Kids grow 'food forest'

Organizers of a new program at a Penticton elementary school are hoping to teach young people about food production and ecology while keeping their stomachs full of homegrown fruit and veggies.

Ryan Foster, a 32-year-old former organic farmer and 2014 city council candidate, is helping develop a "food forest" on the school grounds at Parkway Elementary School.

Jandi Doyle, a kindergarten teacher, was developing an outdoor learning program when she stumbled upon Foster and his ideas.

"The idea of a food forest was so much more intriguing to me than a garden," said Doyle. "Other teachers became excited for the interactive and hands-on learning it would provide for our students, and then community support from business and so many others came on board."

Doyle uses permaculture design methods that take advantage of natural ecosystems to help grow plants in a sustainable manner.

"The nature of food forests is that by design they become self-fertilizing, almost self-regulating, self-perpetuating,” Foster said.

“It’s going to involve initially planting fruit trees ,and then there’ll be other food-producing bushes, black berries, and perennial vegetables grown in and around those trees.”

Foster, who has been interested in these methods of food production for 15 years, says the food forest has many benefits.

“Studies have shown that grades improve, attitudes and psychological evaluations improve when there’s more canopied green space around where kids interact and play,” Foster said. “So not only will they be getting healthy, clean, nutrient-dense food, but psychological nourishment as well.”

He believes when the forest reaches full production, they will be producing enough food for all the students and teachers, and will even have enough to bring home to their families.

Foster will begin working on the project when kids take off for spring break, in the next couple of days.

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