Visit a forest of food at The Refuge Food Forest

Black and red blackberries ripen on stems in the grass
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You enjoy fresh fruit and now you want to grow your own. Starting a garden requires plants and some growing knowledge. The problem is, growing your own food is a long-term commitment that can be intimidating. University of Illinios Extension believes growing your own food should be a joy, not a burden. Join friends and neighbors at The Refuge Food Forest and let us help you grow your first harvest. 

A food system heavy with fresh fruit sits in North Normal. It is called a food forest because it contains trees and shrubs, just like a forest and most selections are food producing. A harvest from our community supported food forest includes apples, pears and berries but also seemingly exotic picks like pawpaw and currants. This Eden in Central Illinois may sound like fiction but University of Illinois Extension and Town of Normal have created it. 

In 2015, the University of Illinois Extension in Bloomington partnered with the Town of Normal and the Savannah Institute, an agroforestry & perennial agriculture non-profit, to create the space with the following goals: 

  1. Develop and maintain a site focused on food access available for all community members, dawn to dusk 

  1. Offer community education in an outdoor living classroom. Topics include mushroom cultivation strategies, growing fruit (perennial crop cultivation), and general land management.  

  1.  Offer a green space that encourages collaboration between community partners. 

If you are interested in a visit to The Refuge Food Forest but feel uncertain how to get involved, join a work and harvest day hosted by Nick Frillman, University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems and Small Farms Extension Educator. Partner organizations and community members alike can join in an afternoon of weeding, mulching, or trimming during monthly guided workdays. Don't be intimidated by a lifetime of weed challenges. Consider our motto: weed early, weed often. Then put it to practice, all season long, at The Refuge Food Forest.  

Let the temptation of old favorites or the adventure of new things guide you to The Refuge Food Forest, August 9 and 18. Join The Refuge Food Forest Facebook group to stay up to date on rain dates and cancellations. 

For full engagement, come equipped with a harvesting vessel, outdoor seasonal attire including a hat, sunscreen, water, and sturdy shoes. We provide gloves and work tools – you are welcome to bring along your favorites!  

PHOTO CREDIT: Ripening Blackberries by Nick Frillman, University of Illinois Extension

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Frillman is a Local Foods and Small Farms Educator serving Livingston, McLean & Woodford counties. A fourth-generation graduate from University of Illinois, Frillman has a B.A. with a double major of Political Science and Spanish and a M.S. in Crop Science with a focus on crop production. Before joining Illinois Extension, Frillman completed a field season of CSA and farmers’ market-style production at a small “beyond-organic” vegetable farm in Sandy, Oregon.

ABOUT THE EDITOR: Liz Repplinger is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Coordinator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. A Bloomington-Normal native, Liz earned a B. A. in Animal Science and an M.S. in Animal Science from Illinois State University. She has enjoyed contributing to the multiple facets of Extension including previous support of the 4-H Youth Development Program as a program coordinator and current support of Unit and Statewide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives.