Learning about and growing good food

One of the concerns raised by young people is learning about and growing good food.  Many people grow vegetables on allotments but another way is to copy the layers of a forest by: 

  • growing nuts and large fruits on trees
  • currants and berries on shrubs
  • plants such as comfrey and nepalese raspberry at ground level
  • roots crops such as sweet potatoes and onions under the ground 
  • and climbers such as vines and kiwis up fences and trees.

Two projects begun in 2020 at the University of Sussex and Priory School in Lewes will allow information and skills to be shared and exchanged between young people. The Sussex students have produced a podcast which can be heard HERE.

On 9th February, 2022, 60 trees and shrubs with edible fruits and nuts were planted by students and staff at the University of Sussex.  A report of this can be found here.  

The Sussex University Forest Food Garden is at the Northern end of the campus and will be planted in 4 sections over the next 6 years.

Students have measured the area to make a scaled map of 1 cm to every metre.
At Priory school, the area is much smaller but has a pond.  A group of pupils have been working on a design that includes plants that have been donated such as quince, black elder, goji berry, pear, redcurrant and gooseberries.  Due to lockdown, these plants could not be moved but are growing in a plot near Arundel.

The plants for Priory were planned for inclusion in a Forest Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show but when this didn’t happen they were donated instead to Priory.  They were looked after for two years by Deborah Smith and Tony Whitbread seen here digging them up on 18th March 2021 before transporting them in a trailer to Priory. 

Deborah Smith and Tony Whitbread
Students being filmed on ITV Meridian news.

It was an exciting day as ITV Meridian filmed the project which was shown on the evening news (you can view the video below).

The Green United Forest Food Garden project was covered on ITV Meridian.

Priory are now ahead of the Sussex University students who have been planning the tree canopy for quite a big area, which you can also see below. They will be planting their fruit and nut trees in February 2022. 

The Sussex University Forest Food Garden area.

Meanwhile they were encouraged to sit in the area and to think what it would be like in the future and one of those poems can be found below.

A future vision for the Sussex University Forest Garden by 2nd year student Rebekah Fleming

To be back,
Is a wonderful thing.
The seagulls are still calling
And the leaves are just as fallen as they lay
Damp and quiet
All of those 10 years ago

Walking through the reds and browns of campus, those bricks
The walls which hold so much learning
But past them, to the classroom of wild grass, of moss, of fruits and wonky veg, Of messy shrubs and messy learning
Where structures were fluid
Where ideology mingled with the seeds we sowed,
No ivory towers, just the path to our forest garden.
Our forest garden, passed through gentle hands, year after year.
The baton.
Our proud creation, constantly in motion.

Read more

Today what do I see?
I see growth,
Real growth,
Not statistics or GDPs or economies I see the slow, gentle growth,

The growth intended by the keepers of the long view,
That which they held onto, patiently.
Distributing class by class
With a trust that one day, these seeds, taken by us pollinators
Would be planted, take root and grow.
In back gardens or city centres
In deserts or at sea
Where there is community, where there is need

These sturdy little trees
Now naked of their bushy green leaves.
Who kindly took
Our angst, our hopes , our fears ,
All of our efforts in the fierce urgency of then,
All of that,
Taken up through the roots of this forest garden,
To bare fruits for bodies and minds to come
For this moment of now which I am breathing,
Within the silent bustling of the still that is captured here, That sweet earthy smell, where matter decays contently,
lying dormant until the time is right,
When weather is bright,
To start its new birth, filled and flowing with the past nutrients of then,
To feed their every today to come.

As part of their studies, the Sussex students produced materials for different age groups about forest gardens and we will share a few of these starting with a picture story (and adult notes) for children aged 5 – 7 by Connie Scott who has kindly agreed to sharing her Adventures in a Forest Food Garden. A second piece by Sophie Tullet, explores in pictures the amazing world of microbes and the mycelium in her piece for 8 – 9 year olds called I am under every step you take.

In 2023,  Martha Pawson described an inspiring approach Making the Invisible Visible of engaging Primary children with the invisible side of a forest garden. Sian Scott also developed a fascinating approach for Year 7 upwards on the connections between freedom, music, nature and emotions.

Watch this space!