The Quad-City Food Forest is a growing community in every sense. Located in the west end of Davenport in the Garden Addition neighborhood, the organization provides community members with the opportunity to learn about and participate in gardening while connecting with each other and the Earth.
According to the group’s vice president, Ali Domino, of East Moline, a food forest is a “gardening technique or land-management system which mimics a woodland ecosystem by substituting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.”
Domino says the group uses a seven-layer guild system that is meant to be self-sufficient. A guild is a group of plants that help each other flourish when planted together.
The guild system has root, mushroom and shallow-rooted foods at the base of the garden, followed by vining varieties, ground covers and herbs. Then, there is a flowering- and fruiting-shrub layer, and a low-tree layer. Full-grown fruit and nut trees provide the final layers. All of these layers work together to help sustain each other.
The garden works much like the organization itself.
Domino says the group is a unified collection of volunteers who have come together to build a culture of health through producing nutritional, organic food that is free of genetically modified organisms.
“We start them from seed and cuttings, and never use pesticides or herbicides on the plants. Throughout the year, we are dedicated to researching and implementing sustainable horticulture practices. When you come to the QCFF to plant with us, you are joining a support system of people who care about each other, communal food systems and environmental stewardship,” says Domino.
The food forest began during the summer of 2014 on nine acres of land donated by the city of Davenport. Chris Rice led the charge, and although he has since stepped down from his leadership role with thr organization, he continues to donate plants and trees that he grows for the spring sales at the Freight House Farmers Market.
Five of the nine acres are currently planted, and the group is pursuing an additional acre near the site.
The group focuses on native plants, especially trees and bushes such as pawpaw, hickories, hazelnuts, walnuts, gooseberries, pecans, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and more. The garden also boasts other produce including tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, strawberries and more.
The garden is maintained by volunteers, and its bounty is available to the community for free.
“We have volunteers in the community garden every Saturday morning at 10 a.m., starting the first weekend in May. Volunteers take food home on a weekly basis, and anything that is left over, we will take to several local shelters and food pantries,” says Conza Borders, of Moline, food forest president.
“Anyone is welcome to Forest Care days to learn how tend the self-replicating, regenerative systems,” she said. Forest Care days started at the end of April and will continue every other Sunday through the summer.
Other educational opportunities include recently added workshops on the last Saturday of the month.
For those who want to commune with nature in another way, Yoga in the Gardens is offered from 2 to 3 p.m. every Sunday from May through September.
“Leah (Tatro), our community outreach director, leads these all-ages classes in fair weather, and the class tends to the community garden afterwards and is welcome to take home produce,” Domino says.
Although the organization has only been in operation for a few years, members already have reaped many rewards.
“The quantity of food is abundant. It is great to hand over food to someone that was not expecting it, but was in need. Kids who generally dislike to unplug have no trouble connecting and discovering,” Borders says. “The sense of accomplishment that comes along with this level of teamwork is very inspiring.”
Domino says the group constantly works to spread the word about their group and mission.
“So many volunteers have been dedicated to the QCFF mission over the past four years, and yet we meet people all the time who have not heard of us,” she says. “Through our partnerships, such as the Mississippi Valley Blues Society coordinating over 200 volunteers for the Blues Fest, we appreciate all opportunities to share our organization’s goals and commitments with the community.”
Even though it is a young organization, the group is quickly growing.
“In 2017, we accomplished so many goals. We expanded the vegetable garden for more production (and) had a public video shoot featuring volunteers, tree plantings, garden harvesting and a harvest table,” Domino says.
The food forest will continue its fundraising efforts by selling vegetable starts at the Freight House Farmers Market on the first Sunday of each month.