You can learn to create a food forest, whether it be on a small scale in your own backyard, on an acre of land or at an existing orchard you’d like to make healthier and more productive.

Certified permaculture designer and professional gardener Jessica Soza will give a free presentation, “What is a Food Forest?” at the Grand County Public Library, 257 E. Center St., starting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 18.

Soza will explain principles of the design, why it works and why it is important. She’s currently designing a small-scale food forest in Moab and is also rehabilitating an old orchard by turning it into a food forest.

“Food forest design is based on what works in nature,” Soza said. “It’s regenerative agriculture.”

“Food forest” is a permaculture term, where forest patterns are copied to create a sustainable food production system that mimics the way forests grow. Food forests consist of seven layers: a canopy comprised of fruit or nut trees, a low tree layer of dwarf fruit trees, a shrub layer with berries and currents, an herbaceous layer, root crops, groundcover crops and vertical layers of vines and climbers.

“There are ways these ideas can be applied on a small scale,” Soza said. “I’ll show how to increase complexity and biodiversity in the soil and above ground. People have been doing this forever working with nature. It’s not a new idea.”

For below-ground health, Soza will explain how to plant so roots don’t compete as much with one another.

Soza began studying permaculture in 2004 at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in California. She worked on permaculture crews in Sonoma County, California, and also gained experience working in Montana. She moved to Moab a year-and-a-half ago, where she has founded a gardening and permaculture business called Greenfire Gardens.

“Food forests sequester carbon instead of burning it,” Soza said. “It provides habitat and refuge for small critters that we need right now: the pollinators, insects, butterflies, birds, soil microorganisms.”

The presentation is part of Moonflower Community Cooperative’s ongoing education series. The classes typically take place at the food co-op, located at 39 E. 100 North, but the store’s general manager Derek Whitworth said he expects a big turnout for this event, and for that reason moved it to the library.

“She’s a very knowledgeable gardener,” Whitworth said. “She’s all about sustainability and revitalizing land. She has successfully revitalized land and turned it into beautiful, edible food forests.”

People who have expertise in a health-related topic and would like to share their information are welcome to contact Moonflower Community Cooperative about teaching a class.

“We’re always looking for new classes and teachers,” Whitworth said.

Sam Mascari, owner of Montana Roots, a Bozeman, Montana-based farm and nonprofit that offers instruction in aquaponics in local schools, helped Soza create a food forest for one of his friends.

“Jessica Soza has extensive knowledge of food forestry,” Mascari said in an email to the Moab Sun News. “I have seen this firsthand, how she was able to transform a hard-pan field into a lush, diverse, verdant cornucopia of food. With her knowledge and love of plants, she created a concentration of biodiversity (above ground and below) that was inspiring and impressive.”

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