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IC to plant maze of edible fruit, nut trees

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | SEPTEMBER 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Picnickers will need nothing but blankets when they descend upon Weatherby Park in three short years.

By that time, safe food will be readily grown on some of the park’s trees, available to be picked and eaten.

After receiving a $10,000 grant from the National Recreation and Parks Association, the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Division partnered with Backyard Abundance to build a perennial garden, the Edible Forest Maze, as well as three annual raised garden beds.

Coordinators are inviting community members to participate in the final planting day Sept. 18 at Weatherby Park.

The programs are put together to help educate Iowa City residents and raise awareness of the accessibility of locally grown food by presenting them with an opportunity to get their nutrition at Weatherby Park.

“I think that the main point of the whole thing is to create more value by helping people — especially children — learn where their food comes from,” said Fred Meyer, the executive director of Backyard Abundance. “And to create a more engaging and enjoyable experience from the parks, and that’s being accomplished through growing food.”

The Edible Forest Maze will include a variety of trees, shrubs, and plants that will bear organically grown herbs, fruits, and nuts. Anyone who attends Weatherby Park will be able to indulge in a wide array of foods, such as hazelnuts, apples, pears, cherries, plums, and berries.

The forest and the gardens are still growing.

“It was just implemented this spring, so it’s very, very young,” Meyer said. “The shrubs look like sticks, and the little plants just look like little plants. The third year is when it really starts taking some form.”

Execution of the project involved community members and their children, creating an educational program about ecology, botany, and nutrition.

Gabi MacKay, the Grow Your Park coordinator and ground leader, worked with children to teach them about growing their own food.

The Parks and Recreation Division teamed up with Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, having a group of 10 to 20 kids participate in garden-based activities relating to food, nature, and science education.

“These are kids from Neighborhood Centers who come from low-income families or diverse neighborhood, and they don’t necessarily have the easiest time,” MacKay said. “But the way they work together and want to weed and water and do very basic tasks was remarkable.”

Some coordinators said they feel the program is a significant and beneficial government service.

“What we’re hoping that people start understanding is that they can get food in a public space, and they will understand that enjoyment from public spaces can come from food,” Meyer said.

Hayley Noneman, an intern for the division, said the program also includes accommodations for those with disabilities.

The gardens are designed so that they give back to the land they’re planted on and they require little to no outside effort to maintain a healthy existence. They’re modeled after healthy ecosystems, Meyer said.

“Healthy ecosystems can take care of themselves just like healthy people,” he said.


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