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A community food forest grows in Woodstock

Published on
03 November 2021

The Land Conservancy recently began a new project, a community food forest, on a small portion of farmland on Dean Street, just north of TLC’s office in rural Woodstock. This nine-acre field had been conventionally farmed for many years, on a corn/soybean rotation. Linda Balek, TLC’s farm program manager, began wondering “what can we do here that would demonstrate to the community what other crops can be grown here, and in ways that are good for the earth?”

Over the past year, TLC has partnered with Judy Speer of Harvard-based Small Waters Education NFP, along with Caron Wenzel and Linda Gurgone, both from Woodstock and members of McHenry-Lake County Permaculture Group, to make plans, starting with a vision statement (shown above) and many visits to the field to get to know it better.

The field is being transitioned in stages, from row crops of corn and soybeans to cover crops like the buckwheat shown here. Cover crops are good for adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Buckwheat also provides food for pollinators.

Drawing by Judy Speer

A plan for the first planting was based on soils and contour of the land. Most of the plants in the food forest will be native to our region. Some, like the elderberries, are cultivated for specific traits such as larger berries and flowers, making them more marketable as a crop.

The first planting day at the food forest was on Oct. 2. Students from Caron Wenzel’s Sustainable Agriculture class at the College of Lake County planted rows of trees, including elderberry, pawpaw and gooseberry, adding cardboard and a thick layer of wood chips as a weed barrier.

There is a growing demand for elderberry, both for its flowers and berries, which have high nutritional value. Other tree crops under consideration for the food forest include currants, serviceberries, aronia berries, honeyberries, hazelnuts, Asian pear and chestnuts.

Apple Creek Community Food Forest thrives on community involvement and welcomes everyone that’s interested to become a part of the story. We will be planning our next steps over the winter months. Contact Linda at [email protected] to join in!

At Apple Creek Community Food Forest we will:

  • Grow a diversity of food crops and share our successes and failures
  • Strive to keep a continuous living cover on the soil and use regenerative farming practices
  • Include the diversity of people living in McHenry County in all aspects of our work
  • Offer workshops on growing, processing and marketing the crops produced here