Planting a Food Forest in a Food Desert

Imagine walking through a lush forest surrounded by wildlife, flowers and beautiful towering trees. As you walk a little farther, you stumble across a tree with a perfect, purple plum. You pick it and bite into it. Sweetness takes over your taste buds as juice runs down your chin. Walking farther still, you come across a tree with nectarines and then one with apples and then a tree with pecans. All are thriving, providing nutritious and delicious foods for you and for the wildlife that hides from your view. Now imagine you walk a little farther and the forest ends and in front of you are the buildings of Merced College- Los Banos.

Merced College- Los Banos is located in the central valley of California. There are high rates of crime, poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. It is a food desert. As a result, Merced College- Los Banos is creating a food forest on campus that will open to the public in the Fall of 2017 in an effort to reduce their food insecurity and to impact many other issues.

A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system that mimics a woodland ecosystem by planting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals in an effort to reduce agricultural climate impact, improve food security, provide educational experiences and celebrate the growing food for the benefit of all species.

Inspired by the Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, Washington, the Los Banos Food Forest will provide nectarines, plums, apricots, peaches, apples, and pecans. There will be six varietals of each kind of food so that at any one time you will be able to enjoy some variety of each. The plants were chosen with sustainability in mind and were picked for their drought tolerance.

There will be no fences and trees will simply demarcate the boundaries of the forest. This will allow for animals to come and go as they please, which will provide them a beautiful habitat as well as food.

There will be an amphitheater where community events can be held. Classes can be taught there or cultural events can be held, which will strengthen the community.

Raised beds for community gardens will be created and run by community members, especially children.

This forest will not only provide nutritious food in a sustainable manner in an area that truly needs it, but it will also provide an education, a beautiful nature experience, a center for community building and engagement and a means of physical activity.

This is one beautiful, sustainable and local solution to one of the many problems Los Banos faces.

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