Two meetings are scheduled for February to discuss adding edible plants at Wetherby Park in Iowa City. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Two meetings are scheduled for February to discuss adding edible plants at Wetherby Park in Iowa City. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Iowa City is fortunate to have such a progressive-thinking group in Backyard Abundance. The nonprofit, led by director Fred Meyer, is looking into creating an edible forest with fruit trees and more in Wetherby Park.

The idea is for the orchard to serve as a gathering site for neighbors and to provide free nutritional food. Two meetings are scheduled for February for residents to offer suggestions.

Read on for more about the events and the edible forest from Backyard Abundance:

IOWA CITY- Area residents will soon have the opportunity to offer suggestions and input in creating an edible forest at Wetherby Park, and the chance to learn fundamentals of orchard design through a hands-on planning process. A large turnout is expected at the events.

Backyard Abundance will host a pair of Community Visioning meetings in preparation for the expansion of Wetherby Park’s existing Edible Forest Maze to a one third acre public orchard. The first of these meetings, to be held Sunday, February 2 at the Iowa City Public Library from 1-3 pm, will allow participants to learn what goes in to designing a successful forest garden and then survey opinion on plant selection for expansion of the Wetherby project.

A follow up meeting will be held, again at Iowa City Public Library, on Sunday, February 23 from 2-4 pm to reveal the final layout plans and offer explanation as to why decisions were made. Attendees of each meeting will receive vouchers good for a free plant from the Backyard Abundance online plant sale. Door prizes will also be awarded, and snacks provided by New Pioneer Coop. The sessions are free, and all interested community members are encouraged to attend.

Wetherby Park’s edible forest will provide Iowa City residents many long term benefits. The orchard will offer a gathering site for neighbors to join, socialize, and share in the growth of sustainable local foods. Herbs and produce grown here will benefit public health by presenting free nutritious options for people to supplement their grocery needs. Ecologically sound practices will be utilized to see that the project helps rehabilitate our local ecosystem and to mitigate the impacts of climate change associated with modern agricultural production. Permanent educational signs will also be installed to increase public awareness of how these crops grow, appear and taste.

“Of all the ways our organization helps people create environmentally-friendly landscapes, growing food is a personal favorite,” said Fred Meyer, Director of Backyard Abundance. “We are excited to be part of this progressive project that will have positive impacts on Iowa City’s people and ecology for many years to come.”

Funding for this project comes from a $23,000 Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Specialty Crop Block Grant recently awarded to Backyard Abundance and Iowa City Parks and Recreation. The grant aims to help people learn to grow high-value orchard crops and enhance the competitiveness of these crops in Iowa. The program is meant to encourage growers to diversify their operations and to provide residents with locally grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

After the Wetherby Park plans are established, follow-up classes and volunteer events will enhance existing plantings, expand the area, and put educational signs and plant labels in place.

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Iowa City Parks and Recreation oversees the development and maintenance of all Iowa City parks and administers park-related programs.

Backyard Abundance is an Iowa City-based nonprofit that helps build vibrant communities by creating beautiful, resilient landscapes that provide healthy food and habitat.