Growing and harvesting vegetables, fruit and nuts is a breeze for Madelon Oostwoud. She has been doing this for years in a stamp garden behind her home in Amsterdam. She now has a food forest in Schellinkhout, about which she also wrote a book ‘Voedselbos’.
Between Schellinkhout and Wijdenes, sheltered by the Zuiderdijk along the Markermeer, Madelon planted her own food forest over 6 years ago, called Schellinkwoud. A richly filled forest has now arisen on a former forest plot of over 1 hectare. While walking you get a small impression of what can be found there. From hazel to quinces and from elderberries to ears of Judas.
But those who thought that there has always been a healthy and varied forest here are wrong. The land was polluted and neglected when purchased. It was full of stones, tiles, wire and plastic building materials. “It was for sale. The previous owner was a bird watcher from Hoorn. But because the bird population changed, he lost interest”, Madelon looks back.
Nevertheless, Madelon discovered several plants that are edible while cleaning up. “I found walnut trees, a pear tree and a sweet cherry tree. Very surprising on a piece of land that had not been looked after for ten years.”
Food forest is gaining ground
A food forest, with four growth layers, is no longer an unknown appearance. It is popping up in more and more places. In the Netherlands it is even on the political agenda. West Friesland cannot escape it either. In Bovenkarspel and Schellinkhout are a rough pasture and a neglected forest plot already transformed into young food forests.
Although a food forest is designed and built by people, nature does its job there. “The last thing you have to do is plow, spray poison and dig, otherwise you will disturb the soil life,” says Madelon. The word weed is also not in her dictionary. Where many a gardener removes the nettle or ground elder, Madelon leaves them alone. “Wild plants are crucial for biodiversity. It attracts beneficial insects and birds. It is good for pollination.”
A food forest is different from a vegetable garden. “You don’t eat annual plants such as beans, tomatoes or lettuce from a food forest, but fruit, fruits, mushrooms and nuts.”
Still under construction
The food forest in Schellinkhout is still under construction, so there is currently little to harvest. Planting, caring for and growing a nutritious forest requires patience. “It often takes 5 to 7 years before you can harvest, because then the forest is really mature.” She does not yet have shareholders, members or participants – as she calls it – for this reason. As an example, she mentions the food forest on a former field near Groesbeek. “There, for example, people harvest for a local brewery and a restaurant in Nijmegen.”
She does not know whether Madelon will also fill it in that way. “I’m still figuring it out. I’ve already received requests from restaurants in Amsterdam, but we still have to be patient in Schellinkhout before harvesting can take place. Maybe we’ll form a local sales outlet in the long term, with people who live nearby cooperating and share in the harvest. I am especially curious how much we will be able to harvest here later.”
Whether harvesting food in the forest is the future? “Harvesting food in forests is desirable and perhaps necessary in the future. Trees and shrubs are many times more beneficial for the climate, soil life and biodiversity than meadows injected with manure and chemical fertilizers or bulb fields sprayed with ‘pesticides’.”
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