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Apples and blueberries for all: Edible landscaping debuts in Fairview Park

Apple trees, including this yellow transparent variety, adjust to their new home on Thursday, May 25, 2017, at Fairview Park. A recent fix-it event added apple trees, blueberry and currant bushes to the site along with a garden plot with raspberry bushes, strawberry plants and rhubarb. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

A small urban park in Fairview has a new garden and once the plants are grown, the city wants you to pick them.

Fairview Park, tucked into the urban core of the neighborhood it's named after, is undergoing a revitalization that includes replacing tennis courts, adding art and developing a small garden plot and fruit trees described as "edible landscaping" by park planners.

The small garden was planted Saturday and includes several rows of strawberry, rhubarb and blueberry plants. Raspberry and currant bushes line the edges of the plot and a half-dozen apple trees are planted inside the park.

And unlike most gardens around the city, these plants are meant for the community to harvest.

While none of the plants will be ready to be picked this year, the plants should produce fruit next year, according to Laura Vachula, communications manager for the Anchorage Park Foundation.

The foundation awarded a $20,000 challenge grant to the Anchorage Community Land Trust and Fairview Community Council to make improvements to the park. The park also received VISTA volunteer support from Cities of Service and fruit tree donations from the Alaska Division of Forestry.

There are a few small examples of edible landscaping around the city — including apple trees at the Fairview Recreation Center and some edible food in planters around City Hall — but placing the plot in the Fairview Park was intentional, Vachula said. The area is filled with apartment complexes and high-density housing. Many residents don't have space to have their own gardens.

"This is their opportunity for backyard gardening," Vachula said.

Part of the reason behind the plot is to increase people's awareness of food security. With only a few perennial plants, the plot isn't going to feed the neighborhood, Vachula said, but it will get people thinking it's possible to grow food.

Raspberries soak up sunshine adjacent to a picnic shelter on Thursday, May 25, 2017, at Fairview Park. A recent fix-it event added apple trees, blueberry and currant bushes to the site along with a garden plot with raspberry bushes, strawberry plants and rhubarb. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

"It's just the idea that 'I'm able to go to the park and get an apple and see where things are coming from,' " Vachula said.

Catherine Kemp, an Americorps VISTA volunteer with the mayor's office, said edible landscaping was first suggested by a Fairview community member as they began work on the park's master plan.

The plants were selected for their heartiness in the Anchorage climate and for needing low maintenance. A thornless raspberry plant was obtained from a Fairview neighbor.

The idea is modeled after a similar effort by Grow Palmer, a volunteer project that has been setting up edible landscaping in the town's city center since 2013.

The edible landscaping there includes a plot near the Palmer Train Depot and planters lining the city's rail trail. Everything in the planters, from greens to flowers, is all edible. Signs with the "Grow Palmer" logo encourage people to pick the food for their own personal use.

There are no signs at Fairview Park, but Kemp said they hope to have some up in the near future. Edible landscaping is also set to be a part of the Muldoon Town Square Park once phase two of the project begins next year.

Kemp said given the park is a well-used area, there is concern over people possibly tampering with the plants. But she, and others, decided that was not enough of a reason to not move forward with the edible landscaping. Volunteers who live in the community helped plant them and will help with weeding and care of the plot. She hopes that sense of ownership keeps others from harming the plot.

This edible garden plot now hosts raspberry, strawberry and rhubarb plants on Thursday, May 25, 2017, at Fairview Park. A recent fix-it event added apple trees, blueberry and currant bushes to the site along with a garden plot with raspberry bushes, strawberry plants and rhubarb. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

"I think just having more eyes on it, having people invested, I think that takes steps toward reducing that risk or messing with (the plants)," Kemp said.

Kemp said education will also be a part of the plot, with a container gardening workshop set to be hosted in the park Saturday and plans to involve Fairview Elementary School students in maintaining the plot once school resumes in the fall.

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