Featured in the Field: The Food Forest Cooperative
What is the Food Forest Cooperative?
The Food Forest Cooperative (FFC) was established in March of 2021 and is located on a 1 acre plot at the southwest corner of Spaces of Opportunity. A food forest is a multi-layered regenerative approach to growing food, including different varieties of fruit trees, herbs, and medicinal plants. The intent is for all plants to be edible or used to create value added products with a cultural and community driven focus. The past year has been spent creating the irrigation infrastructure and as of April 2022, over 200 different trees have been planted on the property. We are now in the maintenance stage of development as we support the growing trees and continue to plant across the different canopy layers.
What drew your team to the cooperative business model?
The Food Forest project was initially designed by ASU professor Arnim Wiek and Doctoral candidate, Stefanie Albrecht. Their vision was developed with sustainability at the forefront of their efforts, making the cooperative element of our business an important part of the vision. As economic viability is a key component of an organization’s long-term impact, it is important to embrace a model that holds both profit and stewardship in high regard. The cooperative business model is an example of an approach that balances these seemingly opposing forces in a way that honors people, profit and the planet. While we are one of two cooperative businesses to incorporate in the state of Arizona, the co-op model has existed for generations, so it is exciting to help pave the way for future businesses to have the opportunity to choose this structure. In relation to our team’s personal values, this model is a natural fit for the Food Forest team, as the core tenants of the cooperative model are already practiced by our team members in other facets of our lives and in other business we are a part of.
How do your different backgrounds change the way you've all approached this experience and business people and as farmers?
The blending of our team’s different backgrounds, skills and experience has caused us to view the Food Forest through a unique lens. Our conversations orbit around the diverse impacts and opportunities that result from cultivating the land and investing in our local context. We recognize the weight of our actions whether it be related to food access, food quality, biodiversity, soil health, community engagement, supply chain - the list goes on. As we continue to work together, we learn about our collective and individual strengths, while also recognizing the areas that we need support with. In some cases we can lean on each other to fill in the gaps, and in others, we need to lean on the community to support us. We hope to lead by example in showing that it’s not one specific skill set that drives the success of an organization, but the blending of many under one common goal.
What is something about this process that has brought your team joy?
It has been incredibly encouraging to meet and engage with community members who are equally as excited about growing food and strengthening our local food systems. Phoenix holds so much potential in the movement towards protecting and revitalizing local farmlands and we are grateful to be a part of the process. There is also so much joy in watching the food forest grow! It’s an exercise in patience and constant observation but the beauty found in nature never ceases to captivate us.
What is the vision of what the Food Forest will become?
Our vision is for a network of Food Forests to exist across the Phoenix Valley. Preserving our local farmlands, especially as development continues to rise, is immensely important in protecting the resiliency of this city. Our hope is that we are able to offer a framework to others who can join us in building up Phoenix’s local food economy.
Alongside our crop growth and product development, we plan to engage with the local community and offer educational opportunities around the value of culturally relevant, whole fruits and vegetables, medicine making, and learning about the many uses of edible/medicinal plants.
How can our community help support the Food Forest?
Right now, the most impactful way the community can help support the Food Forest is through volunteering and helping the team tend to the land. We have regular volunteer days during the fall months. The details can be found on our instagram (ffc_phx) or Facebook page (The Food Forest Cooperative)!
Where can we find your products?
As we wait for the trees to reach maturity, we are planting seasonal crops that can be harvested sooner. Over the past few months, we have grown butternut squash for the Spaces of Opportunity Farmer’s Market. Additionally, we are working on product development and deciding on our first line of products. Thus far, we have experimented with making tea blends, salt scrubs, burnt offerings, hair and beard oil, and rose water. Our products are not yet for sale but we will share the details across our media platforms!