TRAVERSE CITY — One of Michigan’s first public food forests is about to sprout along the TART Trail network.
The Grand Traverse Edible Trail project aims to establish two native plant gardens adjacent to the Leelanau Trail.
It’s the brain child of a group of local agriculture innovators and community activists.
“Plucking food off the plant and popping it into your mouth is an experience everyone should have,” said Americorps VISTA volunteer Jonathan Aylward, who helped launch the project. “Coming straight off the plant, the flavors will be as fresh and delicious as possible.”
The planned trailside gardens blend into the natural landscape about two miles northwest of Traverse City. The Leelanau Trail belongs to the TART Trail network and runs through the Leelanau Conservancy’s DeYoung Farm and Natural Area. The proposed free edible trail garden at the historic farmstead occupies a space 100 by 150 feet linked to the facility’s parking area and includes a shaded spot for trail users to rest.
A second site, located across from Orchard Creek apartments and beside RealEyes Homestead, spans an area 40 by 100 feet.
The development group — consisting of permaculture and landscape designers, farmers and edible perennial plant experts — put together project specifics over the past year.
“At first, we were just thinking about planting blueberries,” Aylward said. “It expanded from there to include a diversity of plants.”
Those include native blueberries, raspberries, persimmon, currant, gooseberry, plum and apple trees. Alpine strawberries and other plants serve as a mulch. The design minimizes maintenance and fosters beneficial plant relationships.
Permaculturalist Samantha Graves of Healing Tree Farm designed the DeYoung trailside garden.
“You’re plugging into an ecosystem that’s already working well,” she said.
Both gardens provide a bounty of treats for hikers, bicyclists and local wildlife.
Graves and husband Christopher operate a permaculture demonstration orchard and farm at the DeYoung farmstead. Levi Meuwenberg and Stuart Campbell also contributed to the food forest plan.
Site preparation begins this spring. Other planting work takes place in the fall. Trailside snacking will begin in the summer of 2015 but users must wait four to five years to pluck apples and plums from the slow-maturing fruit trees.
Project developers want to raise $3,000 to purchase trees, shrubs, plants, seeds, watering bags, compost, signage and other supplies through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign open through May 28.
“Crowdfunding seemed to make sense,” Aylward said. “With crowdfunding, you’re asking the public to support something that can benefit the public for the rest of their life. It’s a donation that keeps giving back.”
Any funds exceeding the campaign goal will support additional food forests along the TART Trail network.
Visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/grand-traverse-edible-trails-project to learn more or to make a donation.