A tree planting for a food forest is scheduled this weekend at Shepherd University’s Tabler Farm, where volunteers can help plant edible species native to Appalachia.
“This region that we live in, Appalachia, is a really unique region in the world. It’s very, very highly biodiverse. And it is filled with edible species for humans,” Tabler Farm Coordinator Madison Hale said. “Food forests are really popular right now, but I was specifically wanting to focus on native trees just to highlight the unique ecosystem here.”
A food forest is a created ecosystem of edible plants for food production, mirroring how the plants are found in nature. They act as alternatives to annual crop production that are seen as more ecologically healthy and easier to maintain.
Hale oversees programs at the farm through the school’s environmental studies department, which helps train farmers in sustainable agriculture practices. This particular food forest program comes from a grant from the Cacapon Institute, an ecological conservation group.
Some of the species set to be planted at the forest include sugar maple, witch-hazel, hackberry and spicebush. Persimmons, serviceberries and redbuds were planted during last year’s event.
“There’s a wide range, there’s probably about 20 species that I know of that we could potentially incorporate into this food forest,” Hale said. “And we’re really just receiving whatever is available through the nurseries that Cacapon Institute works with.”
Hale said food forests aren’t just environmentally friendly. The act of planting them gives locals the chance to learn about native tree species and how they fit into the regional culture.
“I think by working with native species, you’re just helping foster that connection with people to the natural world,” Hale said.
The planting event runs Saturday, Oct. 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Tabler Farm in Shepherdstown. Information on how to sign up is available on the school’s event website.