On an empty plot of land behind the Knox Farm called “the mound,” sophomore Isaac Hughes and Students for Sustainability see potential for restoration, beginning with the growing of an apple orchard.
“It’s a mound because it’s a bunch of used up soil from other places, so right now it’s not the highest quality soil,” Hughes said. “…It’s using up this space that we brought but we’re just mowing it nowÉ it’s not having any purpose.”
The planned 16 apple trees are the start of a larger project establishing a Food Forest on campus. Student Senate approved a sustainability fund request for the project, which totaled $1,942 with associated costs included.
Hughes stated that students had been working with the Knox Farm’s Food Systems Coordinator, Christina Zolper, to put the project together. Hughes described the intention as being to focus on perennial plants in order to maximize production and reduce soil erosion.
After the three to five years it will take the apple trees to grow, it is estimated they would be able to provide around 1000 pounds of apples per year.
“After those five years, [the apple trees will] be viable to grow fruit for 20 yearsÉ so it’s very long term, this entire food forest idea,” Hughes said. “… we’ll reach a point where we aren’t adding anything new to the food forest and it’s just sustaining itself.”
The team behind the food forest has been in contact with Dining Services about providing the eventual apples for use by them. Other potential uses for the apples include being part of Blessings in a Backpack meals.
“Instead of using apples that are shipped from Washington state, most of the year we will be having apples from campus,” Hughes said.
Looking ahead to when the apple trees will be planted in the spring, one concern for the project was having a sufficient amount of labor for the planting and growing process. However, sophomore Grace LaDuca is optimistic that there will be sufficient interest to support the Food Forest project.
“With the Knox Farm, sometimes it can be tricky to make sure there’s that continuous amount of people that are there to volunteer,” Laduca said.
Also a threat to the project will be disease and pests, such as the Japanese beetles that feast on apple trees. The team behind the project hopes to avoid combating the pests in ways that could be environmentally harmful, such as pesticide spray.
“It’s also just against the general existing ethos of the Knox Farm, so we’re planning on using kind of more targeted physical ways to trap pests,” Hughes said. “Here with the food forest we’re going to be mixing in other plants and herbs that are pest repellent.”
After the apple trees, future plans include growing various kinds of berries such as raspberries, blueberries and alterberries. However, the intention is to proceed with caution as they expand.
“We took a sample of some soil nearby — and there was really high lead levels,” Laduca said. “So before we think about starting to plant other things, we probably would want to make sure the lead wouldn’t be an issue.”
As it will take years before the apple trees begin to bear fruit, the students currently spearheading the project will likely only be able to take in the results as alumni returning to campus. Laduca is regardless cheerful about the future contribution to campus the project hopes to make.
“Even if we aren’t able to enjoy the apples while we’re students at knox, the fact that down the road other people will is something worth working for” she said.