Food forests are springing up all over Canterbury.

Four years after the Kaiapoi Food Forest was established as one of the first regeneration projects, 13 food forests between Hanmer Springs and Ashburton are now in various stages of planning or establishment, Kaiapoi Food Forest Trust chairperson Brent Cairns says.

Mr Cairns says with minimal effort and relatively low cost, schools and community organisations can establish their own food forests.

“After four years in our food forest, like any garden it is getting to a level of maturity and the growth we are getting is extraordinary.”

The food forest has perennials rather than annual planting, with plants established in eight layers.

The success of the food forest has led to Mr Cairns working with community organisations and schools to establish new food forests.

Kaiapoi North School teacher Janine Rust visited the food forest in February last year to see how her pupils could get involved.

Fruit trees were secured from the Canterbury Horticultural Society and Mr Cairns helped the school come up with a plan.

“A food forest for a school needs to be a bit different because the kids go on holiday for two months when most of the food becomes ready,” Mr Cairns says.

“So we’ve designed it so plants mature before they go on holiday and then you have other plants which mature two months later.”

Ms Rust says the food forest “has been an amazing outside classroom experience”.

“Our tamariki are gaining an understanding about where their food comes from and getting excited about growing their own food at home.”

The pupils get to enjoy the fruits of their labour, enjoying fresh tomato on crackers and pumpkin soup, she says.

Since the Kaiapoi North School food forest was established, Mr Cairns has been working with a community group in Hanmer Springs to get a food forest established in Tarndale Park.

Other North Canterbury food forests which have planting under way are at Amberley School, Tuahiwi Preschool, Southbrook School and St Patrick’s School in Kaiapoi.

Mr Cairns is also working with local residents in Oxford, while he has been approached by Pegasus residents and conversations have begun in other communities.

He estimates it costs $183.50 to set-up a guild of up to eight layers of plants.

A guild typically begins with “a fruit salad tree” (a tree with up to 11 fruit varieties grafted on to it), a citrus tree, bushes, berries, herbs, ground cover and grape vines.

Once established, a guild can produce more than enough to feed a family.

Costs can be reduced if plants are donated or seedlings are used to establish more guilds in an expanding food forest.

For the first few years mulch and cardboard are needed, but once a guild matures it will produce its own mulch.

The Kaiapoi Food Forest has more than 120 guilds.