Up at the Tree House: Dreams of a Food Forest

Nature // July 08, 2021

By Christina Moresi

Up at the Tree House, you may have noticed new trees, bees, wood chips, and deer fencing periodically appearing behind the Environmental Center. A sign labels this space as a “Community Orchard,” but it is so much more. For this first full season, this space is a “Food Forest.”

Beginning in fall 2019, I connected with the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) in hopes of turning our apiary and the underutilized land around it into an orchard. I sent Orchard Director Michael Muehlbauer my modest orchard dream, and he sent back a whole forest design. With that, my orchard dreams and Michael’s design came to life thanks to POP, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation District 4 Crew, our Lead Orchard Volunteer Grace Wicks, and many amazing volunteers. We now have a whole forest of food inside the urban forest of the Wissahickon.

According to POP, “In a food forest, plantings are ecologically designed to mimic how nature grows on multiple layers within a forest and are chosen carefully to produce the food we can eat, to enrich the soil, attract pollinators, and ultimately to enhance sustainable production.” Our goal is to respectfully utilize the land around us—which is part of the ancestral land, or Lenapehoking, first tended by the Lenape—and connect others to it through inclusive education programs.

The food forest will be part of WEC’s education programming and local food justice.

The Food Forest will add depth and diversity to our current edible plant programs. We will now be able to lead additional programming on such topics as tick repelling and plants that sooth poison ivy, food forest/edible plant care, sustainable harvest of wild and cultivated plants, plant propagation, herb drying and tea mixing, new-to-you food adventures, making cider from more than just apples, to name a few. The Food Forest will also give us the opportunity to actively participate in food justice efforts with fresh food access, donations, home-growing lessons (e.g., container gardening and kitchen herbs), and more.

In the years and decades to come, this young forest will grow taller and spread wider, providing an abundance of food and lessons for all. Throughout my years at the Tree House, I always hoped my work would live on through my care of the land and the kids I teach, often thinking of the Greek proverb: “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” I may be a middle-aged woman, and not an old man, but if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that such designations do not dictate actual, remaining earthly time. Whether or not I ever sit in the shade of the fruit trees, I know that the simple act of connecting with POP, and the hard work of present and future orchard teams, will ensure that this native land will always be a source of nourishment for bodies, minds, and souls.

Join us on this journey by becoming a Food Forest volunteer.

Christina Moresi, M.Ed., is an Environmental Education Planner at the Wissahickon Environmental Center.