Project Food Forest Grows the Food It Provides

Project Food Forest
Prairie Ally Outdoor Center, a Project Food Forest host site in Luverne, MN. (Diana Hensley)

Kimberly Rockman encourages everyone to participate in a food forestry initiative: “When (people) recognize that power within themselves, that they are changemakers, that they are capable of living intentionally and learning and failing and being forgiven, that’s it. That’s where it goes.”  

Rockman, president and executive director of Project Food Forest, said food forestry takes an unconventional approach to cultivation. The organization was launched in 2016 in the southwestern Minnesota town of Luverne and serves neighboring communities throughout Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa.

“We focus primarily on perennial plants, which just means they come back year after year,” Rockman said. According to Project Food Forest’s website, “a food forest …  is a diverse planting of edible plants that attempts to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature.” 

The cultivation done by the organization parallels the many layers of a rainforest, according to Rockman. This type of plant harvesting can meet the needs of the community in ways you “don’t normally see with agriculture,” according to Rockman.  

Project Food Forest does much more than try to fulfill the nutritional needs of the community. Rockman said, “(It) offers a way to connect people … across sectors, across ages, across cultures.”

Rockman has had a passion for helping people since she was 17. When she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in her college days, it made her question how much of what she was dealing with could be attributed to her environment. Both of these things led her to Project Food Forest. 

“I really started to have an interest in sustainability and another recognition of my impact on the planet,” Rockman said. “(My illness) led me down the continued path of, ‘OK, something is wrong with my body, but how does that connect with things that are going on in the environment?’” 

Not only did she find herself committed to exploring her environment, she later realized the people around her were not necessarily gifted with the opportunity to do the same. 

Having grown up in a small town and moving into metro areas, she said she noticed a lot of people “didn’t necessarily have a connection to nature or know where their food came from.”

With her love for nature coupled with the resolve to bridge the gap between people and the environment, she knew Project Food Forest could turn her dreams into action — especially with the help of partnering organizations. 

A “beautiful opportunity” came into fruition with the help of the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. Its contribution allowed Project Food Forest to extend helping hands to other regions. 

Partnering organizations, such as Prairie Ally and A Healthier Southwest, work alongside the community to encompass the core values Rockman adheres to within Project Food Forest. 

“We’ve partnered with organizations that do a variety of things; it could be for social equity or health equity,” Rockman said. “They provide physical activity, nutrition from the food that’s grown there, mental health benefits of overall enhanced well-being.” 

Through Project Food Forest, willing volunteers and community members, Rockman can watch a fruitful harvest yield both edible landscapes, and a haven for all to come together in unity with each other and with nature.