A Community Forest Garden for Stanton Heights

A Community Forest Garden for Stanton Heights

Special Thanks to our Guest Blogger: John Creasy

Stanton Heights has been my family’s home since 2009. We moved up the Stanton Avenue hill from East Liberty where we had lived since 2003. Interestingly I had barely been in the Stanton Heights neighborhood prior to looking at houses. Since then I’ve met countless Pittsburghers who barely know Stanton Heights exists, and yet I find it to be a neighborhood with great assets. We have a back yard big enough for dozens of fruit and berry trees and shrubs, a vegetable garden, playground for our kids, and still enough space for our two dogs. Few city neighborhoods can boast the space the Stanton Heights residents have access to. We also love that our park and playground, so near our house, is a safe and open space for kids to run, play and explore. I often find myself on the steep hillsides of the park, laying in the grass, basking in the sun while the kids explore the wood’s edge with imaginations that only children can muster.

One of those afternoons in the sun last fall, sparked an idea. I spend much of my time working as the Director of Garfield Community Farm – a three-acre urban farm just about a mile from my home. In Garfield we grow all kinds of vegetables, fruits and even eggs for the Garfield neighborhood. Each year we harvest tons, literally, of food. That warm afternoon in Stanton Heights gave me an idea for a much less intensive, but still a communal and productive space, even closer to our home.

Over the years I’ve delved into what is called Forest Gardening. Forest Gardens are not often shade gardens within existing forests, rather they are perennial gardens in which the designer of the garden uses natural forest ecosystems as the guide for planting and management. Most forest gardens start with a lawn or open space ripe for replanting of trees. Natural forests need no inputs from human beings; they exist and thrive with immense biodiversity and an amazing ability to regenerate, progressing toward greater and greater health. Similarly, forest gardens are designed to produce food and fiber for people, but with as little input as possible. They are also designed to foster biodiversity – beneficial insects like honey bees, migrating birds, and the myriad microscopic creatures that exist within healthy soils. Forest gardening teaches us that ecosystems, with all of their interconnected parts and diversity, are the most sustainable and regenerative models for agriculture.

A forest garden can be designed to be a pleasant space, where a passerby can sit on a bench, pick a peach or apple from nearby trees; relax for a while. It can be a place where birdhouses exist for blue birds or even the tiny screech owl, who will surely keep the neighborhood mouse population in check. A forest garden is a great place for children to learn, explore and play. As we’ve developed the farm in Garfield we’ve begun developing more and more of our three acres toward this edible forest garden plan surrounding small annual gardens where we continue the more labor intensive vegetable production.

This spring, lets bounce around these ideas of a Stanton Heights Edible Forest Garden, collaboratively designed, managed and harvested in years to come. It will be a slow and gradual process, but one with many rewards for generations to come. I believe Stanton Heights has the land and people to become a leader in Pittsburgh toward sustainability and livability and a community Forest Garden will help drive us toward that goal.If you are interested in joining this effort, contact me at: john@pghopendoor.org

For a little more food for thought, check out these links, and see what other cities and community groups are doing to grow food, increase ecological health, reduce erosion, and grow a bit of their own healthy, organic food.

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