Edible Garden to spark community interest


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Iowa City residents will soon be able to gather and learn how to grow their own perennial gardens — something officials said will hopefully spark an increase in “edible forests” in the community.
Backyard Abundance, a local company that provides environmental education, is beginning its inaugural step in the Edible Forest project.

Fred Meyer, the director of Backyard Abundance, said the project will hopefully improve environmental health and encourage people to become more proactive when it comes to growing gardens and orchards.

The first step is a nine-hour class on March 8, which Meyer said will teach “people how to design environmentally friendly, high yielding orchards of any size, from a backyard to an entire farm.”

The first of four classes will be centered on designing.

“We can go anywhere from a backyard landscape … up to a 10-acre farm,” Meyer said. “[This can help people] maximize the yield they can get out of it.”

Perennial farms that do not require replanting, he said, provide much more than just food benefits.

Melissa Sharapova, an ecological landscape designer and educator who will teach the first class, said these orchards can prevent soil erosion, improve water quality, keep pollutants out of the soil, and provide habitats for insects and birds.

“We’’re hoping people will change their perception of what growing perennial nuts and berries entails,” she said. “By choosing the right plants, and plants that are native to Iowa, people can avoid having to spray chemicals and do heavy management.”

The variety of options the area provides is what Tom Wahl, who is also teaching at the class and will be providing trees to the Edible Forest, said is the most important aspect to recognize.

“It is my hope that people will see this edible forest and come to realize their landscaping plants can serve multiple purposes … rather than just providing shade and aesthetic enjoyment,” he said.

Meyer said that although the first class is primarily for designing ideas, they will also brainstorm crops to grow, such as pears, plums, hazelnuts, and different kinds of shrubs.

“When people think of orchards, they usually think of … apple trees, but it’s a lot more than that,” he said.

Wahl said these kinds of projects are important because “many people need to physically see, touch, and taste an edible forest before they can be nudged into actually taking action to implement edible landscaping on their own property.”

Sharapova said they are hoping a variety of people will attend the class in order to reach a wider audience and encourage larger participation.

“We’re having people enroll that are city dwellers,” she said. “We’ll adapt the class to people who have small orchards in town or have fruit trees in town.”

Meyer said he hopes people will be inspired through this “outdoor classroom” to plant their own yards with perennials.

“The biggest take-away is an understanding that we can grow food and help the environment in the same space,” he said. “These spaces actually enhance our environment.”

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