SHERIDAN — Sheridan’s Food Forest may have produced some fruit in its first year, but volunteers say there’s still a lot of work to be done to make the area inviting for both people and pollinators.

Food forests are designed to mimic a woodland ecosystem in structure, however, fruiting trees and bushes, perennial vegetables and herbs are substituted as the usual plantings. The Sheridan Food Forest got its start in 2016 and is open to the public with the produce the food forest provides made available for harvest.

In addition to increasing access to nutritious local food, providing habitat for beneficial insects and beautifying the community, the food forest will serve as an outdoor classroom where residents can learn about growing food and the importance of pollinators to food production.

Ted Lapis said one goal of the forest is to have flowers and plants attract native pollinators.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, nearly 90 percent of all plant species require the help of animals to transfer pollen, while others rely on wind or water. But the number of native pollinators has declined due to human activities, including the use of pesticides and insecticides. In 2016, seven species of bees native to Hawaii were the first species of bees to be given endangered status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Food Forest volunteers counted native pollinators (native bees, wasps, hornets, flies, butterflies and moths) and non-native pollinators (honey bees) in August 2016 and once a month from May to August 2017.

In August 2016 they counted two honey bees, 15 native bees, nine wasps and hornets and no flies, butterflies or moths. This year, those numbers rose due to an increase in plant varieties. In July 2017 the number of native bees jumped to 126, wasps and hornets to 37, flies to 48 and butterflies and moths to four. Honey bees also increased to 83.

While the numbers in August 2017 decreased for honey bees and native bees, to 51 and 46, respectively, it increased for all other native pollinators. 

 The Food Forest is looking for more volunteers who can identify species of bees. In the meantime, Lapis said they use apps like the WyoBio Mobile app, where he submits a photo of a species he wants identified and a person responds.

In its first year, volunteers have installed an automatic watering system and have conducted soil amendments to the Food Forest, as volunteer Edith Heyward said there was mostly sand soil when they started.

Heyward said the city of Sheridan has been helpful in supporting the Food Forest. This includes research-based spraying by the city’s weed and pest technician Chad Franklin, as opposed to a blanket-spraying approach.

Now, volunteers are dealing with issues of grass and cottonwood trees. While the trees are native, they’re not food producing, will shade other plants and could deprive other species of water.

The group also wants to improve its marketing and get more of the community involved.