Unsprayed, good for the earth and nearby: is harvesting food in the forest the future?

Growing and harvesting vegetables, fruit and nuts is a breeze for Madelon Oostwoud. She has been doing this for years in a stamp garden behind her home in Amsterdam. She now has a food forest in Schellinkhout, about which she also wrote a book ‘Voedselbos’. “Perhaps in the long term we will form a local outlet, with people who live nearby, who cooperate and share in the harvest.”

Rosita Stump

Between Schellinkhout and Wijdenes, sheltered by the Zuiderdijk along the Markermeer, Madelon planted her own food forest over 6 years ago, called Schellinkwoud. A rich forest has now emerged on a former forest plot of over 1 hectare. As you walk, you get a small impression of what you can find there. From hazel to quince and from elderberry to ears of Judas.

But those who thought that here has always been a healthy and varied forest are wrong. The land was contaminated and neglected when it was purchased. It was filled with stones, tiles, wire and plastic building materials. “It was for sale. The previous owner was a bird watcher from Hoorn. But because the bird population changed, he lost interest”, Madelon looks back.

Nevertheless, Madelon discovered several plants that are edible during cleanup. “I found walnut trees, a pear tree and a sweet cherry tree. Very surprising on a piece of land that hadn’t been looked after for ten years.”

Madskov wins

A food forest, with four layers of growth, is no longer an unfamiliar sight. It appears in more and more places. In the Netherlands, it is even on the political agenda. West Friesland cannot escape it either. In Bovenkarspel and Schellinkhout are a rough pasture and a neglected forest plot already converted into young food forests.

Although a food forest is designed and built by humans, nature does its work there. “The last thing you have to do is plough, spray poison and dig, otherwise you disturb the soil life,” says Madelon. The word weed is not in her dictionary either. Where many gardeners remove the nettle or ground elder, Madelon leaves them alone. “Wild plants are essential for biodiversity. It attracts beneficial insects and birds. It’s good for pollination.”

A food forest is different from a kitchen garden. “You don’t eat annuals like beans, tomatoes or lettuce from a food forest, but fruit, fruit, mushrooms and nuts.”

A community

The food forest in Schellinkhout is still under construction, so there is currently little to harvest. Planting, tending and growing a nutritious forest requires patience. “It often takes 5 to 7 years before you harvest art, because then the forest is really mature.” She does not yet have shareholders, members or participants – as she calls it – for that reason. As an example, she mentions the food forest on a former field near Groesbeek. “There, for example, people harvest for a local brewery and restaurant in Nijmegen.”

She doesn’t know if Madelon will fill it out that way too. “I’m still figuring it out. I’ve already received inquiries from restaurants in Amsterdam, but we still need to be patient in Schellinkhout before the harvest can take place. Maybe we’ll form a local point of sale in the long run, with people living nearby, cooperating and sharing in the harvest. I’m especially curious about how much we will be able to harvest here later.”

Whether harvesting food in the forest is the future? “Harvesting food in the forests is desirable and perhaps even necessary in the future. Trees and bushes are many times more beneficial for the climate, soil life and biodiversity than meadows sprayed with fertilizers and artificial fertilizers or onion fields sprayed with ‘pesticides’.”

Mad ‘Schellinkwoud’ in the distance – Rosita Stumpel

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