What’s being called a “food forest” is in the works at a public park in Iowa City to grow edible plants for public use, such as fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs and asparagus. Fred Meyer, executive director of the non-profit group Backyard Abundance, says the project will cover a third of an acre, expanding on a smaller garden that was planted in 2011.
Meyer says, “We not only grow food, it is designed to emulate a healthy woodland ecosystem, so it’s perennial-based.” The aim, he says, is to educate residents about edible plants and establish a venue to grow local food in a shared area that’s open to everyone.
It may take a little time for people to get used to it. Meyer says, “Especially say harvest food or pull weeds, it doesn’t feel like a natural thing to us because we’re used to everybody owning their own space.” The project is funded by a $23,000 federal block grant for specialty crops.
Some plants will grow quickly, but others — like the fruit trees — will take years to mature and become self-sustaining.
He says, “Eventually we’ll be harvesting apples and pears and underneath that, we’ll be harvesting gooseberries.” This particular variation of a community garden is rare on public lands in Iowa.
A smaller food forest project in Cedar Rapids was planted in 2012, adjacent to an urban farm project by a local nonprofit group called Matthew 25.