How Naperville 'edible forest garden' provides all it needs to grow
In Naperville's first public edible forest garden, everything is planted for a reason.
Some plants exist to attract bees and make sure other plants are pollinated. Some are there to draw up nutrients from the soil, making them readily available. Some provide shade. Others cover the ground to prevent it from drying out.
And nearly all of the garden's 66 plant varieties provide food.
The tenth of an acre garden at the Conservation Foundation's McDonald Farm is a demonstration of a technique called permaculture.
"The idea with a food forest or a forest garden is that it becomes more productive over time with less work," said Jodi Trendler, co-founder of The Resiliency Institute. "Things are planted very close together and we use plants to do all the work that generally, when you have a garden, people do. Each plant in the system serves a function."
The Resiliency Institute began planting the garden in fall 2013, using a $5,000 grant from Whole Foods Market in Naperville. Now, the crops are ready for a coming-out party during a dedication celebration from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, May 7, at the farm at 10S404 Knoch Knolls Road.
The event will feature a plant sale and treats made from wild edible plants from the garden that also can be found in suburban yards and parks. But its main element will be a tour of the garden starting around 11 a.m. to explain the philosophy, purpose and setup of the permaculture operation.
"It's a demonstration for how to use our land sustainably," Trendler said.
Creation of edible forest gardens would allow suburban residents to grow more of the food they eat in their own yards with fruit- and nut-producing trees and shrubs. The Resiliency Institute's Growing Food Security program aims to encourage edible forests as a way to fight hunger and reduce reliance on the fossil fuel-based systems that deliver food to grocery stores.
Elements of the edible forest garden illustrate its efforts toward sustainability.
Trendler said about 100 volunteers, including a few Boy Scouts, established the garden, including its irrigation system, which takes water from a vegetable-washing station used by Green Earth Institute to clean crops for shareholders in its community-supported agriculture program. Instead of washing down the drain, the irrigation system captures the veggie-washing water for reuse to quench the thirst of the cherry, pear and plum trees and the hazelnut, currant and elderberry bushes of the edible forest garden.
A swale installed at the garden helps the water sink in slowly. A hugulkultur bed, which uses logs, branches and wood to soak up water and provide fertilizer as the wood decomposes, also retains the veggie-washing water so it can be used to its maximum potential, Trendler said.
The garden uses a compost system to fertilize the raised beds where some of its plants grow. It uses space wisely, too, with a spiral featuring herbs that need more water at the bottom, where they can access it easily, and herbs that require less water on top.
"It's to a point now where we really need to get the education out there," Trendler said, "And let people know this is existing."