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Seeds for Edmund Edible Alley germinating in Hamline Midway

Posted on 14 January 2016 by Calvin

NCFA’s alley garden will be a place neighborhood residents can forage for berries, plums and more

Photos submitted

IMAG0131It may be cold outside, but the seeds for the Edible Edmund Alley are germinating.
The Edible Edmund Alley along Edmund near the intersection of University and Snelling will be a mini-forest garden.

Set in this high-traffic area of St. Paul, the garden will provide a source of free fruit to hundreds of food insecure people living in the neighborhood.

“The Edible Edmund Alley is the perfect synthesis of our garden and foraging programs. It will provide a resource that will demonstrate how to build and maintain a forest garden, teach how to identify and harvest wild foods, and grant free fruits to low-income people,” said North County Food Alliance (NCFA) foraging coordinator Maria Wesserle.

Founded in 2013, NCFA is a non-profit organization based in the Twin Cities that seeks to increase access to food and share food with people in need. Increasing access is accomplished through weekly foodshares, wild food foraging workshops, community gardening, and community meals.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are vital to a healthy diet,” pointed out Wesserle.

“Unfortunately, a diet rich in fresh produce is more expensive than one high in processed foods, making it cost-prohibitive for many people. Fresh foods (which spoil easily) are also more difficult for food shelves and soup kitchens to carry.

“This is why North Country Food Alliance focuses on providing fresh produce to low-income communities.”

IMAG0672Berries and plums
NCFA has rescued tens of thousands of pounds of overstock food from farms, grocery stores, and distributors and donated it to people in need.

NCFA also builds gardens in urban areas in the Twin Cities. According to Wesserle, the produce from these gardens is donated to organizations that serve low-income people, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food shelves. There are currently gardens in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Richfield.

“So far, these gardens have grown only annual vegetables – things like kale, tomatoes, and beets. However, since the start of the program we have been looking for plots that would be available for long-term projects so that we could grow perennials such as fruit trees,” said Wesserle.

In the winter of last year, a community member (who wishes to remain anonymous) approached NCFA about building a mini-forest garden on a piece of property owned by her and her husband. “After visiting the parcel and meeting with the community member, we at NCFA decided it would be a great project to invest in,” stated Wesserle.

NCFA began fundraising last fall and raised $850 for the project. The organization also hopes to receive a $400 grant from SeedMoney.

The newest garden will be located on 800-square-feet bordering an alley. Before planting commences this spring, unwanted trees such as Siberian elms need to be removed. Once that is complete, workers will amend the soil and plant seedlings.

“We plan on planting native fruit trees and shrubs such as juneberries, wild plums, and aronia berries,” said Wesserle.

Neighborhood benefits
This garden will serve the needs of the community in several ways.

NCFA will provide free educational opportunities for residents to get involved in the process of planting and maintaining fruit trees and perennials.

Donation-based foraging workshops will be offered that explain how to identify, harvest, and prepare wild foods.

The garden creates a location where passersby will be free to pick the edibles.

Plus, fruits will be donated to the Keystone Community Food Shelf based in the neighborhood.

“NCFA makes nearly all of its money from door-to-door canvassing. This is an effective way to let people know what’s happening in the area, and to recruit volunteers,” observed Wesserle. NCFA informs people about activities through social media, email lists, and flyers.

Benefits of foraging
IMAG2892Wesserle doesn’t know of any other foraging forests based in alleyways but pointed out there are several public edible forest gardens throughout the U.S., specifically one in Seattle, WA and one in Asheville, NC. There is also a permaculture plot at the Tiny Diner Farm in south Minneapolis that is privately run for the Tiny Diner restaurant.
What are the benefits of foraging in a city?

“The main benefit is accessibility. You don’t need to own a car or travel long distances to state forests or parks,” said Wesserle. “Most likely there are delicious edibles right outside your doorstep!”

Safety is a substantial concern of Wesserle’s when teaching foraging, be it in an urban or a wild environment.

“Ingesting the soil and dust of contaminated areas is the primary way people are exposed to dangerous chemicals,” she noted. “Reduce the risk of exposure by washing harvested foods, peeling roots, and peeling off the outer layers of leafy foods. Fruits tend to absorb fewer contaminants than leafy vegetables or root crops.”

NCFA typically holds six foraging workshops a year, one each month from May through October.

“The program has grown substantially in the past year, with registration overflowing and people being put on waiting lists,” said Wesserle. “From this, I would say there is a large interest in learning to forage.”

For more information, call 612.568.4585 or email info@northcountryfoodalliance.org.