At the Leelanau Conservancy’s DeYoung Natural Area along the TART trail, the Edible Trails project is brimming with enthusiasm. Those who ride by on their bikes or arrive from Cherry Bend Road will discover an edible food forest in the making. Volunteers are welcome to help plant or maintain a variety of edible fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, herbs, and vegetables. Some of these plants, including the blackberries, chestnuts, and Saskatoon bushes, were donated by farms throughout Leelanau County.
Edible Trails is an ongoing project that started in early 2014. A group of volunteers, non-profits, and schools have worked together with the help of donors to develop public lands into a vista of edible food gardens. The project started with a meeting and planning session between Jonathan Aylward of AmeriCorps VISTA, Samantha and Christopher Graves of Healing Tree Farm at DeYoung, Levi Meeuwenberg of Realeyes Homestead, and Stuart Campbell of Perennial Harvest. Aylward continues to coordinate the project, with the support of the co-founders and the wider community. He said it is the dream of Edible Trails to produce miles of edible trail gardens. He is hoping to expand the project to many miles of trail throughout the region, as well as parks, schools, libraries, and any other public spaces.
As an educational experience for young agricultural learners, Edible Trails plans to have the participation of the Youth Conservation Corps and eventually pay young workers. Edible Trails is also working with schools to start a nursery of edible plants. The objective of the edible food trails is to have sustainable gardens which require as little maintenance as possible. To make this possible, certain plants are selected for their ability to contribute to another’s need for nutrients, forming a cycle that produces a self-sustaining exchange in the gardens. Last year Edible Trails got support from Bakers Acres, Birch Point Farm, Bardenhaagen Berries, Cross Farm, and many more farms through plant donations.
Currently, Aylward is looking for more recommended sites for unused public space to develop into an amenity of edible gardens. Anyone wishing to be involved in volunteering (or donating) to develop or maintain these trails may also find events at Edible Trails. The site is full of fun facts about the history of edible public gardens, so have a look to learn something new!
If gardens are your passion this type of volunteering is easy going, and not labor intensive. Typically, volunteers will plant a few new trees or pull quack grass. Meanwhile volunteers often discuss new edible plants or new organic use from what grows in the wild. The whole experience is educational and fun, and brings the community together with an insightful purpose. Expect a breath of fresh air and maybe some sunshine too! Getting involved in making an edible forest garden is an experience for you and your family to remember for years.