Hannah Edwardson is already imagining what Kawerau will be like when everyone can pick fresh fruit, berries, nuts and herbs to eat from their local reserve.
“We want people to climb trees and pick the fruit… we want people to get back outdoors, looking at trees and knowing what they are, and feeling more connected rather than going to the supermarket and buying everything.”
The first step in turning this dream into reality will take place in September 2017, when Kawerau’s first Urban Food Forest is planted.
Seven Layers of Delicious
“A food forest comprises layers of fruit and berries that are all companions and support each other. It’s basically like walking into a forest where everything is edible,” Hannah explains.
A growing number of Food Forests are now springing up around New Zealand. They contain seven distinct layers: A canopy layer of large fruit or nut trees; a lower tree layer of dwarf fruit trees; a shrub layer of currants and berries; a herbaceous layer of perennial vegetables and herbs, underground root crops like potatoes and carrots; ground cover including edible plants that spread sideways; and finally a vertical layer of climbers and vines.
Food Forests are carefully designed to be self-supporting, so ongoing maintenance such as pruning isn’t required.
The idea for Kawerau’s first Food Forest germinated at a community BBQ organised three years ago by Hannah and the Kawerau Neighbourhoods of Healthy Homes.
“I asked people what they’d like to see in their community and someone suggested fruit trees along the roadside berms. We talked it through and decided that might be a bit unsafe so close to the road, so then someone suggested a Food Forest.”
An enthusiastic committee of four adults and three teenagers from Tarawera High School quickly formed to investigate the idea, which led to almost a year of hard work, research and planning.
“We took a field trip to Hastings to see how it was done first-hand and it certainly wasn’t as easy as we first thought.”
Hannah says finding the right mix of ‘companion’ plants was the hardest part and has resulted in a lot of trial and error in their own backyards. “We’ve learned I’m not in charge of growing plants because I’m terrible at it,” Hannah laughs.
Pictured are KUFF committee members, from left, are Akeylah Wade, Dylan Edwardson, Niamh O'Brian, Trish Brady and Hannah Edwardson. Lesley Ralph and Georgette Paul are absent.
Kawerau District Council has donated the 2ha Monika Lanham Reserve adjacent to River Rd and Fraser St where the Food Forest will soon grow. Native trees will also be planted, social spaces and seating created, and a nursery and glasshouse built nearby on land owned by Kawerau Life Konnect.
“The nursery will be a place for running workshops like seed gathering and sowing. People can go down there and be really hands-on, take what they grow and then plant it in the Food Forest,” Hannah says.
A community garden will also be established to provide fresh vegetables year-round.
“Eventually we want to be planting more fruit, berry and nut trees around all the reserves in Kawerau. We’re creating the foundation for everyone in Kawerau to walk down the road to their local reserve and help themselves to fresh food as if they were visiting their local New World or Pak n Save.
Funds Help Fast-track Growth
Such a project would not be possible without funding. BayTrust and Environment Bay of Plenty have each granted $20,000 to help purchase the initial plants and set up the nursery and glasshouse – money which Hannah thought would take five years to raise.
“I don’t think we could honestly thank BayTrust and the regional council enough. It’s allowed our group to know that we can do this project, it’s an idea we can make happen and it’s really empowered us. We can tell everyone now and share the excitement because it’s actually happening!”
Kawerau’s Urban Food Forest will be officially launched on February 19th in Kawerau’s town hall at 5:30pm. “That hall seats 500 people and we’re determined to get the whole town there! We will be explaining what a Food Forest is, what ours is going to look like, and asking people to get involved,” Hannah says.
“There’s a job for everyone somewhere, whether it’s digging a hole or helping out in the nursery, and we do hope this project will involve every single person in Kawerau.”