Creating a Food Forest in Traverse City

We talk a lot on eatdrinkTC about how Michigan is the 2nd most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, and a new collaboration between local farmers and nonprofits has a chance to spread that diversity in a whole new way.

Wall-of-BlueberriesIt’s called the Grand Traverse Edible Trails Project and is currently conducting a campaign to raise money on Indiegogo. The goal is to plant public food forests stocked with wild blueberries, plums, apples, saskatoons, persimmons, gooseberries and much more in easy reach of hikers and bikers on the TART trail heading out to Leelanau County and ultimately in other locations around Traverse City.

Jonathan Aylward is an Americorps VISTA staffer working with The Grand Vision and the “glue guy” who is bringing the project together along with  ISLANDHealing Tree Farm, Perennial Harvest and Realeyes Homestead. “It’s been thrilling to see the support for the project grow so rapidly. We couldn’t have dreamed up a better start,” he says. “It’s really special and humbling to have this public project funded by the community itself instead of a grant from a third party. It shows that people in this region have a strong connection to their food, and a good understanding of the necessity of a strong local food system. Our imagination is working – food doesn’t just grow on farms, it can grow everywhere! We envision this to be the first of many public perennial food projects in the city and hope to see this project expand along the TART Trail, and into parks and other public spaces around town.  In a few years, we imagine that fresh fruits, nuts, and herbs will be abundant around town for residents to enjoy.”

The Leelanau Trail

The Leelanau Trail

Perennial Harvest promotes and installs small-scale, edible landscapes in the TC area and is collaborating on the forest. Owner Stuart Campbell says, “It seems like there’s an awakening coming around with people understanding and caring about where their food is coming from, and that’s moving from health food stores to people asking ‘What can I grow?’ either in their backyard or in community spaces. A big example of this is the Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, but you’re seeing it everywhere.”

Stuart explains that there are a lot of good options for native edibles that fit perfectly with not only the food forest concept, but also backyard gardening. “Everyone wants to have gardens, but we’re all busy. The great thing about native plants is that they fit – they’re adapted to our climate, need less watering and handle pests better. That’s perfect for a food forest or your back yard. In addition to having a ready source of food, you’re bringing in bees, butterflies and birds who will help pollinate our farms and strengthen the ecosystem.”

TART Outreach Director Arianne Whittaker is excited about how the project fits into the mission of Traverse City’s trail network. “Trails create connections between places, but we’re also connecting people with a healthier lifestyle. The Leelanau Trail is more than just a way to get from Traverse City to Suttons Bay, and we hope that people will stop and enjoy some of the things along the way like vineyards, the Conservancy’s DeYoung Natural Area and the great agricultural vistas. You hear so much about how kids are becoming disconnected from nature and food, and now you’ll have a chance to stop and show them where food comes from.”

Heirloom Apples at Healing Tree Farm

Heirloom Apples at Healing Tree Farm

Juliana Lisuk is the Suttons Bay SEEDS AmeriCorps VISTA will be working with students on the project and taking that educational component further. “As an after school educator, I see the the edible trails project as a very beneficial attribute to our community,” she says. “It will create a hands-on opportunity to teach youth about native flora, ecosystems and foraging for wild edibles. Camps, classes and families can use the TART trail with an educational (and tasty!) destination to enjoy. Who doesn’t learn better when delicious fresh treats are involved?”

Indiegogo is a crowdsource funding site along the lines of Kickstarter with one important twist: you can raise less or more money than you seek and get the funds. The campaign has 2 weeks left and with over 2/3 of the $3,000 funding goal raised, it appears to be a lock that they will blow past that goal. Any additional funds raised will go towards the expansion of the project along TART’s 60 mile long network of trails!

If you can’t come up with money to support the project, don’t despair! Jonathan adds, “We’re looking to bring together a large group of volunteers to help out with site prep, planting, and maintenance. We are also looking for creative collaborators, so if you’re really passionate about seeing a certain plant at the sites, we want to hear from you and will try to incorporate it into the design. For example, we are discussing a collaboration with the Grand Traverse Mycological Society to include logs inoculated with edible mushrooms at the sites.”

Watch the video about the project below and click to support and learn more about Grand Traverse Edible Trails!

Grand Traverse Edible Trails Project - Indiegogo Video from Last Leaves on Vimeo.