HARWICH — The Food Forest Initiative of Cape Cod has found a way to protect a section of Eversource’s right of way off Bay Road from herbicide application, planting it with perennials that will provide fruit and nuts for passersby — both human and nonhuman — to enjoy.
The group, founded in 2015, has drawn members from several towns on the Cape and even a few from Plymouth. Among their projects is a sustainable garden at the Lighthouse Charter School in Harwich and at the Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary in Barnstable.
In 2020, Harwich resident and Food Forest Initiative member Patrick Otton suggested the group plant an area in Eversource’s right of way. “I live on the power lines and walk there daily with my dog,” Otton said. “I was thinking how satisfying it would be to see a line of apple trees.”
That was the start of a project that has resulted in a 100-by-600-foot “food forest” of hardy and essentially self-sustaining plants.
The Harwich Water Dept., along with the town’s water commissioners, embraced the initiative’s idea and suggested planting in an area the town owns adjacent to the primary protection zone of a municipal well.
Eversource is not allowed to apply herbicides in the well-protection zone. “The garden starts at the 400-foot buffer and works outward, so we were able to expand the protection area and push back the application of herbicides,” said Water Supt. Dan Pelletier. “It’s not a big lift for us, and it’s something that’s been beneficial.”
Work on the garden started in March 2020, with volunteers arriving with wheelbarrows, shovels, and branch loppers to get the site ready. Then planting began. The area now features American hazelnuts, beach plum, blueberry, and chokeberry bushes, as well as fig, dwarf apple, pear, and pawpaw trees, said Food Forest Initiative member Clara McLardy.
According to Otton, Eversource has been an enthusiastic partner. “Eversource paid for the plants and helped do the planting,” he said.
Pelletier arranged for the group to use a nearby fire hydrant as its water source to get the plantings established and hardy enough to make it through the dry season. McLardy said the watering would be needed for only a couple of years as the new plantings get established.
Now that the group has shown this is a viable alternative, McLardy said, “we would be happy to help any other group do it.”
Planted areas provide habitat for wildlife in addition to food. A pollinator garden has been planted at the entryway to the right of way off Bay Road.
“It’s a pretty simple solution for making Cape Cod a better place to live,” said Otton. “The public gets a garden and enjoys the benefit of sharing with nature, the Food Forest Initiative does the work, and Eversource doesn’t spray.”