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April 17, 2013
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Roaring Fork students putting up a 'Food Forest'

CARBONDALE, Colorado - The students at Roaring Fork High School are working to join a growing international movement - the creation of "food forests" to produce an array of locally grown nuts, berries, vegetables and other products for local consumption.

The RFHS Food Forest, however, is still in the planning phase, and participants are hoping to get a little help from the community from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 21, when the school will be celebrating Earth Day 2013.

Senior Jessie Murillo, the project's leader, said Food Forest participants are asking people to bring them compostable materials to enrich the soil of a half-acre of ground in preparation for the Food Forest.

Manure, wood chips, tree branches, straw - any biodegradable material that will decompose in compost - is welcome, said Hadley Hentschel, who teaches the environmental science class where the Food Forest idea came up.

"We're doing our best to get all the rough material delivered ahead of time," Hentschel added, so that on Earth Day itself participants can get right to work spreading the material.

Hentschel explained that the goal is to obtain enough compostables to create a nutrient-rich covering bed about three feet deep, which over time will reduce itself to a depth of inches and then be ready to be turned into the soil.

Murillo, 18, also is the student trustee for RFHS, representing the school and youth in general at the Carbondale Board of Trustees.

Born at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, to parents who moved here from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Murillo said he is planning to attend college at Colorado State University, if all goes according to plan.

Meanwhile, he is doing what he can to absorb ecological wisdom and learn about growing food before he heads out into the world.

The idea for the Food Forest, he said, arose in Hentschel's environmental science class, where the students were talking about what kind of project they would like to undertake for Earth Day, Murillo recalled.

"We saw a video about food forests around the U.S., and how they have contributed to their communities, and we thought that would be a great thing to do in Carbondale," he said.

The concept of Food Forests, though, is not strictly a U.S. phenomenon. A search of the Internet brought up hits for food forests at such diverse locations as Shropshire, England, and Gawler, Australia.

The Wikipedia online encyclopedia, calling them "forest gardens," states that they are "probably the world's oldest form of land use and most resilient agroecosystem," describing food forests in India, Nepal, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, among other locales.

The RFHS Food Forest plot is right behind the school and adjacent to the 2-year-old greenhouse dome, which itself is a classroom for the school's agricultural biology class. The dome is the outcome of another class taught by Hentschel, agricultural biology.

The environmental science course, Hentschel explained, is sponsored by Colorado Mountain College and is a college entry-level course.

Another student in Hentschel's class, junior Paul Roman, said the Food Forest is an effort "to create a garden that is food producing but is based on how a forest grows in nature."

Murillo, Roman and another student, junior Ticah Burrows, took turns explaining that the Food Forest follows the basic pattern of a forest, with a canopy of nut, fruit and other food producing trees, then another level of berry-producing shrubs at the next level down, and a variety of food-producing plants that hug the ground.

"It mimics the cycles and ecology of the forest," Murillo concluded.

The details of how to distribute the produce from the Food Forest are not yet fleshed out, said Hentschel, adding that there is plenty of time to decide such matters before the garden bears fruit.

Murillo, who will graduate soon and is considering a career in medicine, said he may come back from college to help out with the Food Forest.

"I started this project," he said, "so I could come back and try to help maintain it."

Those needing more information, or to contact Hentschel about delivering compostable material, can call him at 970-384-5782.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Apr 17, 2013 01:20AM Published Apr 17, 2013 01:15AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.