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Community food forest taking root at Salmon Arm Salvation Army property

Edible landscape designed to require less maintenance and watering

Where once there was grass it is expected a food forest will one day grow.

On Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 12, Keli Westgate could be seen raking around one of several straw-covered mounds at Salmon Arm’s Salvation Army Lighthouse Community Ministries food bank at 441 3rd Street SW. Among the mounds are round, raised patches of mulch, as well as soil and other materials. Hand-drawn signs are placed in some of the mounds, informing unknowing passersby what it is they’re looking at.

“Food Forest” reads one of the signs. “A garden that mimics a forest with multiple layers of diverse plants. We grow up (fruit & nut trees) on (shrubs & food crops) and down (root crops & soil builders). A beautiful, bountiful ecosystem.”

Another smaller sign reads “Hugul Bed, Building soil to grow great food!”

“It was formerly a patch of grass,” said Westgate, “But will soon be a food forest and edible landscape that we have developed that will feed the community next year.”

Westgate, who runs Lekker Land Design, explained the food forest is a community project, but not like a community garden consisting of raised flower beds.

“This is more of an ecosystem,” said Westgate. “It’s designed to be a little more self-sufficient than a raised bed garden… For example, instead of just planting a fruit tree, there will be a guild of plants that support that tree, so comfrey, yarrow, clover and whatnot, that will provide the nutrients the tree needs so there will be less maintenance.”

The same philosophy applies to the hugelkutur mounds. To make them, Westgate said trenches were dug and lined with cardboard, then dried logs, twigs, branches, grass clippings, compost, and manure were piled onto them. Over time, decay of the materials provides a consistent source of nutrients while also acting as a sponge, holding water.

“What we’re doing is really building what’s called the rhizosphere, which is the area underneath the surface of the soil where all the roots are growing, we’re building those connections and that’s holding the soil together and giving nutrients back to the soil over time,” said Westgate.

The idea for the community food forest project began with discussions in the spring with the Shuswap Food Action Network. It was delayed during the hot, smokey summer, which actually highlighted the value of a low-maintenance garden requiring little water. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic provided local non-profits with another reason to consider food security.

Read more: Volunteers needed to sustain, grow Shuswap Community Teaching Garden

Read more: ‘Take care of each other’ during extreme heat: Salmon Arm’s Salvation Army

“When covid hit it really brought the social organizations of Salmon Arm together to talk about what we could do to better serve this community, and we were really challenged by the Food Action Society in particular when they talked about what food security is,” said Salvation Army Lt. Joel Torrens. “So we really want to see this space as a place where someone can walk by and, if they’re hungry, pick an apple off the tree, grab a cucumber and have something. To have not just the food but also the connection to the food, to recognize ‘I got this from its source.’”

“And then we can start building an education where the next time they come, maybe they can start learning how to prepare zucchini and they can do something with that so that it’s providing healthy food, providing access and understanding of where it comes from, and helping people know what they can do with it.”

After sharing a bit about the food forest, Westgate was joined by a group of local girl guides, who would help plant crokus and daffodil bulbs, in addition to the garlic already planted.

“What we’re doing here today with the bulbs is indicating to the pollinators that this will be where you want to be next summer,” said Westgate, noting a number of local companies have volunteered time and/or materials towards the project.

Torrens explained the food forest will offer both food and education for the community.

“We have a three-bin compost system that we’re going to be explaining to people,” said Torrens. “We want people to understand what hugelkulture is. We have all of these pieces that we’re learning about ourselves that we’re excited to share with people. So they can come and be a part of this but also take some of these things home and incorporate them into their property, into other spaces that they’re a part of.”
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