The Bainbridge Island Native Food Forest is located on 13-acres of land at the end of Charles Place NE (off of NE Lovgreen Road). Once part of the Suyematsu family farmstead, where strawberries were grown, it was eventually sold and became the M&E Christmas Tree Farm. In 2003, the owners donated the land to the City of Bainbridge Island, however the property came with deed restrictions, such as no commercial agriculture on the land, making is unleasable to local farmers and complicating its future usage.
Friends of the Farms (FotF), who manages the property, spent many years working towards a solution, discovering it was perfect for something that all islanders and visitors can enjoy—a free-forage food forest of native plants.
In thinking about a native food forest, it was important to FotF that any approach to healing the land, which had been mostly neglected for almost two decades—involved restoring the old ecosystems, clearing invasive species, supporting the Manzanita Creek watershed, and acknowledging the relationship between people, wildlife, pollinators, and the health of the planet. Consulting with the Xerces Society, NW Meadowscapes, Kitsap Audubon Society, local farmers, and Project Manager Zac Fulton, and seeking Indigenous wisdom from the Suquamish Tribe, a local landscape architect with a background in plant ecology created a Master Plan – an evolving vision – for a native food forest.
I met with Heather Burger, Executive Director of Friends of the Farms to learn more about the property. We began our tour at the entrance on Charles Place. As you head in, you’ll notice a small plot where a dilapidated outbuilding stood (once used at the tree farm as their payment hut). With a $5,000.00 grant from the Bainbridge Island Rotary and the talents of the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network’s (BARN) woodworkers, a new shed will be erected, and stocked with adult and child size gardening tools and supplies for use by volunteers in the Food Forest.
Moving further down the path, Heather pointed out what will become the Central Pollinator Meadow, providing habitat for birds, bees, and other creatures supporting ecosystem and farm health. The path meanders to the left and borders the Central Meadow to the south and Bainbridge Vineyards to the north. This pathway, which runs quite a distance, will become the forageable fringe, containing tiered layers of edible berries, free for the picking. As Heather explained, it will be “a veritable snack trail” of Blackcap Raspberries, Elderberries, Evergreen Huckleberries, Salmonberries, and more. The tiered plantings will not only make it easier for visitors to pick as many berries as they’d like, but it will also provide a dense hedgerow for native birds and pollinators.
As you continue along the trail, you come to a deep ravine and the sounds of rushing water. The ravine is fed with headwaters from Manzanita Creek and with support from the Department of Ecology and the City of Bainbridge Island, a large culvert has been removed to allow the creek to begin reversion to its natural course. Restoration of the Manzanita watershed is very important, as it is a potential salmon-bearing stream and one of the Island’s largest aquifer recharge areas. Currently most of the access to the ravine perimeter is limited because of safety concerns, however, working with other public and private partners FotF plans to build safer trails and walkways around the ravine in the future.
Further on we reach the West Meadow where FotF partnered with IslandWood and Island School to clear out the invasive species and plant more than 600 native plants (via an EPA subgrant from IslandWood). Heather hopes the West Meadow will become a restorative place where people can gather to picnic, hold classes, or simply observe and connect with the land and all that it gives us.
As we continued along, Heather pointed out a mossy wooded section of the property which will become a Fungi Forest containing a variety of harvestable mushrooms. Heather also pointed out one of the main tenets of the revitalization project is to respect and embrace “grateful reciprocity” giving back to the land that gives so much to us and acknowledging our responsibility to improve the soil, to protect the watersheds, and create habitat for all living things for generations to come.
There’s still a lot of work that has to be done, including the continued removal of invasive species of plants such as Himalayan blackberry brambles and scotch broom, and transition dead and dying trees and shrubs. With the help of their partners, FotF has several work parties scheduled, beginning on May Day 2022. Join them on Sunday, May 1st from 10am to 1pm.
Please join FotF and their partners for the inaugural Bainbridge Island Food Forest Work Party sponsored by Food Forest Weed Warriors: Friends of the Farms and Bainbridge Prepares Food Resilience Team
- Registration and Signed Volunteer Waiver Required
- Location: Road end at Charles Place off Lovgreen and Highway 305
- Parking: Please carpool. Parking is limited
- All ages welcome (Under 18 – parental consent and signature on Volunteer Waiver)
- No special skills needed, but some jobs are less physically demanding than others. Please bring gloves, loppers, pruners, shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows.
Additional work parties are scheduled throughout the summer and fall. If you missed the May Day party, another one is scheduled for June 5th, click here to register. Future dates will be posted on the FotF and Bainbridge Prepares websites.
To learn more about Friends of the Farms, check out our previous article: https://theislandwanderer.com/friends-of-the-farms-commitment-to-farmland-protection-and-creating-a-locally-focused-food-system/
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