What Is a Food Forest?

On November 5th, 2022, Parents’ Climate Community families joined a planting party at Festival Beach Food Forest, an edible public garden situated on the shores of Lady Bird Lake. After a quick tour of the site, kids and adults had a chance to play in the dirt, clearing grasses and planting mint, comfrey, and calendula.

So, what exactly is a food forest? This experimental, grassroots reimagining of public land defies easy categorization. Unlike a community garden, where the space is organized into individual growing plots, the harvest of fruits, nuts, herbs, and medical plants is freely available to all.

adults children harvesting food forest

A key element of the food forest is an emphasis on food justice and food sovereignty. Located just east of I-35, the Festival Beach Food Forest helps “preserve affordability, diversity and food access in this area.” The food forest serves, among others, neighbors at the nearby Rebekah Baines Johnson Center, home to many low-income seniors who have been decades-long residents of East Austin. As Food Forest volunteer Umair Khakoo puts it, “We’re really trying to use these projects to empower communities to take control of their own food supply chains.”

The food forest offers a climate benefit as well: by planting hardy native plants in natural pairings, volunteers are enriching soil health and supporting native pollinators.

If you missed our latest meetup, Festival Beach Food Forest has frequent opportunities to visit and volunteer with kids.

Looking for a deeper dive? Listen to this episode of the Mothering Earth featuring Umair Khakoo of Austin’s Festival Beach Food Forest and Nathan Hunter of the Bronx River Foodway.

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