Food does grow on trees

The cultivation of urban food-bearing trees offers a healthier state of affairs for all.

Learning the forest: ‘The wide variety of vegetation you have there enables ongoing cross-fertilization and absorption of water into the ground’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
Learning the forest: ‘The wide variety of vegetation you have there enables ongoing cross-fertilization and absorption of water into the ground’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 Money may not grow on trees, as many a prudent parent will inform their young, free-andeasy offspring, but as Nelly Gluzman keenly points out, food does.
“Look all around us,” she says, indicating some of the sturdy trees at the cozy park in Beit Hakerem, where we meet up. “Look at this carob tree; it’s full of fruit.”
Gluzman is a highly active member of the “urban food forest movement, which has joyfully emerged in Jerusalem, initiated by Ady Rosenbaum and Yehu Ezrachi in 2013.
You might be forgiven for raising an eyebrow, or two, at the juxtaposition of “food forest” and “urban.” The latter epithet normally conjures up images of hustle and bustle, traffic – with its polluting output – and tightly packed apartment buildings, stores and office blocks, while the former proffers a sense of arboreous tranquility and sweet, unsullied air.
While the machinations that go into making a city tick generally appear to be a seamless affair, Rosenbaum says forests have us licked for smooth running, as long as we don’t get in the way.
“A food forest is an ecosystem, or an agricultural system that takes its inspiration from an ecosystem called a ‘forest,’” he says. “If you go to a forest, you don’t see irrigation systems, you don’t see people fertilizing or pruning the trees, but giant forests manage to survive for centuries and millennia.”
It is the natural, mutual appreciation and support mechanism that does the trick.
“You have well-developed interaction going on between the different items of vegetation themselves, and between them and wildlife,” he explains. “It is the wide variety of vegetation that you have in forests that enable this ongoing activity of cross-fertilization and absorbing water in the ground. This is complementary and balancing activity.”
That, sadly, is more difficult to achieve in urban environments – however, with Rosenbaum et al. on the beat, there should be more fresh sustenance on hand in Jerusalem in the years to come.
As the name suggests, the urban food forest movement has set out to increase the number of fruit-bearing trees in the city. The local movement sprang into life a couple of years ago and has been busy getting other Jerusalemites on board the food-forest train.
Naturally, if you want to get any venture up and running, you need to have the raw materials. Movement members have been busy for some time nurturing a wide range of fruit-bearing plants with the help of volunteers of all ages, including elderly residents of the Beit Moses sheltered housing facility on Bethlehem Road.
In addition, youngsters have been out taking part in all sorts of healthy endeavors, such as simply picking fruit from trees in various neighborhoods as passersby look on with interest and admiration, to help get the message out there.
Jerusalem members are about to take the operation to a higher, more public and practical level. On October 15, the public is invited to a grand official launch event opposite 114 Olsvanger Street in Kiryat Hayovel, with music, stalls and all manner of merriment in store.
The centerpiece of the opening slot, which starts at 4 p.m., will be the planting of saplings on a 0.55-hectare (1.36-acre) stretch of land that runs the length of several buildings on the street. The event is a co-production with the local Yuvalim Community Administration, and Rosenbaum is hopeful that municipal officials will be attendance.
“[Mayor] Nir Barkat and [municipal environment director] Tamir Nir have been very supportive,” he says.
The plot is a major case in point and demonstrates that despite a perceived lack of space in the city, there is, in fact, plenty of room to plant and cultivate a natural and immediate source of food for one and all.
Rosenbaum says there are benefits to be had from nurturing urban food forests on all sorts of levels.
“You know that around 30 percent of the people living in Jerusalem are not sure where their next meal is coming from,” he states. “It has been proven that there is a direct connection between income bracket and healthy diets.
Often, socioeconomically disadvantaged people tend to buy poor quality food because it is cheap. Food forests can help provide a cheap and easily accessible source of food for lots of people.”
There are additional gains to be had from a direct approach to Mother Nature and her offerings. People of all ages can bond with the vegetation around them rather than just relating to trees – at best – as a source of shade. There might be financial benefits on offer, too.
“People can make jams and olive oil, and sell the produce to local residents,” Rosenbaum suggests. “And you know the produce is fresh.”
It is also a great way of getting people together in a very real, physical, non-virtual sense. It is a mind-set that contrasts sharply with the supermarket ethos, where we like to get our food products clean, washed and neatly packed in substances that are, more often than not, non-biodegradable.
Let’s face it, we have no idea where supermarket food comes from and what happens to it en route to the shelf. How many people, for instance, consider that a bottle of mineral water might have been left standing on a pallet in the bright Israeli sun for hours and the water absorbed harmful chemicals that seeped from the plastic? According to Rosenbaum, there are plenty of victuals to be had from the venture.
“Urban food forests lack one element: human beings,” he details. “We want to create a forest that enables people to feed off the fruit as well. We want some of the vegetation to benefit human beings, like various kinds of fruit, perennial vegetables, healing herbs, spices and flour.”
Flour? “You can make flour from carob,” he notes.
Gluzman interjects: “And there’s flour you can make from the fruit of the prosopis alba tree. The flour is very tasty, a bit sweet and very nutritional.”
Rosenbaum adds that there are such trees at Moshav Kidron near Gedera, where food forest pioneers Saar Ostreicher and Hadas Hochberg produce flour from them.
He also says that flour can be made from acorns, though its bitterness, Gluzman says, needs to be diluted by washing it with water. “People used to bake with acorn flour,” she reveals.
The industrialization of our global agricultural activities might have initially produced greater yields, but it has taken its toll on the earth’s natural nutrients and often causes huge amounts of pollution. Rosenbaum and others say that the cultivation of urban food-bearing trees offers a healthier state of affairs for all.
“If you have an ecosystem [such as an urban food forest] as part of the agricultural system, it offers more balance,” he states.
“Even if human beings do not intervene, forests can sustain themselves for centuries, although they will give less fruit.”
This is where we, as humans, step – delicately – in.
“You have to do some pruning and do other things to get more fruit. But the level of maintenance required is far lower, and it enables greater flexibility for wildlife to develop, and with a far greater variety of genes than the monocultural [industrial] approach, which, basically, translates into a desert,” he says.
As a country that prides itself on getting our deserts to bloom, as per David Ben-Gurion’s vision, we don’t want that to happen in our cities, do we? We can all start by turning up in Kiryat Hayovel on October 15.
For more information about the urban food forest movement: groups/731474413529482/