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Crescent City Food Forest

 
pollinator
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Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
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The Crescent City Food Forest is a project I have been helping work on since June 2017. We are far from done, but this thread will share our progress so far. I welcome feedback, ideas and hopefully getting the word out here will facilitate connections with other permies in our region and beyond. I came into the project a couple years in and did not make the original design or do the hard work of acquiring grant funding, and in general all credit for our progress should be shared with many partners on this project.

Those deserving credit include the Tolowa Dee-ni Nation for getting the grant and sharing their land; our local Community Food Council, and the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods and it’s employees for managing the grant and getting many great things going in this community and on this site; The College of the Redwoods for hosting and accommodating many of the site’s projects and partners; and, the Youth Training Academy, including its staff and participants.

When I came onto the project it was initially for 5 weeks in the summer of 2017 to just help lead the Youth Training Academy Food Forest program, technically as a part time faculty member for the College of the Redwoods. I was invited to apply to do so after leading a hugelkulture potluck workshop at the Crescent City Family Resource Center kids garden. This is a good example of how it can pay off to volunteer and engage with our community.

The previous attempts to plant trees on the 1.5 acre food forest site had failed due primarily to immense hardscape runoff from above the site compounding poor drainage on the site and its compacted, leached and generally abused soil. We had less than .5% organic matter and the topsoil had been stripped and a stream diverted off the site decades before in using the site as a landing pad for heavy equipment to build the College and adjacent Del Norte High School. Obviously, this was not an ideal place to grow most fruit trees or proceed as they had initially planned. However, it’s location is adjacent to the schools and therefore is a great opportunity to engage the students, faculty and our community. It's problems also present a fairly extreme example of many of the challenges people face in gardening in this region, and therefore a template to demonstrate solutions and show how we can work with the nature of a sight.

My first reaction to the surveying the site was, “wow this soil has been beat up, and it really wants to be a wetland again.” The 14acres of hardscape running 386,000gal of water per inch of rain onto the site indicated this to be nature’s inclination as well. This had also caused leaching of any water soluble nutrients (N, Ph, Ca) and left a toxic level of Magnesium in the subsoil. While it would clearly be easier to grow a food forest on a more ideal site, I also saw a place in dire need of restoration. In trying to respect and harness the wetland nature of the site while achieving the goals of the clients, my thoughts turned to chinampas. We could utilize the immense amounts of woody debris around the area to build hugelkulture beds above grade, and have paths upon trenches filled with woody debris, or seasonal water features below the water table. This water table could get up above 40-50% of the sight during winter, and within 2ft of highest parts of the intended planting area.  A hugel-chinampas approach had worked well at my property with some similar challenges to the site, but on a smaller scale and with a lot more organic matter and trees to start with. I also could keep animals at my place much more easily than at this site, where it has not been an option so far but it is a goal. Anyhow, I met with all the people in charge I could, who were many and from various organizations, and asked what the wanted and what their resources were. I drew up a design plan to overlay on their initial plans that had not worked thus far to be able to come up with a course curriculum for the YTA class I was going to teach. This of course has had to be adapted and melded with others' ideas, budgets, schedules, and the reality on the ground.

When I came on to the project, the site had just been ripped and limed, and a fence just put in. This was done against my advice but it was not my decision to make at the time. The fence was built well but simply done at a subideal stage in the process, and was not tall enough to prevent deer. It has functioned well as a trellis but also impeded earthworks and transport of materials. I guess I can't complain, as I have been paid for many hours of going around that fence. I also have learned even more clearly about the importance of planning for accessibility. As for the ripping, it was just done without fully utilizing the use of machinery to key-line and we were not prepared to compost-inoculate, mulch or seed the site right after. So I broadcast a few large bags of wild bird seed to get something reestablished that spring and try to reinoculate the site with wildlife, a la Bill Mollison.

We got very lucky with a great team of YTA interns that first summer I was on the project (2017). First we had to finish the irrigation pipe trench, and I was able to get approval to make it more multifunctional by [very close to] leveling it out with a slight slope towards the low point in the middle of the field, laying 4" drain tile/pipe, stuffing the trench with woody debris, and topping it with woodchips for a path. After this, we got a proper cover crop mix and straw mulch on the entire sight. Then we built a key-hole hugel bed. Around the fence-line we planted native, edible and other useful vining plants for a hedge row. We also spread voluminous amounts of compost and woodchips, primarily focusing on the higher points to weep fertility downhill. We also planted strawberries, beans, and greens on the hugel beds. All the while interns were learning about the academic and theoretical background reasoning for what we were doing in the classroom. Volunteers also independently built an outdoor gathering area with shade and seating.

Over the winter, I was employed part time with the help of interns and volunteers, we built another hugelkulture bed and started one more large one, planted garlic, potatoes and other winter veggies, spread at least 100cubic yds of woodchips, established trails, improved the stability of our drainage points into the downhill stream for habitat and erosion control, planted a 35-40 species cover crop mix in spring, and prepared for the 2018 YTA program that summer.

Last summer (2018) we continued to work on improving the soil and preparing the sight for tree planting. We finished a large (1000sq ft) hugel bed. We also filled in and finished planting the hedgerow. We installed drip irrigation in strategic locations around the sight (mostly at high points with compost around them to weep tea downhill). Unfortunately we had to also weed over an acre of glandweed that most likely came in on straw mulch. We helped with the completion of the 1200sq ft hoop house on the site. We also got the adjacent school to stop spraying roundup again (they'd stopped for years and did it only once, but it was right during the YTA training around the kids).
We also spread 40cu yds of compost and at least an equal volume of woodchips. After lessons on companion planting and garden design, the interns planted out the hugel beds with squash, beans, sunflowers, corn, greens, herbs, and flowers. Many of these thrived beyond my expectation, and even the sickly tomatoes donated to us potbound  and planted in July even grew well. We have harvested many large and small squash, beans and greens through the fall.

This fall I came onto the project full time as the primary design and implementation person, and we dove into necessary earthworks to balance the wetland nature of the sight with the clients/grant's goal of planting non-wetland trees. We finished a hugel bed around the gathering space with a trellis/arbor, and planted it with greens, peas, blueberries, thimbleberries, salmonberries, and kiwis. We planted 25 fruit trees, 40 or so blue berries, and a couple dozen grapes and currants. We had an excavator dig out a hardscape water diversion trench at a minimal grade (to function something like a swale but in a constrained location), which ends in a basin wetland area with a level sill that leads into the adjacent pine-spruce forest. We have filled this back in with woody debris to slow/spread, aerate, filter and establish other beneficial biological functions before the water runs off. On the berm we planted as 40+ species mix of pacific nw wildflowers, the HSU erosion control mix, peaceful valley soil building mix, and wild bird seed. We also dug a woody debris filled french drain around the hoophouse and ran this trench out as far as we feasibly could on contour to function something like a keyline. We then spent a few weeks gathering free and donated woody debris for more hugelkulture beds (about 4000sq ft of bed's worth), as well as 50+ cu yds more wood chips to spread. Finally, just before Thanksgiving, I decided to run the excavator myself (I have done this before for the NPS and am competent, but the previous work was near a city water main in tight quarters that I wanted a full time driver on), and we got from 25%-90% done on the next 4000sq ft of hugel beds, which are in suntrap crescents that also correlate with our drainage management strategy. We then cover cropped anything bare, and mulched our tails off in the first, unseasonably late, heavy rain. Most of this fall's cover crop has came up much better than previous seasons, and the soil is clearly getting much better. We are also getting at least a dozen mushroom species popping up, especially around the wood filled trench. This fall I have also been working on balancing our drainage with water holding by making it travel and slow down strategically with woody debris and stone gabbions and level sills.

I will attempt below to put together a timeline of pictures and videos of what we have done so far:


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Just started, June 2017
 
Ben Zumeta
pollinator
Posts: 536
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
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Timeline, June 2017-December 2017
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Getting water to the site, putting in PVC, drain tlle, woody debris, woodchips on top
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YTA Interns learning to install and troubleshoot plumbing
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Mulched field after cover crop
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hugelkulture keyhole
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hugelkulture keyhole
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Edible and native hedgerow planting
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Gathering space
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YTA 2017 Crew
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Cover crop popping up
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Map Sketch North Side
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Map Sketch South Side
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Flooding from hardscape runoff
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Runoff downstream before imrpovements
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Mulch Mulch Mulch
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Another hugel
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Drainage protection, level sills for cascade with less erosion, better aeration
 
Ben Zumeta
pollinator
Posts: 536
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
91
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Timeline 2018:
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Rockwork
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Rockwork
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Hugel-arbor around gathering area
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woody debris french drain-keyline
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woody debris french drain-keyline
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Site contour map Early 2018
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Site contour map Early 2018
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Site contour map Early 2018
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Site contour map Early 2018
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New hugel bed squash (a type of zucchini)
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Volunteers and FRC employees planting trees
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Drainage trench, filled with large woody debris
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Drainage basin
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gravel access drive
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culvert and drain rock causeway
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Food Forest entry
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another hugel
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November 2018
 
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Location: Herefordshire, England, UK
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Hi Ben,

this sounds like a fantastic project. Congratulations for getting it off the ground in challenging conditions! Food forests can make such a big difference in urban neighboruhoods. I look forward to hearing more about your project as you progress.

Following from what you write I have a couple more questions: who are the projected end users of the food forest, what do they want to get out of it, and do you have strategies for getting them invovled from the start? In my experience that is probably the most important aspect to get right for the long term success of a food forest.

best wishes
Tomas Remiarz

https://forestgardeninginpractice.com/
 
Ben Zumeta
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Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
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Following from what you write I have a couple more questions: who are the projected end users of the food forest, what do they want to get out of it, and do you have strategies for getting them invovled from the start? In my experience that is probably the most important aspect to get right for the long term success of a food forest.




Great question! It took awhile to get an idea of what the answer was, and I just recently have seen the budget up close. My understanding of the goal of the grant is to improve access to fresh foods in this regional "food desert," and by doing so improve health outcomes like obesity and diabetes rates etc. Therefore the intended recipients of food would be our local food pantries serving those in need of food assistance, the adjacent College of the Redwoods and Del Norte High School students, as well as volunteers and interns as much as possible. Educational opportunities have been welcomed to be developed by the college, and I am trying to cultivate more partnerships with other local schools. We have monthly volunteer days and have been able to employ a couple interns year round part time. I also hope to teach a PDC at the site and teach more for the college as my schedule allows in order to cultivate more home grown support for the project. My master's is in Adventure Education with a focus on Wilderness Service Learning, but I have never led a project quite like this before and am finding the gardening of gardeners and architect of a design curriculum to be as important and challenging as the plants, fungi and earthworks.
 
Ben Zumeta
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Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
91
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Just finished a week with a 5ton excavator. Got about 2500 sq ft of 4-6ft tall hugel beds done and a similar amount of swale/path and four smallish (500-2000gal) ponds.Oh and it was one handsome pup’s birthday!

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Ben Zumeta
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Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
91
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Now I’m actually done with the excavator, as I was able to squeeze in 3 more hours than I thought I’d get this morning. Got another hugel bed done.
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Ben Zumeta
pollinator
Posts: 536
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
91
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A nice example of broadcast polyculture on a first year hugel bed and what does well with less than 2” of compost added (sunflowers, squash, poppies, leafy greens, radishes, beans and peas):
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Ben Zumeta
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Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9-10, 60" rain/yr,
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Thanks to Grant from the Smith River Alliance for sending this photo he took of me in front of a hugel bed built by local youth in 2018. Behind that in the background is another 5000sq ft of hugels that were all finished in the last year. Grant was on a tour I gave of the site during our Food Forest Grand Opening Harvest Festival. Thanks to the many volunteers and several amazing colleagues, it went very well from my perspective. We had at least 150 attendees, I took about 50 people on tours and many seemed interested in applying principles of what we have done at home. We also had a petting zoo (the pallet and lattice fence I built with mostly scrap materials in just 3hrs held up well and looks pretty good. The food was mostly from the site or it was very locally grown, and apple cider pressing was a big hit and will provide us with a lot of seedstock for starting locally adapted apples the Sepp Holzer way. The band was also very nice to hear as people bustled about and it seemed a good time was had by all.  It had a lot going on and several people put in long hours making it happen, but I am glad we did it!

Thanks to all who came and especially to those who helped! For further involvement, come on out to the Crescent City Food Forest — Taa-‘at-dvn Chee-ne’ Tetlh-tvm’ — at the College of the Redwoods Campus (@Washington & Arlington) on Monday’s from 2-5pm for the Permaculture Garden Club or the 4th Friday of the month for seasonally themed volunteer projects and workshops.
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