The dollop of acorn gel with fermented sweet potato greens looked like sustenance from an episode of Survivor when a volunteer first offered it to me, plated on a single shiso leaf. It tasted like salted almond butter, albeit on an unconventional vessel—and served in an unconventional place.
I had just entered a “forest garden,” according to the wooden letters woven into the gate of a towering deer fence. Though I didn’t have to forage or grow the ingredients for what was billed that evening as a food forest feast, it was clear that someone had.
What looks from a distance like an overgrown field in an otherwise suburban enclave of Bowie, Maryland, is, in fact, a carefully managed young forest, teeming with enough food to feed the neighborhood. At least that’s what forest farmer Lincoln Smith aimed to prove when he invited Washington, D.C., chef Michael Costa to cook a several-coursed meal from the plants, trees—and duck eggs—found on these ten acres of fields and forests.
“When I started this four-and-a-half years ago, I wanted to eat from a healthy ecosystem, not from a farm that was doing somewhat less damage,” Smith said as he welcomed 50 guests to the outdoor dinner. “Tonight, we get a taste of what that could be.”
The Incredible, Edible Forest
On land he rents from a nearby church, Smith has replaced the corn and tobacco it’s grown for decades with nutrient-dense crops like amaranth and ground cherries, seeding them among native pawpaw, persimmon, and pear trees. Ducks roam the property, leaving behind fertilizer and eggs that help round out weekly shares from the farm for nearby residents.
In the mature forest that surrounds the field, an orchard has begun to fill in the sun-spotted understory. Logs sprout shitake and oyster mushrooms and ferns produce edible fiddleheads. That’s not to mention the oak trees that effortlessly produce buckets and buckets of acorns, which Smith transforms into flour and baked goods.