Backyard Abundance photo, courtesy of Meier Photography.

Backyard Abundance photo, courtesy of Meier Photography.

If you’ve thought about growing fruit and nut trees, berries, mushrooms and more, a new series of classes can help you get started.

Iowa City-based Backyard Abundance is hosting the series of four classes, beginning March 8, 2014. Preregistration is required and class size is limited.

Backyard Abundance recently gathered input on features and design for an edible forest at Wetherby Park in Iowa City. Some of the results from those sessions are at the end and here is more from Backyard Abundance director, Fred Meyer, about the upcoming class series:

IOWA CITY- Individuals interested in learning about the profit potential and skills necessary for successful orchard management will want to make note of an upcoming instructional series.

Backyard Abundance hosts an inaugural agroforestry class, entitled “Orchard Design and Plant Selection,” on Saturday, March 8 from 8-5 at the Johnson County Extension Building. This course teaches participants step-by-step methods for transforming a landscape of any size into a high-yielding orchard of fruits, nuts, berries, perennial vegetables, medicinal herbs and mushrooms. Heavy emphasis will be placed on emulating nature’s low-maintenance principles to unlock a property’s full economic and ecologic potential. Cost is $45 for the full day of instruction, handouts, door prizes and snacks.

This will be the initial session in a four part series to be conducted over the next two years. In cooperation with Iowa City Parks and Recreation, follow-up classes will include hands-on training in site preparation and water management at the Wetherby Park Edible Forest, a tour of a working agroforestry operation at Red Fern Farm near Wapello, and lessons on implementation and long-term management. The focus of these courses will be to guide participants in incorporating agroforestry principles, which create systems that emulate nature for low maintenance, ecologically friendly food production.

Cultivation of many high value plant species will be discussed in-depth through this instruction, including chestnut, hazelnut, pawpaw, apple, elderberry, blackberry, ginseng, goldenseal, and shitake mushroom. A variety of techniques will be covered, such as edible windbreaks, growing food in a streamside buffer, and growing medicinals under the shady canopy of a forest. While individuals are welcome to attend any number of these classes, those who participate in all four will be awarded a Certificate in Edible Agroforestry.

“Orchard crops have tremendous upside; both economic and environmental,” said Backyard Abundance Director Fred Meyer. “These classes are great for folks who want to engage in hands-on learning through the entire process, from design to planting to maintenance. Anyone can benefit, be it a farmer who is looking to diversify from traditional row crop practice or an urban resident who has always dreamed of planting an orchard in their backyard. If someone has an interest in growing fruits, nuts, berries or mushrooms, we’d love to show them how to get started and teach them the skills to enjoy success.”

While admission is $45 for the March 8 class, there is a discounted rate of $95 for those who enroll in the entire four part series, which totals twenty four hours of instruction. As the only nonprofit to teach these skills in Iowa, Backyard Abundance strives to keep tuition low in order to encourage residents to take advantage of this unique learning opportunity. Pre-registration is required, and can be completed online at or by mailing a check to Backyard Abundance, P.O. Box 1605, Iowa City, Iowa 52244. Interested parties are encouraged to register soon, as space is limited.

The High-Value Orchard Crop series is supported by 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. Funding from this grant is also being used for development of an edible forest at Wetherby Park, and classes will assist in site development and planting.

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Preliminary design of Wetherby Park Food Forest/Backyard Abundance

Preliminary design of Wetherby Park Food Forest/Backyard Abundance

Fred Meyer also provided the following information about plans for the edible forest at Wetherby Park and the preliminary design. Below are items that were rated very highly in the visioning sessions:

Top Plants

1.       Strawberry (very high)

2.       Raspberry (very high)

3.       Persimmon tree

4.       Asparagus

5.       Pawpaw tree

6.       Pear tree

7.       Peach tree

8.       Blackberry

9.       Rhubarb

10.   Mushrooms

11.   Prairie milkweed

12.   Sunflower

13.   Cherry

14.   Blueberry

15.   Kale

16.   Tomato

17.   Butterfly weed

18.   Basil

19.   Calendula

20.   Plum

21.   Arugula

22.   Apple tree

Top Events and Classes

1.       Work / harvest parties (very high)

2.       Campfire for cooking (very high)

3.       Potlucks

4.       Music

5.       Star gazing parties

6.       Herb recipe parties

7.       Scavenger hunts

8.       4H and Scout activities / badges

9.       Monthly “open house”

10.   Nature games

11.   Food tasting

12.   Building activities

Top Features

1.       Signs to identify and describe plants (very high)

2.       Demonstration / presentation space (very high)

3.       Seating / picnic area (very high)

4.       Tool shed

5.       Composting areas

6.       Message board: harvest times, needed maintenance, event times

7.       Bat house

8.       Bird house

9.       Outdoor kitchen for washing and drinking

10.   Entryway arch

11.   Map of the entire area

12.   Water catchment

13.   Nature art area for children

14.   Bike repair stand

15.   Shelter


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

Red Fern Farm is a family owned nursery and farm run near Wapello, Iowa. It is the site of ongoing research on a variety of tree crops and forest farming systems.

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