Coming Soon to a Golf Course Near Me: A Food Forest

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Have I mentioned lately how much I love Minneapolis? It is by no means a perfect city and the winters are long and hard, but by golly how many other cities have a community advisory group that works with the city council on things like urban agriculture and food security issues? Homegrown Minneapolis is the name of the group and their latest newsletter included a map of all the vacant city lots that can be leased for community gardening and urban farms. Also in the newsletter is information regarding a proposal to turn a public golf course near my house into a food forest.

What’s a food forest? It is exactly what it sounds like. It is a designed landscape that mimics a natural ecosystem while incorporating food producing plants like nut and fruit trees, shrubs, perennial vegetables and herbs. Annual plants can also be grown in the mix. And of course it is a space that also utilizes native plants to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, control weeds and build soil fertility.

The site of this proposed food forest is a public golf course near Lake Hiawatha. The golf course is very expensive to maintain not just because it was built on a wetlands and requires millions of gallons of water to be pumped out of it every year. It turns out the amount of water being pumped far exceeds the permit limits and is therefore illegal. A portion of the golf course has also been closed since 2014 when we had so much rain that the “back nine” was flooded and is still so soaked and damaged the park board can’t really afford to fix it. This golf course also drains into Lake Hiawatha which suffers greatly from water quality issues do to run-off into the lake. This golf course covers 140 acres and serves very few people, costing to my mind and many others, more than it is worth.

So a young, brilliant city resident has put up a proposal and taken up the challenge to advocate for repurposing the land. His vision allows for a much reduced golf course, fruit orchards, nut trees, and more. His vision even includes returning wild rice to Lake Hiawatha which, I just learned, used to be called “Rice Lake” because local Native Americans grew and harvested wild rice there before they were forced to move elsewhere.

The food forest would be grown on public land, would be tended by volunteers, and would welcome all from the community to go and harvest food from it. It would solve the water pumping problem and the lake’s water quality issues as well. And it would provide learning opportunities for both adults and school children. Plus it would be far cheaper to maintain than a full golf course not to mention more beautiful and useful.

This is such an incredibly exciting thing and if it goes through, if the Park Board decides to go along with it, it would mean Minneapolis would be home to the largest food forest in the United States. And yeah, you know I’ll find a way to be involved with the project even if it is only volunteering a few hours every month. There is a meeting being held on February 27th. It’s scheduled for four hours in the afternoon which is a big chunk of Saturday time for me, but I might just see if I can make it for at least a portion of the meeting. If not, I am sure there will be other opportunities as the proposal picks up steam.

In my own garden, I have a tray full of paper pots ready for onion seeds next weekend. I must continue working at making pots because at the end of the month I will need to get the peppers and tomatoes started. I love this time of year. While it feels so hectic getting everything started, it is also the most hopeful time of the gardening year because there is still so much possibility. The slugs haven’t eaten the greens yet, the squirrels haven’t dug up or stolen anything, there hasn’t been too much rain or not enough, too much heat or not enough. In my mind’s eye my garden is lush and green and perfect. Reality will kick in soon enough, but until then, everything is still perfect.

In chicken news, the same newsletter that brought word of the food forest proposal also informed me that the city council will be voting on the new chicken ordinance on February 12th! I wasn’t expecting anything from the city council until summer. But perhaps they want to get it all settled before spring when people who want to start keeping chickens will be looking to get underway. Bookman has not yet begun to collect neighbor signatures, it has been too cold and snowy. But now we will wait and see what happens come Friday. Bookman may just be saved the trouble of collecting signatures after all. Fingers crossed!

In cycling news, I am still riding in virtual races on Thursday nights. Each week is different and sometimes I finish first or second and sometimes I finish last. One thing for sure, my fitness has improved immensely. I am also in the final week of a 6-week workout program that has meant hour-long (or more) workouts four to five times of week doing intervals of varying intensities. This too has paid off. On a (virtual) ride after my workout yesterday I decided to see if I could beat my personal sprint records on the two sprint sections of the course and I blew each one away by several seconds! I even managed to ever so briefly hit 4 watts/kg, something I thought I would never manage. I also noticed I now frequently go over 3 w/kg which means that after this week I will start racing in group C instead of D. Technically I should start this week but I want to give myself one more “easy” week before I go to the next group and start coming in last all the time. I will be good incentive to work hard and improve, right?

Also this last week on Wednesday night I participated in my first virtual group ride. It was so much fun! I am part of a group on Zwift called ROL (Ride On Ladies — in Zwift you can give riders a “ride on” thumb’s up, it’s a way to offer support and tell other riders they are doing great or thanking them for a good ride, etc). There is an ROL group ride on Wednesday nights but I had not joined in because it is a fast ride and with the races I’ve been doing Thursday nights I didn’t want to overdo it the night before. Anyway, a slower group ride was introduced this week so I joined that one. We used an app called TeamSpeak which allows us to actually talk to each other while we ride. I rode with a couple people from Seattle and someone from Ohio and I think maybe Texas. Technology is awesome!

Also, there are enough ROL women who are interested in racing that we are going to have our own women’s race on Saturday upcoming. It will be a 30km race and I will have to race in group B which is both exciting and scary. There are not a lot of women on Zwift, I saw somewhere that women are only about 8% of the Zwift population, but among them are some really strong riders and racers. It is exciting to ride with them because it forces me to work harder and they are all supportive and encouraging so even though I feel intimidated, it comes from my own personal worries of not being very good rather than anything anyone else has said or done. Currently there are 24 women who have indicated they will be racing Saturday and 56 who have said maybe. We’ll see what kind of turnout there really is. I just hope I don’t finish last in my group. But hey, if I do, incentive to improve!

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