Consider it a modern take on the legendary tale of Johnny Appleseed. Vancouver, B.C., has announced plans to plant food forests, with over 150,000 fruit and nut trees on city streets, in parks, and on city-owned lands in the next eight years, reports the Vancouver Sun.
At the moment, the city has about 600 fruit and nut trees on city streets, and another 425 can be found in the city's parks, community gardens, and pocket orchards.
"Street trees play an important role in helping Vancouver adapt to climate change, manage stormwater run-off, support biodiversity, and even provide food," Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a statement about the food forests to the city's council last week.
It's that last factor that matters to hunger advocates: Fruit and nut trees are basically free food forests. (That's not to mention that the three other perks also affect the food supply in indirect ways, as evidenced by the 2012 droughts that have taken their toil on farmlands stateside.)
Food banks are practically synonymous with processed, prepackaged food—and for good reason: It doesn't spoil; it's easy to transport, and it's cheap to buy. But low-income people need access to more healthy food, not less of it. The good news is, here in the U.S., a trend of grow-it-yourself food support appears to be sprouting.
In September of 2011, we reported on Melony Samuels, a Brooklyn woman who revamped her own strategy on feeding the hungry after noticing that the processed foods she was handing out were being used to barter for other items, or even ending up tossed on a curb. "By us adding all this salt and sugar and not having whole grain, lean meat and a healthy surplus of fruit and vegetables, we were not doing justice to the pantry or the community," she told TakePart. Today she runs an urban garden where residents can get food, take culinary class, and receive education on healthy living. Food comes from a local farmers market or an urban garden, and while Melony says that funding can be hard to maintain, the gratitude from the people she serves makes it worth it.
Naomi Johnson of Macon, Georgia, saw hunger issues the same way. "I envision children being able to come over [to Pleasant Hill Community Garden], getting a plum or peach, and having that good juice run down to their elbow," she told TakePart. "It's what every child needs to experience." Community members in Macon, Georgia, can donate their time to tending the community garden, and in turn, take home a slew of fruits and veggies, like bell peppers, collard greens, okra, cantaloupe, watermelon, and eggplant.
And perhaps most in line with Vancouver's new endeavor, there's Fallen Fruit, a Los Angeles-based organization that maps the city's fruit trees. Food-bearing trees that grow on or over public property get marked on a map, and city residents can use them to seek out food forest fruit for free. The organization, which also considers itself an artistic operation to the extent that it encourages the public to press the boundaries of urban shared space, also organizes a number of events, including communal jam-making sessions and nocturnal food forest fruit forages, during which the organization explores our relationship to food once the sun's gone down.
Vancouver leaders could also take a tip from Village Harvest—a Northern California-based nonprofit that organizes backyard fruit harvesting and teaches community members how to care for fruit trees and preserve food—or Baltimore Orchard Project, which is working to alleviate hunger by gathering unwanted fruit from public food forests and donating it to food banks, soup kitchens, and religious facilities.
With more than one in seven Americans on food stamps in the U.S., we're certainly ripe for new solutions to hunger. So what do you say, FDA? Isn't it time to allot more funds toward fresh fruits and veggies? Johnny Appleseed would surely agree.
Are there any fresh food-based hunger initiatives, like food forests, in your community? Let us know about them in the comments section below!