Simple “Designing a Food Forest” School Activity
This activity is not just about designing the food forest, but also getting students to embody the idea. Hope it is helpful to someone!
I’ve had two opportunities to use this activity with middle school students and it seemed to go over well both times, so I thought I’d share the basic resource I used. The activity can easily be adapted to other age ranges as well. I had 5-10 minutes the first time I used it and an hour the second. Take-away= very adaptable exercise!
Included Species: Oregano, Thyme, Strawberry, Sorrel, Rhubarb, Cat Mint, Lavender, Blueberry, Gooseberry, Currant, Honeyberry, Asparagus, Elderberry, Hazelnut, Apple, Pear, Persimmon, Peach, Plum
Anyone could adapt this to their particular food forest or region too. The plants included are some of the species in our community food forest in Blacksburg, VA. I have compressed the photos in the PowerPoint so it was easier to upload or download, but they should still be good quality for printing, color would be best. I simply printed the pages and cut around each plant in order to hand a student what the plant structure, leaf/berry and name look like all together. We did this activity after discussing how a food forest is designed in terms of mimicking a forest ecosystem and showing some photos of planted food forests. Depending on class size, ask for some volunteers or involve everyone. Some of the pages, such as the understory berry bushes, were printed more than once because I explained to students that most of those plants do better when there are three are more plants if they are not self-pollinated.
Each student receives a plant. I ask for the trees to step forward first and we talk about spacing them and where they should be placed. Those students take their places and extend their branches (their arms). Then other students call out what they are or we go in line and all together we discuss where to place each species. Students that are shrubs or bushes either squat or sit on the floor. Students that are ground cover species can decide whether they would like to sit or lay on the floor. If it is difficult for any student to participate by sitting, laying, squatting, stretching arms out, etc. there is also a sheet for the important role of being the sign placed in the food forest to let others know how to utilize the space and there are pollinators (can also discuss which pollinators are attracted to which plants). After all the students are in their food forest place we discuss what it looks like, the different layers, who might have difficulty gathering sunlight, who grows well in the shade, etc. This is the basic activity, but there is a lot that can be built on to it as well as more information added to the cards depending on what age level you are working with.
Downloadable PowerPoint to Cut-Out
Here is another resource for 6-8th grades lessons on forest ecosystems that could be helpful too!
What do students want to see on signs on the food forest?
I also asked the students to help me decide what type of information should be on signs in the community food forest. What would they want to learn while they were walking through it. Their answers?
- How big the plants will be when they are grown
- How the ecosystem functions
- What they can and can not eat
- Information about animals and pollinators
- Why the placement of plants matters
- When plants are read to harvest