The oldest community food forest on the East Coast is hidden on Parks and Recreation property near downtown Asheville, NC. I’m aging myself by revealing this information, but I was at UNC-Asheville when this food forest was being planned and established and I didn’t even know it!! When I started the long process of searching for the right college, I knew I wanted to go south. I was done with cold winters in Upstate New York. I didn’t know at the time which of my two passions to pursue- art or environment? So I looked for a place where I could do both. And play soccer. After visiting more colleges than most people probably do (thanks mom and dad for your patience and understanding!!), I knew I would be going to UNC-Asheville as soon as I set foot on campus. Sometimes you just know. Fourteen years after leaving Asheville, I’m hoping to return there next year to set up residence and I’m happy to know there will be such an established food forest to get involved with. Recently I was able to track down one of the original designers of the site for an interview. I’ve done a lot of research on this site and it will definitely be one of the more thorough case studies that will be published in the 2017 book with Chelsea Green!
The Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Park fit all my criteria and on top of that it was nestled into one of the most beautiful places I’ve lived and I’ve lived in some beautiful places. For me, there is something about being able to see mountains in the landscape on a daily basis that helps my soul stay centered. Little did I know, that while I was just starting college in 1997, two newly-graduated students from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC had just moved to Asheville and started a non-profit called City Seeds. City Seeds approached the Asheville Parks and Recreation department with an idea to design a community scale permaculture project for an edible park.
After meeting with city officials and design charrettes with the public the development of the park started in 1997. Can you believe I used to bike to work on a main road only a few blocks away from the park while this was all happening and still never knew? What was I doing?! By the time I graduated in 2001, it was established, left in limbo for a little bit and then picked back-up by an organization called Bountiful Cities, which still helps manage it today. The park was originally called the “The Bountiful Cities Project” but Gloria Free, one of the original Board members of City Seeds, convinced the city to officially change the name to the George Washington Carver Edible Park, sometime in 2000.
It’s amazing how we can live in a place yet have no idea that something that cool was going on until our life path brings us to study that very thing over 15 years later!!!! Take away message? If you are interested in community food forests, look around your town, one could already be happening!
The edible park was originally designed with 5-7 vegetation layers, but today is mostly a canopy layer of fruit and nut trees with ground cover underneath in the main area. Hardy kiwi, fig trees, elderberry, strawberries and other newer plantings can be found along the walkway down to the main older section. Succession was planned for with the design. The site is a great example of the differences between a shadier, denser planting that mimics a mature forest with less understory growth compared to the forest edges with brambles and increased species.
Here are photos of the site as it was being established:
To learn more: