As a 19-year-old environmental studies student, Kim Rockman was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. For two years, she had been thinking about sustainability and the effect she had on the planet. She saw a connection between her diagnosis and her passion.

“When I got sick, it kind of led me down the continued path of, ‘OK, something’s wrong with my body, but how does that connect with things that are going on in the environment?’ ” she said.

Rockman is now the executive director of Project Food Forest, an organization that works to “empower people through agroforestry, design, and education,” according to the mission statement on its website, projectfoodforest.org.

But what exactly is a food forest? How does it work? A food forest uses edible plants, fruits and vegetables that are planted in a way that mimics the ecosystem. It’s designed so that the food forest returns each year. Therefore, it becomes a diverse ecosystem that not only helps the community but also different species of animals.

Rockman became involved with Project Food Forest in 2017. In February 2020, she took over as executive director after managing the food forest Prairie Ally in Luverne, Minn., where she grew up.

During the pandemic, Project Food Forest has been affected by the loss of volunteers and group events that help maintain it. But Rockman said they’ve also seen lots of generosity. Project Food Forest partners with the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota, A Healthier Southwest and others.

“Growing food is a good thing — mind, body, spirit — and to approach it from a place of nurturing, and providing yourself and others with nutrient-dense food,” Rockman said.

During the pandemic, Project Food Forest has been helping people by connecting them with food forests, which eases concerns about food security. Rockman said one of the first steps you can take to begin food foresting for the greater good is turning your yard into a garden and then selling the food it produces at your local farmers market. She also suggests sharing the food with friends or family and preserving the food for winter.

One of the ways that Project Food Forest began was by seeing the potential of an empty lawn or lot, then turning it into a community food forest, Rockman said.

Rockman hopes to influence and encourage young people to take care of the environment through food foresting.

“When all of the youth recognize that power in themselves, that they are changemakers, that they are capable of living intentionally and learning, failing and being forgiven. That’s where it goes,” she said.