The Florida Gulf Coast University has an incredible learning opportunity for both its students and the community. Students of the university have set up and maintained something called the Food Forest.
The Food Forest is a botanical garden mainly comprised of tropical and subtropical edible species that grow well in South Florida, where the University is located. In the Food Forest, they also grow some non-edible native species so that they have enough native fauna to maintain the balance needed for optimal growth.
The diversity of the plants of the Food Forest show that a sustainable lifestyle is not only possible in South Florida, but could richly provide for anyone who puts the time and effort into it. That is one of the reasons why the students at FGCU combined engineering, ecology, horticulture and even the beauty of design to create the Food Forest.
The Food Forest was meant to become a tool to educate the community. The goal is for South Floridians to learn about the tremendous variety and quantity of foods from all over the world that can be grown locally. Locally grown food means less wasted resources transporting food and thereby less damage to our precious planet.
The main idea behind the Food Forest is something called “permaculture.” Permaculture is a system based on what humans need, but to keep those needs in a symbiotic relationship with the planet in order to maintain sustainability. This practice includes building homes with natural materials, restoring landscapes and ecosystems that have failed due to human mistakes, and of course, growing your own food.
Permaculture is also about water from sustainable sources, for example, rainwater collection. It’s about getting your energy via sustainable resources as well. Permaculture also relies on ethics–doing the right thing for the planet and for the community.
The Food Forest was initiated in the Spring of 2011. Since its beginning, it has continued to grow and flourish, providing food and education to the community. It was founded by not just dedicated students, but also faculty, staff and community members who saw the value and potential in the idea.
The Food Forest is open to everyone in the South Florida community. The Food Forest has become a place where community members can go to learn how to grow their own food and participate in a more sustainable lifestyle, especially in learning the balance of permaculture.
The Food Foresters club, also run by FGCU students, meets weekly to share information and to give hands on experience to anyone who wants it. For students that need Service Learning hours, there are more than enough available to meet the necessary requirements.
The Food Forest is a great, positive way to showcase the potential that a backyard in South Florida has for growing food. It’s a fantastic tool for the community and for students as well. If the balance of permaculture can be understood and more widespread, the benefit to our planet would increase exponentially. From a little Food Forest in South Florida, to the world.