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Monday, November 13, 2023

Food Forest: a perfect Montessori school classroom

 After over a year of planning, 7th- and 8th-grade students at NewGate Montessori (NGM) planted a food forest on October 11, 2023 under the guidance of Zach Zildjian of ZZ Design Services. Due to limited space on the five-acre campus located in Lakewood Ranch, the food forest footprint is long and narrow along the parking lot. 

NewGate food forest planting day
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Secondary school guide Gillett Cole, who oversees 7th- and 8th-grade students, was inspired by the SURF - Suncoast Urban Reforestors - Colony Cove Microforest installation in June 2022. Gillett and a fellow school instructor participated in the microforest planting day where he met Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder & CEO Holly Elmore. The Holly Elmore Images (HEI) Colony Cove Microforest album gives a pictorial recount of the microforest-planting day.

Subsequently, Holly, Zach, Gillett, and fellow NGM staff met to strategize on a meaningful and profound educational experience for the students. During the meeting, the microforest concept evolved into a food forest; the fruit harvest expanded the education with culinary and commerce opportunities.

The Regeneration in ACTION (RiA) article, Urban Afforestation: Food Forests and Microforests, educates on the underlying premises of food forests and presents numerous global examples.

Montessori Schools
As described on the American Montessori Society site:

Montessori is an education philosophy and practice that fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth for children and adolescents in all areas of their development, with a goal of nurturing each child’s natural desire for knowledge, understanding, and respect.

Montessori classrooms are ideal workplaces, where children are engaged, energetic, exploring, social, and most of all, learning to take ownership of their own education. They’re also unified communities in which each child understands the responsibility of being an individual student in the class while supporting the learning of others.

Entrance to the NewGate campus
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
At NGM, classrooms are designed to stimulate children’s independence and intellectual development. Rather than present or lecture students, NGM teachers are akin to facilitators, mentors, and coaches and often guide students in small groups. 

Classrooms are vibrant, fluid, and support independent learning at a student's own pace.

Sustainable environment creation as well as commerce and economic viability are integrated within the educational platform. Planning, designing, and planting a food forest aligns perfectly with the Montessori core values.

Student Participation
After he explained the basic premise of food forests, Zach walked the campus with the students to determine the options available for the forest. The students selected an easily accessible site next to the parking lot and close to and within existing campus landscaping.

Under Zach's tutelage, students measured the site and computed the number of trees, shrubs, and ground cover plants required; the students researched of potential plant species and with Zach's guidance devised the plant list. Though many of the fruit-producing trees are not native species, the ground cover plants selected were native to Florida.

Zach demonstrates
tree-planting protocol

Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
On planting day, Zach educated on the intricacies of placing and planting the trees, shrubs, and ground cover; the students placed the plants within food forest best practices. After Zach demonstrated how to dig and hydrate the holes for the plants, the students used the provided shovels to complete the planting process.

Gillett and his fellow teacher worked alongside the students until the food forest was completely planted.

The students are responsible for nurturing and maintaining the food forest as it matures. With an on-campus kitchen, fruits harvested from the forest may be made into jams, marmalades, and other products available for sale.

In the spring, two to three students will prepare a professional PPT presentation along with a possible video for a speaking engagement at a Rotary Club of Sarasota Bay luncheon meeting. Holly is a club member and will schedule the presentation

The HEI album, NewGate Food Forest Planting Day, chronicles the October 11 planting day.

Food forests, organic gardens, and native-plant landscapes provide excellent outdoor classrooms that align perfectly with Montessori educational principles.


Tax-deductible donations in any amount are greatly appreciated to support Ei's important work. 


About Elemental Impact:
Elemental Impact (Ei) is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2010 as the home to the Zero Waste Zones, the forerunner in the nation for the commercial collection of food waste for compost. In June 2017, Ei announced the Era of Recycling Refinement was Mission Accomplished and entered the Era of Regeneration. Current focus areas include Nature PrevailsSoil Health | Regenerative Agriculture, and Water Use | Toxicity.

The Regeneration in ACTION Magazine articles, From Organic Certification to Regenerative Agriculture to Rewilding Landscapes: an evolution towards soil integrity and SOIL & WATER: the foundation of life, published to explain and substantiate the importance of Ei’s rewilding urban landscapes work within the Nature Prevails focus area.

The Holly Elmore Images Rewilding Urban Landscapes-album folder documents two active pilots: the Native-Plant Landscape Pilot and the Backyard Permaculture-Oriented Pilot.

To work with industry leaders to create best regenerative operating practices where the entire value-chain benefits, including corporate bottom lines, communities, and the environment. Through education and collaboration, establish best practices as standard practices.

Ei’s tagline – Regeneration in ACTION – is the foundation for Ei endeavors.

The following mantra is at the core of Ei work:

Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

For additional information, contact Holly Elmore at 404-510-9336 |

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