Did you know that Millersville University has a food forest? An empty plot of land behind Huntington House became the new site for a sustainable food forest on Millersville University’s campus. Headed by Dr. Nadine Garner, associate professor of psychology, chair of the Sustainability Committee and faculty advisor for the Sustainability Club, the food forest is yet another example of the University’s commitment to making the school greener.
“A food forest provides a natural, self-sustaining ecosystem that is comprised of multiple levels of vegetative growth, from a tree canopy to understory plants and vines,” Garner explains. “A food forest mimics the multi-tiered layers of a naturally occurring forest, which sustains itself year-round with limited maintenance needed.”
The campus food forest reflects the principles defined by Project Food Forest, an organization with the mission to educate on edible landscape design and agricultural education. Moving forward, Garner will organize opportunities for faculty who are teaching courses on the environment and sustainability to bring their students to the food forest for community service and hands-on learning opportunities.
The fall planting focused on the top layers of the food forest ecosystem, including fruit trees like plum and paw paw, hazelnut trees, and berry-producing trees and shrubs that are edible to humans and other animals. Shrubs that provide nutrition and host plants for wildlife, like witch-hazel and buttonbush, were planted as well.
Participants who assisted with the project include Kennedy Ross and Emily Riley, two Sustainability Club officers, along with Steven Groman, a graduate student and a member of the Sustainability Committee. Jeff Gipe, groundskeeper and Sustainability Committee member, also assisted along with Garner and her daughter, Ruby Garner-Valle.
Food forests not only provide an opportunity for learning and education about the environment, but they create a space where animals, insects and microorganisms can find food and shelter.
Garner will be responsible for the growth and upkeep of the food forest. “The Sustainability Committee and the Sustainability Club will continue to be involved in the evolution of the forest,” she says. “In the spring, we will install the lower layers of the food forest, such as herbaceous perennials.”
“I wanted to bring a novel environmental feature to the campus to promote education about sustainability and an opportunity for people to enjoy the mental health benefits of being immersed in a self-sustaining natural system,” Garner continues. “I want people to experience a small-scale food forest that is accessible to them on campus so that they can observe how a food forest works, with the hope of inspiring them to replicate this natural feature at their own homes and other places of work.”
“There will be educational signage to inform people of the importance of using native plants in the landscape, explain what is happening in the food forest year-round and discuss why the Food Forest will be chemical-free,” she adds.
No maintenance will be needed over the winter, Garner says. “The trees are dormant, and the forest will be self-sustaining. We are just waiting to see if all the trees survived transplanting, and we will revisit the space once the ground can be worked this spring.”
Learn more about the University’s sustainability efforts here: https://www.millersville.edu/sustainability/