a food forest
Zone 23 is an intensive food/soil/ habitat production project, grounded in the food forest model. The food forest model is an intensive, layered approach to cultivating plants that focuses on growing plants with multiple functions in optimal relation to one another. An additional benefit of food forests is that when they are crafted effectively, they require very little outside maintenance; they take care of themselves in the way a conventional forest does.
According to Nancy Klehm, curator and cultivator of this food forest, Zone 23 is a “lab” in northern Illinois that allows her to “work at a ridiculously large scale.” Located on a half-acre of land that was once commercially farmed, Zone 23 supports trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennial crops that are edibles, medicinals and soil builders. The biological diversity of this food forest is particularly notable: the range of medicinal and edible plants are extensive relative to other food forest projects, and as such, this experiment pushes the conceptual boundaries of food forests at the level of execution. Also of note is that the Zone 23 food forest is never irrigated; it survives and thrives on annual precipitation.
Zone 23 is more than a lab—it is also a research-based passion project. According to Klehm, “Soil grows into food and food grows into sharing with people,” which is part of why she enjoys the food-production aspect of her horticultural endeavors, such as this food forest, so much.
Don’t just grow a garden—grow a self-sustaining resource
Cultivating a food forest would be a long-term investment into having a stable, low-to-no cost food source over the course of years, which is to say nothing of the aesthetic and even sentimental value of such a project. (There is no reason a food forest can’t thrive literally for generations.) While individuals could certainly benefit from cultivating their own food forests, such a project would be particularly well-suited to small communities that are interested in working together to efficiently develop communal resources and shared space.
Neighborhood associations might wish to use communal space to plant a food forest that could be the basis of a community garden, for instance. The food forest model could also be invoked and applied to any farm that has some room to set aside from standard row-cropping. Refreshingly, the food forest model may be applied in almost any circumstance where even a small space and a few motivated individuals exist. For instance, a food forest could be cultivated on the grounds of a school and maintained by students, who could then benefit from the literal fruits of the forest. Notably, food forests are flexible and not necessarily capital-intensive; they can be made within almost any budget.