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Food forests throughout Central Texas helping increase sustainability, decrease food insecurity

Students are working on a food forest at Pride High School. They've planted all sorts of fruits and vegetables and hope to install an irrigation system.

LOCKHART, Texas — The City of Austin's new State of the Food System report looks at the city's food system and things that can be changed to help fight food insecurity and help residents live sustainably. 

One of the ways that the City is trying to curb food insecurity is by implementing "food forests" around town.

"A food forest is essentially a community garden, but with trees instead of fruits and vegetables," said Edwin Marty, the City's food policy manager.

These food forests have all kinds of produce, in addition to herbs and nuts. At Festival Beach Community Garden, crops have been planted that can withstand all kinds of weather for residents to enjoy year-round. 

"It reduces the barriers oftentimes that people have for participating in things like community gardens," Marty said. "You can imagine if you're a potentially low-income family working multiple jobs to try to make ends meet, you're not going to have a whole lot of extra time to go out and gardening on, you know, your day off – if you have a day off. It's a way to basically say, 'Hey, the food is free, come out and get it.'"

Currently, there are three edible food forests in the Austin area, and one high school in Lockhart Independent School District is working to add another one to Central Texas.

The principal of Lockhart Pride High School said students are planting all kinds of veggies in a space that's roughly 3,000 square feet.

"We're looking at especially for the fall, beets, carrots, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, arugula, all the dark leafy greens," Principal Ethan Peters said. "A lot of the root vegetables do really well in the fall and winter. Peppers and tomatoes and those kinds of things, we'll probably do in the spring."

Peters said the school has created a GoFundMe and they are close to meeting their $2,000 goal. They hope to buy more trees and install an irrigation system. 

In addition to helping the community escape food insecurity, food forests help the environment they are placed in. 

"The ground was about as hard as concrete about a year ago," Peters said. "Now you can stick a shovel, [and] it's already turning the soil into a more robust, healthy environment."

Peters hope with this garden, students learn how to grow their own food and take some home to their families. 

"We can do cooking classes here at school," Peters said. "We might even be able to do like farmers' markets, either as part of the town of Lockhart or just within ourselves ... and even go out there for lunch and have like a like, an almost like a sanctuary space that kids can spend time out in nature."

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