One of the most exciting things about the Southern Heights Food Forest is the opportunity it presents to explore the relationship between community, food, and education. By utilizing a research-based design approach, we are aiming to create not only a dynamic social space, but also one that increases environmental literacy among people of all ages.
The South Garden: Our Public Food Forest
Also referred to as “Forest Gardening,” this technique of gardening exercises the concepts of permaculture (permanent agriculture) to produce a more sustainable, productive and diverse supply of food. Plant material in a food forest is not only based on the production of food, but also on mimicking natural relationships in nature that create more diverse ecosystems. To paraphrase author and educator Dave Jacke, it’s less about gardening in a forest and more about gardening like a forest. Permaculture is organized around the idea that each plant and element serves multiple functions. The biodiversity found within these designs makes the spaces more resilient and self-sustaining, which ultimately make the harvests more diverse, productive, and less labor intensive.
Following new trends in global urban agriculture, the Southern Heights Food Forest will be the first space of its kind in the state of Nebraska. While one of the immediate benefits of this element is food production, there is also the opportunity to educate the public on the value of whole foods and eating locally. This element will bring national recognition to the project, and our hope is that we can inspire similar educational endeavors in other communities and states as well as additional forest gardens throughout Lincoln itself.
The Kinder Garden: Our Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom
Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms are intentionally designed, nature-based outdoor spaces developed around research-based, field-tested design principles focusing on youth education and whole-child development. By engaging in these dynamic, interactive spaces, children of all ages are challenged to think independently, master new challenges, develop increasingly complex skills, and closely observe and appreciate the natural world. Composed of natural materials and elements that encourage open-ended play, these spaces offer a strategically balanced array of activity and education, providing an alternative response to traditional playground environments.
Over the years, Nature Explore has established itself as a global leader in the design and use of outdoor educational environments. As a multi-disciplinary team of Education Specialists and Landscape Architects, the Lincoln-based nonprofit has worked with agencies all over the world designing outdoor spaces and conducting a variety of dynamic workshops that facilitate a positive relationship with nature.
The CROPS Garden: Private Community Garden Plots
Currently the church has a community garden that serves ~60 families on an approximately half acre portion of the larger Food Forest project site. Two-thirds of the participants come from low-income households and report that they are not consistently able to purchase or grow a sufficient amount of nutritious food for their families. The amount of applications for plots far exceeds the number available, and the church’s desire to reach more low-income families with this opportunity was one impetus for planning for expansion and engaging with Community CROPS.
CROPS provides seeds, plants, tools and technical assistance to individuals and families that rent the garden plots. Southern Heights Presbyterian Church provides land and water and serve as a source of recruitment for congregants and community residents to learn about participation.
While Food Forest visitors are welcome to stroll through these gardens and observe the wide variety of foods being grown here, please remember that these plots are the work of private individuals striving to feed themselves and their families.
The Western Edge: Urban Agriculture
Within most cities, there are very limited opportunities to establish an area that produces larger yields of crops. With the implementation of a few larger, in-ground plots, the Southern Heights Food Forest will be able to produce a greater amount of food to supply to local Food Nets and shelters. This also will offer the possibility of selling the harvest at local Farmers Markets to produce income that continues to support the project’s finances, ultimately making it more self-sustaining.