To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Brandeis professor writes about ‘food forests’

Professor Prakash Kashwan (ENVS) talks about the benefits of food forests in American cities in an April 4 article in The Conversationa news outlet that publishes articles for the general public written by academic experts. Food forests, or “edible parks” as Kashwan and co-author Karen A. Spiller from the University of New Hampshire put it, include trees that grow edible fruits and nuts for citizens to enjoy.

These parks are “designed to mimic ecosystems found in nature, with many vertical layers. They shade and cool the land, protecting soil from erosion and providing habitat for insects, animals, birds and bees. Many community gardens and urban farms have limited membership, but most food forests are open to the community from sunup to sundown.” Kashwan and Spiller add that they see food forests as “an exciting new way to protect nature without displacing people.” In addition to promoting biodiversity, these parks can “promote community well-being,” giving a new heart to urban areas.

Food forests, in addition to other conservation measures, can help the world reach the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s 30×30 goal (a plan to conserve 30% of the planet’s surface by 2030). Food forests, unlike some other conservation measures, “promote civic engagement,” which makes them particularly attractive conservation options to Kashwan and Spiller.

In Boston, food forests are becoming increasingly popular. Although Boston is known for its green spaces, “the city reported that communities of color that had been subjected to redlining in the past had 16% less parkland and 7% less tree cover than the citywide median. These neighborhoods were 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 degrees Celsius) hotter during the day and 1.9 F (1 degree Celsius) hotter at night.” To remedy this issue, Boston Food Forest Coalition “is working to develop 30 community-driven food forests by 2030.” In these food forests, locals choose what crops are grown, host events and work together to repurpose open spaces into food forests for community benefit. In addition to providing food for community members, “the forests also serve as gathering spaces, contribute to rainwater harvesting and help beautify neighborhoods.”

Food forests do face the challenge of long-term viability, but Boston “has made food forests an important part of the city’s open spaces program as it continues to sell parcels to the community land trust” at a stable price while also providing funding for “initial construction and planting operations.” 

Food forests bring together community members and improve the communities they reside in. The food forest represents “a grassroots response to the interconnected crises of climate change, environmental degradation and social and racial inequity,” and Kashwan and Spiller believe they are the foundation to “a just and sustainable future, one person, seedling and neighborhood at a time.”

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