The Skeetchestn community will gather this weekend for the grand opening of a food forest at their local K-12 school.
The permaculture installation, made possible by a Tree Canada grant, was designed by Kamloops resident Shelaigh Garson.
"A food forest is a food sovereignty system," she tells KamloopsMatters. "It's a permaculture principle where we plant tree species that produce fruit or food of some sort, and then they are planted around support species. It mimics nature. It provides pollinators and pest deterrents."
The food forest design has seven connected swales, which double as a mulched footpath. A swale is a wide, shallow ditch that captures rainwater, snowmelt and runoff and distributes it evenly over a sloped surface, providing soil hydration to plantings on the downside berm of the swale.
The plantings at Skeetchestn Community School are arranged on the five terraced berms; they also contain a mix of "companion" or "guilded" plantings of traditional Indigenous foods and medicines, as well as non-native food species.
This past spring, Garson planted 21 fruit trees and around 35 companion plantings.
"We've got everything. There's plums, pears, apples, Saskatoon berries, peaches... basic orchard-type stuff. They're underplanted with support species. Everything from blueberries, Gogi berries (and more)," she says.
Garson notes the food forest will no only provide a nutritious harvest each year, but it'll act as a teaching tool.
"One of the teachers out there is quite keen on learning-outcomes coming from the garden, so being able to teach everything from math to language, through the lens of gardening. It’s also teaching food security, where food comes from," she says.
The hope, long-term, is to grow the food forest into a community-wide initiative, something everyone can benefit from. For now, the program is being overseen by the band's natural resource department.
"(Skeetchestn) doesn't have a grocery store; they have a gas station with snacks, but that’s the closest, other than Savona. Of course, for actual real groceries, they have to go to Kamloops or Cache Creek," says Garson.
Long-term goals also include setting up an agricultural trade school for high school students; Garson says many of the community school students, once they reach Grade 8, transfer to schools in bigger cities, like Kamloops.
"The kids that do graduate there, they want them to be able to stay in their community and give back," she says.
Elders in the community will be very involved with the food forest, adds Garson.
"They have a luncheon every Tuesday, so a lot of the produce that will eventually come from the garden will be provided to them," she says. "There’s talk about having a box program, delivered to some of the elders. There’s no transportation out there. A lot of them don’t drive."
Everyone is invited to attend the grand opening on Saturday, Sept. 28. Things start at 10 a.m. The school is located at 275 Deadman-Vidette Rd.