The Rotary Club of Chestermere, Aris Landscape Design, Along the Lake Landscaping, Eagle Lake Nurseries, and the City of Chestermere collaborated to bring the first edible forest to the community.
Edible Forest Coordinator, Jason McKee was inspired to bring the project idea to City Council after following the Food is Free project in Oregon.
“It’s the idea of food-bearing plants in public spaces, it aims to feed the food web and create food abundance. To have more food available, even if it goes to livestock, still feeds the food web that we’re at the top of,” McKee said.
The Rotary Club of Chestermere and Aris Landscape Design worked with the City of Chestermere for nearly three years, doing site analysis, concept designs, and it was determined the pathway near the Western Irrigation District (WID) canal was the most appropriate site.
“It has the most sun exposure, it’s the least utilized of the spaces, and it has good accessibility,” McKee said.
“The canal passed the criteria, had the best amount of sun exposure, protection from the wind, good access, and a water source nearby. It checked off all the boxes,” said Michelle Aris from Aris Landscape Design.
“By the time the project was approved, the area that we selected, had some baby trees that had matured to a size where it wasn’t going to work, and we had to move it down the canal,” she said.
When designing the Rotary Edible Forest, Aris began with the size of the pathways, the size of the plant beds, and added different sections of themed gardens.
“I selected the plants and reviewed them with everyone. I really like using plants, I have a background in art, and plants are my medium. I wanted it to not just be a pathway with edible flowers, I wanted it to also be something really therapeutic for people,” Aris said.
“Like a painting, as they are walking along it’s something they can be immersed in, it’s living art. When I’m designing or planting, it’s like painting with plants. I wanted people to feel like when they are walking through the garden, they are walking through a painting, and they have the chance to learn about things,” she said.
The Rotary Edible Forest is meant to be a self-guided tour, starting with the butterfly rain garden, currant crossing with plums and cherries, the bee garden with flowering species to pollinate the other fruiting trees, berry boulevard, and pear paradise parkway.
“We have a turnabout at the end, it’s accessible for wheelchairs and people with strollers, so everyone can enjoy the sites and the smells,” Aris said.
Work will be continuing on the project throughout the summer and next year, as the pathways need to be completed, and benches and signage will be added.
The intention for the Rotary Club of Chestermere is to move the forest down the pathway as far as possible.
“The vision is teachers bringing in their students, learning at a very young age how to pick fruit, where food comes from, with the hopeful extension of rotary doing organized harvest with preserving,” said Project Manager, Ron McKee.
“In 20 years from now, this could be a focal point for the city, it could be quite an attraction for Chestermere,” he said.
“The forest will provide a living example for the next generation to be connected to their food source, to understand where food comes from, make it intuitive for them, and as they mature with it, it becomes second nature, and it becomes very easy,” Jason said.
Not only will the Rotary Edible Forest be a learning opportunity for Chestermere residents, but it also encourages sharing, while promoting healthy lifestyle choices.
Over 400 plants were planted in four hours with the help of 35 volunteers.
“The volunteers who showed up put in a hard day,” Jason said.
“To see the human ability to come together, rise above challenges, it was incredible to have over 400 plants planted within that time. I want to thank the Rotary Club and City of Chestermere for allowing me to be a part of this project and be a part of a piece of history, I’m really grateful,” Aris said.
Adding, “We do a passion project every year. It’s all hours and labour of love, and it’s all for the community.”
Without the support of Aris, Rick Van Gelder, and Alison Ciupa, city staffers, and volunteers, the Rotary Edible Forest project wouldn’t have been possible.
“Michelle Aris was fantastic, she’s very passionate about this kind of thing. Rick Van Gelder and Alison Ciupa have been crucial to the plan,” Ron said.
The gardening and upkeep of the Rotary Edible Forest will be handled by volunteers coordinated by the Rotary Club of Chestermere.