Feed the Need with Oak Harbor’s New Food Forest

Posted in Culinary, More Stories

Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
June 4, 2014

John Lennon once asked the people of the world to “imagine no possessions…no need for greed or hunger…”

Thanks to the creative and motivated minds of project co-chairs Netsah Zylinsky and Christine Pace, an army of volunteers and a generous grant of $3,000 from the Oak Harbor Garden Club, the Imagine Permaculture Forest, located at 526 SE Bayshore Drive, is no longer merely a dream. Yes, this sustainable food forest, designed to nurture the hungry throughout Whidbey Island—particularly those who come to SPIN Café in Oak Harbor for the twice-weekly free meal—is a growing, thriving and permanent reality.

Permaculture Logo (photo by Susan Wenzel)

Permaculture Logo (photo by Susan Wenzel)

Although the food forest is burgeoning with more than fifty fruit trees, gooseberries, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, peas, carrots, cabbages, chard, a variety of herbs and dozens of other vegetables and fruits, it is much more than a simple garden, Pace explained.

“Permaculture is about creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that continuously feeds people and does not take resources away from the earth but adds back to it. For example, we filled the garden with all kinds of edibles but also included flowers to attract the beneficial insects and pollinators.”

“Most of what we planted is self-sustaining,” added Zylinsky, who spent decades learning about permaculture and now loves to share her knowledge with others. “In a couple of years, we should be able to walk away and this place will continue to thrive on its own forever.”

To support such long-term vitality, the garden utilizes thoughtfully calculated sustainable agricultural methods including mulching and composting as well as companion planting—in which mutually beneficial plants are positioned near each other to foster growth. The nutritionally complete “Three Sisters” combination of beans, squash and corn seen in the garden is a prime example of companion planting and is considered by some to be the oldest known form of permaculture. The broad leaves of the squash prevent the establishment of weeds and provide natural compost for the corn and beans as the older leaves are shed. The corn provides structural support for the climbing beans and the beans provide nitrogen needed by both the squash and corn.

Just as the plants in the food forest support each other, this garden project is destined to provide both food and a picturesque place for the community to relax. The Imagine Permaculture Forest is slated to become a permanent part of Oak Harbor’s landscape thanks to the support of Hank Nydam, Parks Operations Manager for Oak Harbor. “Hank has been a huge source of encouragement and support,” explained Pace. “He helped us secure the land from the city and is further helping our efforts to become a city park.”

Many other members of the community have likewise rallied behind the project, dropping by the garden to help or providing donations of plants, money or even food to feed the workers. One such contributor has been Karen Mueller, the owner and operator of the independent Wind & Tide Bookshop.

Project co-chair Netsah Zylinsky plants herbs with volunteer Rohini Ray

Project co-chair Netsah Zylinsky plants herbs with volunteer Rohini Ray (photo by Susan Wenzel)

“Karen has been an invaluable help,” Zylinsky said. “She opens up her wonderful store for our planning meetings and is here helping most Saturdays.”

“I love this,” Zylinsky added as she paused from planting herbs in the centrally located, spiral-shaped mandala to survey the efforts of the busy workers. “We are saving the world one garden at a time.”

Almost ripe quince on one of the many food forest fruit trees (photo by Susan Wenzel)

Almost ripe quince on one of the many food forest fruit trees (photo by Susan Wenzel)

For more information, please visit the Imagine Permaculture Forest website or visit the Wind & Tide Bookshop located at 790 SE Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor. (Be sure to set aside some time to browse the amazing selection of new and used books, including many works by Whidbey Island authors and artists.)

Working parties are held every Saturday at the garden from 12 noon to 2 p.m. and help is always appreciated. It is suggested that workers bring gloves, gardening tools, eggshells, grass clippings, coffee grounds, etc.

Susan Wenzel, food writer, believes in the power of locally produced food to fortify the health and well-being of both the individual and the community as a whole.

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