Food forests flourish at Cal Poly Humboldt

Students learn sustainable organic farming methods with CCAT
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by Morgan Hancock

CCAT courses are back this spring. One of the classes on the roster this semester is Organic Gardening. In this one-unit course, students will learn the basics of gardening. Students grow their plots in the campus community garden using sustainable techniques.

Since the pandemic disrupted CCAT operations, the course has not been offered. Now, the course has returned, and students have a lot of work ahead of them. Ben Cross is a political science major who’s more than excited to be back in the Buckhouse.

“I’ve got lots of passion for this, and it’s an amazing area to learn it,” Cross said. “If there is a place I’d want to take this class, it’s at Humboldt. I want to have my garden and tend to it with confidence.”

Julia Simmons is the student instructor of ENST 123.

“We’re teaching the basics of what goes into gardening,” Simmons said. “I want to focus on how plants affect each other. Some plants have nitrogen-fixing properties and support other plants in the soil. I want to teach students to cultivate ecology and grow food forests.”

Food forests are a farming technique that mimics the natural patterns found in ecosystems. Growing plants interact with each other in a network of reciprocal relationships. The result is healthy biodiversity, nutrient-rich soils, and a sustainable food source.

Agroecologic farming methods have the potential to localize food systems and make them more efficient. A 2018 study titled “Permaculture—Scientific Evidence of Principles for the Agroecological Design of Farming Systems” by the EU Institute for Environmental Science establishes environmental damages caused by industrial agriculture. Monoculture causes biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and alteration of biogeochemical cycles and greenhouse gas emissions. The study cited food forests to remedy the damage done by monoculture.

Monoculture is the standard agricultural practice in the United States. Crops are planted in rows, where they can be most efficiently harvested by machine. Though it is convenient for machinery, this practice does not benefit plants or local ecologies. Without ecological support and context, isolated crops require fertilizers and pesticides to grow.

Plants can fend off pests and fertilize each other in food forests. One example Simmons describes is the three sisters. This pairing of beans, squash and corn, comes from traditional ecologic knowledge.

“They grow really well together, and they use each other to grow well,” Simmons said. “The beans provide nitrogen for the other plants to grow. Ground cover [from the squash leaves] keeps weeds from growing.” The tallest sister, corn, acts as a trellis for the beans to climb up. Growing together, they protect each other and help one another flourish.

“We’re going to be working in the community garden. We’ll design food forests with their own ecologic networks,” Simmons said. “I want anybody to be able to garden, and everyone should garden.”

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