Food forest, gardens will launch soon

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Teens work at a market garden on St. Paul’s East Side run by Urban Roots, a nonprofit that’s consulting with the city of Burnsville on its Grow Burnsville program.

Nutrition and food equity are goals 

Burnsville’s municipal campus along Civic Center Parkway includes City Hall, a police station, an ice arena, a skateboard park, a maintenance garage and park amenities.

The city is adding two untraditional elements, both providing healthy food to the community.

A May 10 groundbreaking is planned for a publicly pluckable food forest across from the police station, near The Garage all-ages music venue.

At the other end of the campus, the city is planting a market garden where young paid interns will learn lessons in urban agriculture. Located across from the Burnsville Ice Center, the garden is expected to begin operations in June, providing food to community organizations.

An underused outdoor skating rink is being removed to make way for the garden and an organics recycling site. The city will also install a third community garden for resident use, in Crosstown East Park at Burnsville Parkway and Portland Avenue.

It’s all part of Grow Burnsville, an effort funded by a $125,000 grant from the U.S. Conference of Mayors to, as the city puts it, meet “the rising challenge of food inequity in our community.”

One of nine U.S. cities funded through the grant program, which also seeks to prevent childhood obesity, Burnsville has enlisted the help of Urban Roots, a youth-development nonprofit on St. Paul’s East Side.

The 52-year-old organization employs diverse youth at its six East Side garden sites, which produce about 15,000 pounds of food annually. Urban Roots also has programs in conservation and cooking with locally grown produce.

“Our vision is that all members of the community have access to healthy food in nature,” said Hayley Ball, Urban Roots executive director.

Burnsville contracted with Urban Roots to consult on all facets of Grow Burnsville, including chef-led cooking demonstration events that will be held this summer, Ball said.

The city is hiring a part-time market garden manager who will hire five part-time interns, said environmental specialist Sue Bast, who leads Burnsville’s sustainability and recycling efforts.

Produce from the 90-by-165-foot garden will be distributed in the community — possibly through food shelves, farmers markets or school backpack programs for needy students, she said.

“The program in Burnsville, which is in its very baby steps, is about teaching youth where their food comes from and stewardship in the community,” Ball said. “Those youth are going to be learning about growing practices in urban agriculture.”

Urban Roots will work with the city on a crop plan for the garden, she said, noting that the organization’s own gardens grow culturally relevant foods for the diverse East Side population.

“We want to grow food that people are going to eat,” Ball said.

The food forest will be a unique addition to the area. Ball said she’s not aware of another in the Twin Cities.

“I think it’s a really great project the city’s embarking on, and I think it’s going to bring a lot of valuable green space to the citizens in Burnsville and surrounding communities who are interested in visiting it,” she said.

Offerings will include apple trees, wild raspberries, nannyberries, blueberries, common elderberries, serviceberries, wild plums and butternut trees, Bast said.

“We will have to be patient,” she said. “It might be a couple years before there’s going to be apples on the apple tree.”

“That’s the thing about a food forest,” Ball said. “It might not look impressive its first couple years, but there are definitely things worth waiting for in an edible landscape.”

People might want to bring a basket to the garden and pick enough apples to make applesauce, Bast said.

“I think we want it to be used,” she said.

But overharvesting should be discouraged, Ball said.

“We have encouraged the city to have some educational signage about foraging and what an edible landscape looks like and how to keep it healthy and have education around it, so it’s there for folks to enjoy for years to come,” she said.

Information about Grow Burnsville is on the city website, burnsvillemn.gov.

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