Ursinus Food Forest
“Here in a homemade forest, poets, writers, scientists, foresters, shovels, seeds, elk, and alder join the circle with Mother Cedar, dancing the old growth children into being . We’re all invited. Pick up a shovel and join the dance.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013: p. 292)
The Ursinus food forest may not have alder or cedar trees and it may seek to keep out the deer, but this forest IS certainly designed to embrace the spirit of the liberal arts while seeking to stand the test of time. Planted in 2019, the year of Ursinus’ sesquicentennial, the Ursinus Food Forest is planting the next 150 years (and beyond). By embracing a new form of sustainable land management, one that integrates lessons of urban agriculture, urban forestry, and agroforestry (see Clark & Nichols 2013), the food forest marks a new commitment to building reciprocal relationships with the region’s many food producing native trees and shrubs as well as myriad other ecologically beneficial native and nonnative plant species. Pecans, pawpaws, and American hazel, among others, are at the center of creating a vibrant and multilayered forest full of nuts, fruits, berries, and more.
The food forest is formally integrated into the ENV curriculum as a main project feature of the ENV 454W Sustainability in the Suburbs capstone course, where each successive iteration of the class takes on a critical element of the programmatic and management complexities of the system.
For example, key features of the existing forest were designed by the Fall 2017 class, who then assisted with fundraising efforts. In Fall 2019, students in the class undertook community engagement planning for the site, including overseeing the volunteers from the campus and community who planted the site’s initial 172 trees and shrubs.
The system is also a key field site for learning about the historical and contemporary aspects of ethnobotanical relationships to native species, social and economic dimensions of so-called nontimber forest products, and the practical aspects of forest stewardship in ENV 338 Forests & People, while supporting introductory stewardship activities for students enrolled in ENV 100 Introduction to Environmental Studies. Beyond formal classes, the food forest provides practicum experience for students in the area of tree and land stewardship (see left), environmentally-oriented outreach activities, and also monitoring or data collection experience. Moreover, the food forest provides a model system for students in the Food Studies minor or Peace Corps Prep Program who are interested in developing technical knowledge and/or further developing their leadership experience.