‘Food forest’ aims to take a bite out of urban poverty in Simcoe

It will take a few years to bear fruit, but an anti-poverty group in Simcoe hopes a “food forest” planned for a downtown park will take a bite out of hunger in Norfolk County’s largest community.

Tamra Smith of RISE Norfolk is leading an effort to turn a 10,000-square-foot section of Water Works Park into an urban garden complete with fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs and other edible plants.

Food forests are akin to community gardens, but without the regular maintenance needed to grow vegetables. Any resident can pick a handful of raspberries, snip some basil leaves or pluck an apple off a tree, all at no cost.

Similar projects in Brantford, London and Woodstock “have proven very successful,” Smith said.

With poverty a pressing issue in Simcoe’s urban core and grocery costs continuing to rise, Smith sees the food forest as a way to help residents in need.

She first brought the idea to Norfolk council in May and worked with county staff over the summer to evaluate various sites, eventually deciding on the corner of Water Works Park at Chapel and Nelson streets, near the Simcoe Town Centre mall.

The forested area would be on the east side of the park, away from playground equipment and a hill popular with tobogganers.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Smith said the food forest has support from community groups like Church Out Serving and Haldimand-Norfolk Climate Action, along with volunteers eager to get to work on naturalizing the county-owned parkland.

“We’re not counting on the county stepping up” with funding or staff hours, Smith told councillors.

“We’re counting on the community.”

The county’s contributions would be a donated water tank and an annual supply of wood chips obtained from normal tree-trimming operations.

“They’re not selling this produce. It’s for folks who really need it,” general manager of operations Bill Cridland told councillors, adding that planting fruit trees would have the added benefit of attracting pollinators.

Councillors signalled their support for the food forest and will make a final decision at a future meeting.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator