Published: 2/21/2021 4:14:28 PM
GREENFIELD — Environmental justice is racial justice, Adam Matlock told his audience Saturday afternoon.
In a virtual conversation on food forests — or perennial food gardens that focus on fruit and nut trees, or fruiting shrubs — Matlock described the role food forests can play in building resistance against the effects of climate change, while also mitigating food desert conditions found predominantly in Black and Latino communities.
“When we work in support of the environment, even if it is on the small scale, what we’re looking for, for ourselves and for our communities, is a sense of agency against a problem so big it sometimes feels unknowable,” he said.
The virtual event, which included a presentation by Matlock and Eliza Caldwell of Hampden, Conn., was hosted by Racial Justice Rising and funded by grants from several local cultural councils. More than 30 participants took part via Zoom.
Caldwell, who has worked in the horticulture industry for several years, said one of the ways to make people more resilient against climate change is diversified plantings with food in them, right where people live.
“Essentially, a perennial food garden … we just think it is a good investment in food security,” she said.
Caldwell described it as a five-year plan, as most of the fruit and nut trees take five or more years to produce.
“It’s a gift to future generations, if we’re planting it now,” she said, noting there is also space for annual food gardening within a food forest.
She described the five stages of establishing a food garden, and explained that the elements of a food forest typically include large trees, understory trees, shrubs and vines, and ground layer plants. They can be established on a small scale on people’s personal property, or developed on unused lots in public settings.
“A food forest imitates a natural forest,” Caldwell said. “Everything within a forest is interacting with each other. Mushrooms help every tree and plant there is, so we’re designing an ecosystem that imitates that, but has a lot of food for humans.”
As part of the presentation, Matlock introduced his project, “A Town of a Thousand Gardens,” which aims to bring food forests and community gardens to his hometown in Connecticut. The process began with “pilot gardens” that showed the public what they were about, and has involved conversations with people at all levels of local government.
“It’s very easy to get depressed by the slowness of progress or efforts that had to be abandoned for one reason or another,” Matlock said. “But to me, it’s hard to look at areas where there’s need, like hunger or extreme climate effects, and to look at areas of opportunities, like lawns or unused spaces, and not simply be able to push a button to connect them.”
Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne