Alaska Gardening

Urban Agriculture – An Edible Park in the City

Generally, I try not to get caught up in the latest fad, but … emerging in the gardening world is a popular activity worth getting excited about—edible landscaping and parks. More and more I’m hearing about churches, schools and businesses growing edible plants on their premises and homeowners replacing their lawns with garden beds. These concepts, also sometimes referred to as urban agriculture, are not exactly new in the gardening world, but they are being considered by folks who’ve never tried to grow their own fruits and vegetables before. Many people want to be more in control of the food they eat, and parents want children to understand where their food comes from. Thanks to a lot of great publicity, from our local newspapers to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, more people are being inspired to give gardening a try.

Seattle, Washington has an ambitious and well publicized edible forest project in progress on seven acres in the Beacon Hill area. The Beacon Food Forest plan is to get neighborhoods surrounding the park involved in maintaining a food source they all can harvest and eat. Other notable projects include the successful Gilman Boulevard Edible Landscape, created in 1985 in Issaquah, Washington, and George Washington Carver Edible Park, developed in 1997 on a junked lot in Asheville, North Carolina. While doing the research for this article, I found several groups across the country are starting similar projects in their communities. Many of these groups will have to fight city regulations and neighborhood covenants before they will be allowed to grow edible plants and trees on their land.

Some of you may be wishing you could be involved in developing our own edible park here in Alaska. You can! The group Grow Palmer, originated by Jan Newman, is into its second year of urban agriculture. She became inspired to start Grow Palmer after viewing a TED talk program about urban agriculture in Europe. She got started that same year thanks to a small grant from the Mat-Su Health Foundation. Support from the City of Palmer, the Palmer Museum of History and Art, local businesses and several volunteers helped Jan’s vision become a reality on a small but impactful scale in its first year. Last summer community members tended garden beds and large barrel planters throughout downtown Palmer, growing food free for anyone. Visitors to Palmer were provided with a map to the various businesses and other locations where they would find raised beds and planters with herbs, lettuces and other vegetables free to pick and enjoy. The main vision of Grow Palmer is to promote local food systems in our area. At the popular Palmer Friday Flings you will find an information board where volunteers post weekly updates of local food products available. Not just vegetables, but locally produced meat, milk, honey, eggs, and more.Click here to subscribe to Last Frontier Magazine!

This year Grow Palmer has the land and the funds to start an edible park. They’ve received a larger grant from the Mat-Su Health Foundation with a small matching grant from the Mat-Su Borough. The Salvation Army has provided 3,000 square feet of property behind its facility in downtown Palmer at the corner of Evergreen Avenue and Bailey Street. Sustainable Design Group (SDG) volunteered many hours to create a design for the project. Volunteers are working together now and will be continuing throughout the summer to make the Grow Palmer edible park a success. In addition to building the park, Grow Palmer volunteers and local business participants will continue to plant and maintain raised beds and planters throughout Palmer, as they did last summer. If you would like to join the fun and volunteer you can email growpalmer@gmail.com for more information.

Some might say we’ve had edible parks around for a while now. We do have a few botanical and showcase gardens in Alaska, and most towns have community gardens, but there is a difference. The concept of edible parks or urban agriculture is that the people who live or work in the area care for the gardens and anyone can harvest for free. In traditional community gardens a person or group agrees to tend a specific space in the garden and they choose who will enjoy the fruits of their labor. This new gardening concept of edible parks is great news for people who have been afraid to, or simply can’t, commit enough time and effort in their own yards. Are you a slope worker or away from home for weeks at a time? Edible parks are perfect for you. Yes, gardening can take a lot of time, but if many people share the load the work can be manageable.

I’m embracing this current gardening trend and turning a large portion of our lawn into an area of raised vegetable, berry and flower beds. My church, First Presbyterian Church of Wasilla, is constructing raised garden beds in the parking lot for growing food anyone in the community can help tend and harvest. Grow Palmer’s edible park and the Beacon Food Forest are not a fad, but parts of an enduring movement. These projects are propelling groups from all walks of life to spend time together, to learn from each other and to build stronger, healthier communities across our country and around the world.

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