Imagine a forest filled with edible plants, berries, hazelnuts, and maple trees, bordered by hiking trails. A place where you can learn to forage and harvest while enjoying a beautiful lake and natural wetlands.
Now imagine that the forest is located on the edge of Minneapolis.
This is what Ryan Seibold and Russ Henry are trying to create near Lake Hiawatha.
Parts of the nearby Hiawatha Golf Course have experienced flooding or water-soaked soil. This spurred the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board to explore options for rebuilding the course to make it more flood resistant.
Yet these plans were made more difficult by the discovery that the board was pumping more groundwater from the course – and into the already-polluted Lake Hiawatha – than allowed by the state. The city was left to decide whether to keep pumping or let the former wetland reclaim its territory.
Henry, a landscape designer who is running for a Park Board seat, says replacing the course with a food forest would turn a big problem into a big benefit.
The restored wetland would act as a natural filter, blocking major pollutants from storm water sewers and bringing back animals and plants displaced by the course, he says.
Put simply, a food forest is a woodland that uses native trees, shrubs, and plants that are both edible and medicinal. The city would plant everything from raspberries and blackberries to maple trees and hazelnut trees, as well as shoreline plants like katniss (also known as duck potato) and medicinal herbs like echinacea.
Intended to be low-maintenance and self-maintaining once established, the plants are designed to not only build soil but to attract pollinators. (Plants like milkweed are especially beneficial for bees and monarch butterflies.)
According to Seibold, the plants would be available for people to forage and harvest as needed. The idea is to teach people to understand the connection between plants and animals, as well as learn when to harvest sustainably.
“You’re growing the food, but you’re also growing the community around the food,” Seibold says.
There would have to be some sort of foraging training to ensure the plants are available for everyone, Henry adds.
When he got his first job in a nursery 20 years ago, Henry says plants were just green things he couldn’t begin to tell apart. Since then, nature has opened up to him, and he would love for the kids of Minneapolis to have the same opportunity.
By learning more about what they’re able to take from nature, Henry says that people might feel more empowered to grow food in their own yards, to embrace nature and sustainable development, and to encourage friends and neighbors to do the same.
Seibold and Henry say they’ve been getting positive feedback. But the park board doesn't seem particularly interested. All 18 holes of the golf course will open as planned this spring, says spokeswoman Dawn Sommers. And a master plan developed in 2015 makes no room for a food forest.
Either way, the men will continue their work.
Seibold is working with the board to establish a fruit and nut tree orchard on the east side of the lake, and Henry is helping to coordinate a food innovation lab on March 16 in the Food Building in northeast Minneapolis. The event will showcase ideas for ensuring better soil and water quality, as well as new harvesting techniques and agro projects.
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