Food forest unveiling brings community together

Photo by Scarlett Salem

BY SCARLETT SALEM — Over 30 people showed up on a sunny Saturday morning on May 14, during a break from the two-week rain streak, to lend their hands at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Emerson Street Food Forest (ESFF). Area residents, city officials, University of Maryland students, and volunteer groups, such as Roots and Shoots, showed up to help plant various fauna, with gloves and shovels provided by the city.

“The project, in my opinion, was something that went quickly from conception to action,” commented Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, who commenced the planting event with opening remarks and helped with the ribbon cutting.

Hyattsville is a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) City, part of the HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign, which is an initiative of the Institute for Public Health Innovation – a nonprofit organization whose work involves improving health and well-being for communities throughout the DMV area. Being endorsed as a HEAL city means that the city has several goals to meet and creating the  project fits under that umbrella. Lesley Riddle, the city’s Director of Public Works, previously collaborated with Lincoln Smith, the ESFF designer with the company Forested, on a food forest in Greenbelt. She raised the idea when she came to Hyattsville. Riddle and the city’s Park Maintenance Supervisor, Dawn Taft, bounced some ideas around and then took it to the city council.

“When you grow it, they will come,” joked Riddle. “The goal is to bring people out into spaces like this. … 6 months ago this was just a greenspace,” she continued. Located caddy corner to Burlington Park, the food forest is now filled with shrubs, herbs, perennial berries, and fruit and nut trees, including Paw Paw Trees, Beach Plum Trees, Sea Kale, Sorrel and more.

Forested is a 10-acre test site located in Bowie where edible plants are grown to see how they would fare in this particular agro-ecological climate. But beyond the plants, designer Smith thinks the people will make the forest. “These people will make it amazing,” Smith said, as he motioned to the action going on around him. “People like this around will make this successful … I’m excited about this project.”

Novel to this park, everything planted in the food forest is edible and is intended to “mimic the structural and beneficial relationship between the plant and animal community.” Colleen Aistis, the city’s Community Services Manager, noted that the Emerson Street project has been “very well received by the community.”

Sharon Johnson and her husband, Charles, who live within walking distance to the park and are avid gardeners themselves, showed up to help with the planting and show their support for the project. Sharon said she particularly likes that kids playing at Burlington Park can see the food forest and that young children showed up as well to help with the planting. “It’s nice to see these young people out here. It’s nice to show we can be sustainable and make Hyattsville a better place to live.”

The city officials agreed. “I think it’s wonderful it is happening, specifically here at Emerson so that children can understand where food comes from. It has brought together folks from all over the community,” said Ward 1 council member, Kevin Ward.

Ward 5 council member, Joseph Solomon, echoed those sentiments. “Anywhere we can plant green, then let’s do it,” he said. “I think [the food forest] is great. It is an example of how  municipalities can help with a problem, like food deserts, found throughout Prince Georges County.”

City officials did not shy away from the work, jumping right into the soil with the volunteers and residents. In the future, the city hopes that groups will step in to act as stewards of the ESFF and there have already been several groups that have expressed interest.

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