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Donating a food forest

 
Jen Shrock
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Dave,

I am going to be starting to work on my own backyard food forest this spring and summer. I am a little intimidated by it all, but I have been reading through your Edible Forest Gardens books and hope to have enough to be dangerous and make some good decisions. I hope to set up my yard to be able to use it as a teaching tool for the neighborhood kids who are ever inquisitive and maybe even their parents/grandparents. I want to develop my property to in a way that inspires others to want to ask questions and also, hopefully, go down the same path.

My real question pertains to another opportunity that I have. I have been watching the flowerbeds around my library, hoping that at some point that I would be able to offer to them to transform them into not only something aesthetically pleasing, but also that can be a teaching tool to the community. While at the library about a week ago, I noticed that they had a box up for donations to a flower fund since their funds had been cut for that. I think my opportunity to offer something to the community is coming a bit sooner than I expected. My question is, would you attempt to build a mini food forest, along with an attempt at polycultures or would you plant things that people are familiar with that have uses or would you put in some things that people maybe are not familiar with? I would like to see if they would let me label the plants so that people could learn what the possiblilties are with them. I think if it could be somewhat interactive (like having some fruit that people could pick on the way by) that would increase interest in the library and gardening as well. How would you approach a project like this? I am newer to all of this, so I need to keep it simple and be able to expand upon it in the future. I would like to put together a proposal pretty soon and approach the library with it, so any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Jen
 
Michael Milligan
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There is a good chance you'd have an easy time of it if you pitch it as a "low maintenance edible landscape". Sounds more familiar, simpler, and you can avoid going "full permie" right out of the gate. It is just PR, practical concern. Same thing in the end.
 
John Polk
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As much as permies love our weeds, the rest of the world is far from endorsing them.
I don't know where you are located, but if it is a farming community and you plant a weed that the locals are spending thousands to eradicate, they will look at you as a threat, rather than a caring citizen.

I would certainly put in a few plants that they are familiar with, but not limit it to those.
Several unfamiliar plants will draw curiosity. I think labeling them is a good idea.
Even better, would be to have a list (poster?) of them in the library, with explanations of their uses and benefits.
"Wow! Those are pretty, and I won't even have to buy a bag of Ortho this year."

Everybody loves a plant that is surrounded by butterflies or humming birds.

Good luck. You have an opportunity to open some eyes (and minds).

 
Renate Howard
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There are plants that are beautiful and edible. My two favorites are aronias and salsify. Blueberries are also attractive and there are some really beautiful cultivars of red hazelnuts (I used to have some and LOVED them!). Borage and some of the other herbs are also attractive, with interesting medicinal properties as well.

Strawberries would be a favorite, especially if there was a team of volunteers to keep them mulched. Depending on where you are, you could also grow wintergreen, sweet birch (twigs make birch beer), sourwood, lots of things that would be interesting to kids (and older) to taste. Fruit like apples or pears would be the most likely to cause problems - messy rotting fruit under the trees and the fact they attract lots of yellowjackets.

A lot of public gardens must post warnings not to eat the fruit - not only do you not know if someone has let their dog pee on the plant, but sometimes you have no control over what chemicals whoever is maintaining the grass is putting down (i.e. chemlawn).
 
Dave Jacke
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Jen--

What a great question. I appreciate what your query means about who you are.

If I were in your shoes, I would probably start with a conversation (more than one, actually), rather than a written proposal or even with a solid idea of what kind of garden to create. Who are the stakeholders? What are their concerns? What do they need, what are their potential yields, who else is in the orbit of this situation that may have resources to offer or needs that may interact beneficially with the situation?

Basically, I suggest that you go about assessing and designing the social system before you design a garden at all. Or maybe you have a little vague idea about the garden, but don't give too much info, because people are more likely to say no or react to the specifics of the idea you propose rather than engage in the kind of interaction you need to develop to make this work.

I have observed permaculture systems and the movement for over 30 years now. I have seen a lot of permaculture systems fail (I know my own failures better than anyone else's). What I have observed is that the failures almost always stem from a failure to design the human social structure well, or at all, and to design that structure to deal with the inevitable inner landscape challenges we all have, partly because we are human, partly because of our f***ked up culture.

So go about getting to know what the scene is on a social level first. You are not trying to design a garden here, you are trying to design a culture, a community, a social structure that will achieve certain ends. What are those ends? Who else is involved? What is the lay of the social landscape? Those things will end up influencing the design choices about the garden far more than you are likely to realize. If you design with that in mind your garden will succeed on multiple levels. If you don't it will likely be a short-lived phenomenon.

In any case, as to the specific question you asked--what would I plant--that I cannot answer! It all depends. But starting simply with things that people can relate to, that take minimal care and look good is likely to be a good strategy. Start small , make sure the relationships are working socially, and expand from there. Plant an acorn, not a tree, actually, plant an ecosystem. I would draw specifics/species from the people you are working with, and from the context of the site. Use it as an opportunity to explore some polyculture designs you wouldn't try at home, perhaps, or to demonstrate some polycultures that you know work really well at home.

Hope that helps.

d

 
Jen Shrock
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Posts: 363
Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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This will give you an idea of what I am looking at. It is in zone 5B, bordering on zone 6 and we get around 40 inches of rain in a given year. Based on the proximity to the streets, some of the areas would most likely be a different zone, so to speak, than others. I like all the great ideas people have been proposing. Keep them coming!
Library.JPG
[Thumbnail for Library.JPG]
Here is an overhead shot of the library
 
Jen Shrock
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I stopped by the library today and talked with one of the librarians. I asked if they would be open to someone offering plants and their time. She responded quite positively about that. I dipped my toe in the water and mentioned the edibles. She back peddled a bit. Said that I would have to talk to the director of the library...said that edibles that you tout as such might put them in legal jeopardy if a child eats something that is not edible...etc, etc, etc. She mentioned that they (the employees of the library) normally get together at some point and plant out things. They are raising funds because they had some of their landscaping destroyed when the roadways were reworked and they lost funding for the landscaping.

I will stop tomorrow and talk with the director of the library. I need to get a feel for what he has in mind and has funds for so that I can see what I can bring to the table. I thought about maybe offering some flowers and also some things that could be decorative vegetation or even possibly set up as "did you know" things. The various basils could be be planted as different colors and sort of like scratch & sniff as different scents. Maybe they would be open to Maypops...funky, pretty looking and would certainly get people's attention. Before I think too much, I have to see what the director has in mind and see how I can slowly get them to trust some of my nudges away from only the standard flowers that you see everywhere. What is odd is that we have a very alive art department at our local college that has breathed some life into the city with different art installations. If only that freedom to think creatively can roll over into the landscape side of things, we will be getting somewhere.

Dave - how do you address or deal with the "fears" of people? I agree with your f***ked up culture comment. It is frustrating that many people are afraid of anything that is different. On your project coming up, how did you make the connections with the necessary people? How do you
So go about getting to know what the scene is on a social level first. You are not trying to design a garden here, you are trying to design a culture, a community, a social structure that will achieve certain ends. What are those ends? Who else is involved? What is the lay of the social landscape? Those things will end up influencing the design choices about the garden far more than you are likely to realize. If you design with that in mind your garden will succeed on multiple levels. If you don't it will likely be a short-lived phenomenon.
 
Dave Jacke
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Jen, you ask the $64,000 question! How DOES one go about doing that? Let's learn about that together, shall we?

One first addresses people's (one's own) fears by ACKNOWLEDGING THEM AND ACCEPTING THEM, letting the fear be your teacher, as it was intended to be. Fighting people's fears only leads to mistrust, i.e., more fear. Fears have some validity, at least for the fearful person, if not in "reality", whatever that is. Validate the fears and people begin to be able to let go of them because they have been acknowledged--the problem is the solution, right?! But our *design solutions* in the face of our fear may not be as thought through as they could be. If we let the fear teach us what the issues/design goals are, then we get to creatively design around them. We hope!

Only packaged food is safe you know. *cough cough*

Re: Helena MT project, the organizers contacted me, I did not contact them. Much easier that way!

But I have been learning not to keep banging my head against walls (I am stubborn, it has taken a long time to learn!). It may be that your social assessment tells you it isn't worth putting time into the library project--and that may be an excellent design solution for you, because you haven't spent hours designing the garden yet! Or, you get to play with polycultures of flowers (many of which are toxic, by the way . . . maybe you can use their fear to transform them and get them to only plant edible flowers! tee hee hee!). You get to negotiate with the library staff and tell them your interest, and they get to weigh whether they want to accommodate your interests and use your talents or not accommodate your interests and lose your talents. What I'm saying is you have a good bargaining position if you want to look at it with that lens. One good lens to use in such situations, but not the only one. See if the library has a copy or access via internet to the various books on poisonous plants... that can be an eye opener for sure. See the poison column in EFG vol 2 Appendix 1 for example. Apple seeds have cyanide in them . . . better not eat apples! Right?

I'm sure, Jen, that you will find your way through this. Your heart is too good not to.

Take care! Good luck! HAVE FUN with it! Then you cannot lose!

d
 
Upgeya Pew
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I have to second Dave's response here. I've been learning and teaching Compassionate Communication for over a decade, and find that it's critically important to relate to people where they are at. Using skills of empathy, expressing our honesty with vulnerability, and releasing our expectations and attachment to our strategies (while remaining steadfast in our passion), it's possible to connect with people's hearts and guts, rather than just connect around ideas (which mostly happens in our heads). That connection is a "with" phenomenon. I-Thou relationships happen. You begin to show up as a potential partner, rather than just another person with good ideas. In genuine connection, both people have the possibility of being altered by the conversation. In any case, this kind of connection encourages people to be available for what can spontaneously arise in the moment, and give rise to some kind of mutuality that is not forced, and ideas that present themselves as revelations. It evolves out of the energy of the connection. Then, that connection can be trusted to yield ideas that actually flow from the needs of the parties to the conversation.

Social permaculture is probably one of the most challenging aspects to this whole movement, because it asks us to drop the conditioned separate selves we've been educated into by our culture, and connect, connect, and connect. If you lived in Portland, OR, you could come to my NVC groups and get some of this work.
 
Renate Howard
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If you are able to meet with them and it turns out what you have to offer is not what they are looking for, remember they'll remember that meeting and down the road they may tell someone else about it who IS interested in what you have to offer.

Tho I think Dave's idea of working with their fears to plant only edibles is a very good one!

Libraries around here LOVE having speakers/workshops on just about anything educational, maybe you could offer to do a tour of edible landscaping once a year or something and walk patrons around the plantings to explain which parts of the plants are useful and what you use them for. So maybe instead of having signs up touting it as an edible landscape (at the beginning) you could do the lecture/tour of the landscape instead.
 
Jen Shrock
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Dave - Thanks again for the words of wisdom. I was thinking that I can approach working with the others in a food forest fashion. I will have to develop the LAYERS of trust and figure out the POLYCULTURES of ideas that will work and that will not. So, not only can I use the food forest idea with plants, I think it would be beneficial to frame my thoughts and actions in the same way. The library is close to home for me and, I think, a valuable resource to the community. (I am a huge sucker for books and I absolutely love to learn.) I think that it is a worthwhile cause to support and, while I hope to get them to think of ways to engage people to learn through what they do (even if poisonous plants/flowers are mixed in) but it will allow me to learn the interaction with people skills that I will need in the future. I am stubborn as well and that, along with a lot of patience, will help me in dealing with this. If anything, it will be a learning experience (which I will have to remind myself if I get to the head banging frustrating point).

Upgeya - I completely agree with your following comments.
You begin to show up as a potential partner, rather than just another person with good ideas. In genuine connection, both people have the possibility of being altered by the conversation. In any case, this kind of connection encourages people to be available for what can spontaneously arise in the moment, and give rise to some kind of mutuality that is not forced, and ideas that present themselves as revelations. It evolves out of the energy of the connection. Then, that connection can be trusted to yield ideas that actually flow from the needs of the parties to the conversation.
I think by doing that, I can do as Dave commented.
If we let the fear teach us what the issues/design goals are, then we get to creatively design around them. We hope!
I also appreciate the invite to your NVC group, but unfortunately I am completely across the country in Pennsylvania.
 
Ghislaine de Lessines
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My local library has a vegetable garden that is maintained by volunteers with help from the Master Gardener's program through the University Extension Service. I think the perennial beds around the building are also maintained in this way. The library also hosts a number of seminars on topics such as pruning and edging that are led by knowledgeable locals. Hopefully there's some nugget of an idea there that'll help in your endeavors!
 
Jen Shrock
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Right now I am trying to find out what our Master Gardener's have planned in the upcoming months. I know that they take care of a couple of other flower beds in the city. The group locally seems almost more like a secret society because they do not have a lot of public events. I hope to eventually train to become a Master Gardener and see if the public outreach can be upped a bit. Thanks for the idea, though.
 
Jen Shrock
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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I missed the library director to talk to him in person, so I sent him an email and got a quick response. So far, it is off to a positive start. I asked the following questions in my initial email about the flower fund donations.

Are you open to people volunteering time and/or plants?
What is your vision for the landscaping?
What plants and seeds are you looking to purchase or have donated?
Do you have educational or interactive aspects included in the garden that you need help with?
Do you have any events scheduled for the Spring/Summer/Fall times that are specifically oriented to the landscape plants, birds, bugs, etc.?

He gave me an idea of what they typically spend in a year on landscaping (which includes maintenance). 90% goes to fertilizer, gas and mulch and the other 10% to plants. He said that they have a pretty good mix of annuals and perennials. The thing that I don't completely get (sounds likie annual heavy) is that he said they are constantly planting and replanting flowers during the season. They do have one area that is basically a baren landscape. It is an area that was torn up and out by the city during some street work and never put back as original. He did say that what he would like to do in that area is put in a new flower bed on the corner with the possibility of an information sign facing the street. On the education question front, the director indicated that
We have never done anything with an educational angle with the Gardens. It would be a great opportunity to combine those types of activities, its just my staff has a pretty full schedule.


All in all, I would say that it was a positive start for communications. There might be room for discussions about reducing fertilizer needs, moving toward more perennials to reduce annual spend and effort, signage is a positive thing (although I am not sure what they want on that sign), and the education part sounds like an open ended opportunity. I am thinking that starting with manual effort and donation of some supplies might be the best place to start and then, as you work side by side with the employees (since they are the one doing the beautification parts) you might have an opportunity to gently start to influence things based on what they are expressing as concerns and major expenses. I think that it sounds like a worthwhile project to at least dip my toes into. It could be a "practice and learning" opportunity for myself that would be a benefit over and above the the "influence" part of the thought process right now. It would definitely be new territory for me, but territory that I want to gain experience in so that I can have positive influences on other people and projects in the future.

Does anyone have additional suggestions or concerns based on this latest update?
 
Mariamne Ingalls
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Location: NE Ohio (Zone 6a, on the cusp of 6b) 38.7" annual precip
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Hi Jen-

No new suggestions, but I like the fact that you've included working alongside the people (employees) who have done the planting in the past. It acknowledges them and their work of the past and their place here. Like others here, I like the way you think!

Mariamne
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