July 19 2012

Rhode Island Park Design Favors Functionality (and Food) with New Edible Forest

The park design broke ground this spring in Providence, Rhode Island

It’s July 2012, and new saplings and shrubs at Roger Williams Park hover around three feet tall. But in five years, the site will sprout tubers and leafy greens – even offering medicinal herbs free of charge to visitors. In 30 years, the small pocket of land will provide nuts, mulch, fruit, and fuel to those who pass by. This new edible forest is an exciting development for Providence, Rhode Island food production and landscape design.

Based on a number of sustainable design principles, edible forestry cultivates a highly integrated ecosystem by mimicking wild woodland landscapes. Through thoughtful planting, edible forests provide food and forage suitable for human consumption.

Roger Williams Park’s new edible forest is one of the few urban design projects of its kind in the country, and arose out of a partnership between the park, the University of Rhode Island Master Gardeners, and a local student. The project broke ground in April 2012 adjacent to a community garden. The siting was strategic; just outside the park is a Providence neighborhood classified as a USDA food desert. In addition to serving as a riparian buffer for a nearby pond, the edible forest aims to supplement long-term food production for city residents.

As the project develops, people will undoubtedly draw parallels to similar projects. Seattle’s Beacon Hill Food Forest has received a great deal of coverage this year as the largest edible forest in the country, funded in part by a $20,000 grant from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods. Others may have heard of the Guerilla Grafters, a renegade urban gardening group in the tree-lined haven of San Francisco, where members splice fruit tree branches on to other city trees.

This site plan was designed by a partnership between the University of Rhode Island and other coalitions

Like any contemporary design initiative, these projects have their critics. Opponents often cite potential sanitation and property concerns, as edible forests have less monitoring than, say, a gated community garden with assigned plots and raised beds. Some say that public spaces invite the opportunity for rogue plantings, where individuals could plant unwanted species in the area. Others argue that people could eat items off the ground and contract disease. In defense, organizers point to the large groups of volunteers and project coordinators who have enlisted to ensure the long-term safety and viability of the edible landscape.

Uncertainties aside, projects like the Roger Williams Park Edible Forest represent a growing trend in urban landscape design. They’ve even spurred their own online campaigns to crowdsource funding for new forest projects.

Let’s hear it: what do you think about an edible forest being built in one of your own city parks?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Lillian Mathews

Lillian Mathews graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Environmental Studies (Honors) and a focus on Food Systems and Urban Sustainability. She has designed and implemented an arts-based gardening site at a neighborhood center in Providence, Rhode Island, and has completed work in ecological planning and design, sustainable agriculture, and urban planning. She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more at www.makebreadbreakbread.wordpress.com.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 19th, 2012 at 5:31 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Education and Careers, Environment, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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4 Responses to “Rhode Island Park Design Favors Functionality (and Food) with New Edible Forest”

  1. Foodies Tackle Urban Distribution Challenges with Community Kitchens: Providence, Vancouver, and San Francisco | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] Iso Rabins, an architect of the Bay Area’s rebellious food movement, well known for his focus on foraged ingredients and run-ins with the Department of Public Health. Rabins disliked that there was no low-cost hub [...]

  2. The San Francisco Community Kitchen Aiming to Bring Local Food to City Consumers | This Big City Says:

    [...] Rabins, an architect of the Bay Area’s rebellious food movement, well known for his focus on foraged ingredients and run-ins with the Department of Public Health. Rabins disliked that there was no low-cost hub [...]

  3. Amy Taylor Says:

    An edible forest would be perfect for a cohousing community like the one I am trying to facilitate in rural Minnesota.

  4. Community Kitchens and Local Food | Local Craft Says:

    […] Rabins, an architect of the Bay Area’s rebellious food movement, well known for his focus on foraged ingredients and run-ins with the Department of Public Health. Rabins disliked that there was no low-cost hub […]

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