Over 75 people showed their support for the Gulfport Food Forest by attending the opening of the Winter Solstice Art Show Benefit at the City of Imagination on December 20. The show, which ran through January 1, featured themes of sunlight, sacred geometry and the winter solstice, along with a fruit tree and poinsettia sale, the Gulfport Peace Singers, a winter solstice story time and the opportunity to learn more about the Gulfport Food Forest initiative.
Crea Egan-Romanelli, a landscape architect with Master Gardener certification from the University of Florida, is an enthusiastic proponent of the Food Forest’s mission to build community and educate the public about food security and sustainability. She began a project called “Growing Greener” in 2011 with the goal of making Gulfport one percent greener, planting trees and teaching about edible landscaping.
The idea for the Gulfport Food Forest began about four months ago, with great support from the city of Gulfport. City officials wrote letters of support for Egan-Romanelli’s application for a Tampa Bay mini-grant to help fund the project.
“A food forest is an edible ecosystem. It begins with us as individuals learning to take care of our open spaces,” she said. “The project is about sharing, community building and working together to provide food and habitat. With so much foot traffic in Gulfport, it would be an added attraction to be able to take a walking tour of native fruit trees and plants.”
In 2013, trees were planted in Clymer Park, at the Gulfport Senior Center, the Gulfport Library, Scout Hall, Veterans Park, the Gulfport fire station and the entryway to downtown Gulfport, with the goal of expanding locations to include city churches and schools. In Clymer Park particularly, a framework is in place for creating a bio-rich, multi-purposed leisure/recreational corridor with works of art and open space for play and events.
The immediate goals of the project are: placing identifying signage on all trees planted by the Food Forest, a walking map of locations available on the city website, a pamphlet educating the public on the care and maintenance of Gulfport fruit trees and an information kiosk at Clymer Park. Events are planned for Arbor Day on January 16 and the MLK Day of Service on January 17. A vendor booth at the Tuesday Fresh Market is also in the works.
When asked how the public could help further the Gulfport Food Forest’s goals, Egan-Romanelli said, “One of the ways they can help is by contacting me to find out how to sponsor a tree.”