Oxford City Farm was set up a few years ago on a site in East Oxford as a space where people can grow food together, learn new skills, and meet new people.
Thanks to a grant from the International Tree Foundation (ITF) we have this winter planted a ‘forest garden’ – a natural and inspiring means of food production that combines the planting of native trees and bushes with natural nutrient cycles.
The funding has enabled us to purchase 50 trees, many of which are native – such as Hazel, Hawthorn and Lime – but also some exotics because of their high food value, such as Medlar, Mulberry, Saskatoon and Apricot. The project commenced with two ‘mini workshops’, designed to give participants a taste of how to plan and plant a forest garden, followed by two tree planting events in February 2020. Overall, we engaged more than 200 people in the project and the garden created will provide an important teaching space and resource for the Farm well into the future.
Forest gardens vs. industrial agriculture
Forest gardens are modelled on a woodland edge where there are lots of open spaces and light which allows for a succession of layers. At the top layer, there are tall ‘canopy’ trees (usually nut trees) which grow above the smaller fruit trees. At the bottom there are fruit bushes, perennial plants and climbers. Unlike industrial agriculture, which is highly polluting and energy-intensive because it depends on external inputs (fertiliser, pesticides, water), in a well-planned forest garden, nature pretty much does it for herself: the nitrogen-fixing trees bring up nutrients from the subsoil, the ground cover plants protect the soil and encourage good microbial soil life, and the whole edifice acts as a wind break to slow down airflow, creating a moist microclimate.
There is currently a lot of interest in finding alternative approaches to growing food. Forest gardens are just one example of a ‘natural’ or ‘agroecological’ system, i.e. those that use natural processes as a model for planning. We had lots of interest from people wanting to find out more for their own projects for gardens, allotments, or farm sites, as well as people interested in the concept of using urban space for food growing.
‘We hope people will get inspired’
Many of our participants told us that they hadn’t planted a tree before because they didn’t know how or what to plant. Getting these people involved is absolutely what we are all about at the Farm. What we really hope is that the people who have come to the Farm will get just a little inspired and skilled-up to ‘have a go at home’ or get involved in a local community growing project. We want people to feel a bit more confident in their skills and thinking ‘that’s not so difficult, why don’t I have a go at home?’ What could be a more special and potent response to our current environmental woes?
For more information on Oxford City Farm, please visit http://www.oxfordcityfarm.org.uk/