for supporting student-based ecologically-directed projects such as this. By “big project,” Morton meant that the Food Forest has been the project with the single most funds dedicated to it via the Green Fee. This is not a fund source that exists in every university across the nation, and so it is an aspect of New College that the CGA and related parties wish to keep around as it reflects the eco-friendly culture of the school.

At the beginning of this year, the Green Fee was at its highest around $60,000 to $70,000, but has now been substantially lowered to around $25,000 thanks to the efforts put forth by students in making the Food Forest and other related projects.

Furthermore, multiple new positions for student jobs have become available for students due to the Green Fee. For example, the Food Forest TA, Zero-Waste TA, Four Winds Garden TA, Residential Garden TA, Green Fee Historian and respective eco representatives for each dorm on campus.

On top of providing habitat for myriad creatures, the Food Forest acts an extension to the already established Old Caples Garden. With about four tons of biochar – a form of charcoal made from plant matter that helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – being added to the soil of the Food Forest, the area functions at an even greener level.

The Food Forest already serves as an agroforestry system – as does any forest – designed to sequester excess inorganic carbon from the atmosphere and transform it into organic carbon that will forever stay in the roots of the plants. This creates richer, healthier soil and adds to the theoretical aspects of the project.

“The idea is that it will reach a forest ecosystem state and then kind of just self-maintain,” Morton said.

The fact that most of the hard work only needs to be done within the first few years can be motivation to see the fruition of the project. This form of gardening is considered one of the most low-maintenance types of gardening.

The recent Food Forest Festival may just be a revolutionary event that can prosper for years to come and provide countless benefits to the New College community. It represents the direction our generation wishes to forge in an age filled with lack of respect for environmental issues.

“It is really rewarding to be able to commune with the space and gain intimate knowledge of the area,” McWilliams said.

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