Food forest in Scotsburn enters second phase

Community COVID-19 Featured

SCOTSBURN — A local food forest is continuing to grow.

Raina McDonald, the project lead of the Scotsburn Community Food Forest, says phase two of the multi-phase project is underway following an exciting and successful start.

“What’s in phase two depends a little bit on the funding support we receive,” said McDonald, noting a loose budget of about $2,500 would do a thorough job of one portion of the second phase — signage.

“Signage would really help bring awareness about the project.”

She said many involved with the Scotsburn Recreation Club, or friends of those involved, are aware, but those just visiting the Scotsburn Trail Head Park may not realize what the food forest is. Launched last year, the food forest is located at the base of Fitzpatrick Trail, next to the elementary school.

Along with a main sign, McDonald said phase two would include smaller signs identifying plants on site, promote upcoming workshops or even specific times of the year such as when to harvest what’s in season or if it’s time to weed.

The second phase will also include workshop planning, hiring experts for offering workshops, and a community work party in May for extra hands on spring clean-up — weeding, seeding annual plants and topping up compost.

“We also want to create a monarch habitat,” said McDonald, continuing with phase two plans. “The main plant monarchs rely on is milkweed, so we’ll hopefully be able to start hundreds of milkweed plants that we can plant at the park or have available for people to take and plant at home.”

McDonald said it’s about creating a community around the food forest, and that includes the ecological system, not just people, “like pollinators and especially those species at risk.”

Being right next to the elementary school, the hope is to form a partnership with the school to involve the students in the monarch habitat.

When the land at the park was tilled last year, a number of fruit and nut trees were planted, along with some berry bushes and edible and medicinal perennials. A row of sunflowers was also planted with some reaching more than five feet tall.

“We wanted something to create a splash. In these pandemic times, the sunflowers were such a cheerful sight,” said McDonald.

A food forest is created in layers, with trees acting as a canopy to those below. Trees planted include apple, pear, peach, plum, walnut and hazelnut. The shrub layer includes those such as goji berry, currant, elderberry and rose hip; the herbaceous layer includes herbs, Echinacea and calendula.

Workshops — both virtual and in-person — were held during the first phase that saw 20 to 25 participants at each. Two planting days saw people of all ages get involved, which is what McDonald says they were hoping for.

“Education was a huge component of the first phase, as it’s also an experience that can go home with you.”

The first phase also saw a watering system and tool shed area created in an existing outbuilding at the park.

Funding for the first phase came from the province’s Community Food Literacy and Access Fund. Despite the pandemic changing how public gatherings were held, McDonald says the decision was made to go for the project in the midst of the pandemic.

“The food security issue became very real with the pandemic,” she said.

With other projects happening at the park now and in the future, McDonald calls the food forest a “really exciting part of some real momentum” happening.

Following phase two, there are another two possible phases of the food forest, most of which involve the community taking on lead roles of smaller projects.

Nancy Maxner, left, and Raina McDonald spread mulch and plant berry bushes at the Scotsburn Community Food Forest at the Scotsburn Trail Head Park. (Christine Whelan photo)