Winslow Food Forest solar panels

Edible Paradise: Winslow Food Forest

I met Winslow Food Forest founders Melissa and Teague Cullen at our annual potluck and became intrigued when they said they were farming in a very different way, and indeed they do. They agreed to share their story of what sounds like a veritable eden. I also discovered Teague was the talent behind the adorable illustrations on their business card. —Jane Pellicciotto

SF: You call your farm a food forest. What does that mean?

Winslow Food Forest illustrationA food forest is an edible garden designed to act like a forest ecosystem. Imagine wandering through a flourishing forest where nearly every plant is edible.

Overhead you see fruit and nut trees, plums, pears, apples, walnuts and almonds. Below, hazelnut shrubs and berry bushes sprawl between the trees, yielding blueberries, currants, goji and cornelian cherries. Scattered throughout the landscape are wildflowers, edible native plants, herbs, and vegetables. You can use vertical space by vining kiwis and jasmine. Even the cool forest floor is blanketed with vegetation such as chamomile, nasturtiums and mushrooms.

A food forest embraces biodiversity, with each organism playing a role. Food forests are designed to function as a closed-loop ecosystem with each element of the system supporting the whole. The complexity of relationships happening in a food forest results in a resilient ecosystem which largely self-maintains by:

  • producing food, fiber, medicine, materials, fodder
  • building soil and accumulating nutrients
  • self-fertilizing, self-mulching, self-balancing
  • sequestering carbon, offsetting climate change
  • providing habitat for all living organisms, including pollinators and beneficial insects

When did you create your edible paradise?

Melissa and Teague CullenSince we broke ground only a year ago, Winslow Food Forest is quite young in terms of food forests. A young food forest produces more annual veggies and, as it matures, it transitions to primarily perennial crops. Once established, food forests have the potential to last for many generations. Food forests are likely the worlds oldest form of gardening, as established ones can thrive indefinitely with human guidance.

Can you put how you farm into the context of farming as most of us know it?

There are many reasons to be concerned about the long-term sustainability of conventional agricultural systems. In fact, we now recognize conventional agricultural practices to be a major contributor towards climate change, environmental destruction and desertification. Food forests are living perennial proof that industrial agriculture is not the only way to feed the world.

Conventional farms are often planted as a monoculture, which is the cultivation of a single crop. When monocultures are planted on a large scale, the result is the removal of entire ecosystems. Top soil is lost through tilling, and water systems are polluted through the use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. This unnatural imposition on the land results in fragile landscapes that depend upon a staggering amount of inputs in order to operate. The end result is land that is all used up, depleted, and deserted.

On the other end of the spectrum lies a food forest, which is by nature a polyculture, meaning a diverse mix of plants. While organic farms have taken enormous strides in healing our food system, many organic farms are still based in annual vegetable crops, halting the succession of the forest ecosystem at ground level.

Do you have specific goals moving forward?

Yes, our plan is to develop a multi-story perennial system of food production, taking things a step beyond sustainable. We are powered by solar panels, well and rain water, and we plant and harvest by hand. We interrupt several local waste streams by taking in cardboard, wood chips and yard debris to cycle into our natural system.

Tell us a little about yourselves? How did you come to farming?

This is an emerging grassroots project started by 3 people, Teague and Melissa Cullen, along with Teague’s cousin Nick Eymann. We were all involved elsewhere prior to starting Winslow Food Forest.

I have a background in psychology and social work, while Teague has a background in music and audio engineering. Nick has a culinary background. Growing up, Teague spent a lot of time at Nick’s family Cactus Nursery in Phoenix, Arizona. Similarly, I grew up visiting my great grandma’s farm in Illinois. These early experiences had an impact on us all.

Teague had the idea of starting a Plant Start CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and in 2013, with the help of a small business grant from Mercy Corp NW, we grew and delivered edible seedlings to the doorsteps of Portland gardeners.

We ended up in Boring, Oregon, because a woman named Paulette Spencer heard about us. Paulette was intrigued and offered us the opportunity to expand our project on her land in Boring. We gladly accepted and moved into a log cabin apartment on her land in late 2013. This move coincided with the completion of our Permaculture Design Course with Toby Hemenway.

As certified Permaculture Design Consultants, we began planting Winslow Food Forest in late 2013 and have nearly two acres planted. We have eight acres here, and will continue to establish more food forest!

What does your farm offer?

Melissa Cullen holding seedlingWe have both a farm stand and CSA shares.

Harvest Share: Enjoy a weekly box of seasonal heirloom veggies, greens, herbs and eggs from our heritage hens. Berries, flowers and orchard fruit will also be included throughout the season.

Seedling Subscription: Organically grown veggie seedlings for your garden, delivered monthly at the ideal outdoor planting times.

Farm Stand:
Open April through October, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am–5:00 pm.
We accept SNAP on site.

We’re located at the end of the scenic Springwater trail at 12525 SE 272nd Ave, Boring OR, 97009

Thanks for sharing