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5-acre food forest coming to Newport News

Posted at 9:56 AM, Dec 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-11 09:56:21-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — In a couple of years, local residents will be able to regularly collect free fruits and vegetables from a 5.02-acre parcel of land in Newport News.

It’s known as a “food forest” — and will be the first of its kind on the Peninsula.

The Newport News Green Foundation recently acquired the property, at 1901 Chestnut Ave., across from the Discovery STEM Academy, in the Southeast Community. The foundation is in the process of transforming the mostly vacant land into the Sarfan Food Forest, which will be filled with as many as 75 different species of fruit-bearing trees and other plants native to Virginia.

The forest will provide free fruits and vegetables to the community and help address food scarcity. The site also is expected to be a popular destination for community gatherings and school field trips.

The foundation recently unveiled site plans and renderings of what the food forest will look like in a few years.

The plan calls for fruit trees, berry patches, numerous gardens, a pollinator meadow, a farm stand, an outdoor classroom area and a main gathering area with picnic tables and shade sails. The farm stand will provide fresh food to community members year-round through local partnerships and food forest harvest.

There also will be a universal garden with wheelchair-accessible raised planting beds, dwarf fruit trees and a shaded area. The garden won’t contain any common allergens.

Last year, the foundation planted about 40 trees — which will grow figs, apples, persimmon, pears and plums — with more to come.

Tami Farinholt, executive director of the Green Foundation, said there isn’t an exact timeline for when the food forest will be in operation, but it would be about two to three years before most of the trees bear fruit.

“The timeline for the entire project is probably years,” Farinholt said. “So we are going to have to phase this based on funding.”

She said the site’s hours will be from sunrise to sunset, although there are no plans to have gates restricting access to the property. Once open, she said it will be the third largest food forest in the United States.

Farinholt estimates it will cost $40,000-$50,000 a year to maintain the property. She said most of the funding would come through grants and individual donations.

She said she expects the food forest to primarily be a volunteer-led effort. However, the foundation wants to hire at least one staff member.

“We’re hoping in the next couple of years that as it matures, that we’ll actually have a property manager who is in charge of the overall maintenance of the property,” Farinholt said. “So once this kind of gets bigger, we’re going to need someone that has expertise and eyes on more often than I can get down there, or my board can get down there.”

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