The hungry insurgent
Frankly, Mayor R.T. Rybak and I could not disgree more about the economic future of Minneapolis. He apparently views a massive public subsidy of a billion-dollar football stadium as insignificant compared to the tsunami of wealth coming our way. What I see are rising taxes, underwater mortgages, increasing gas and oil prices, and continuing economic instability. I would certainly prioritize an investment in future food security over a 30-year subsidy for a New Jersey billionaire’s sports palace.
Food has been cheap, but that is almost certain to change. The climate is warming, altering natural growing conditions. The oil that has supported the scale of cultivation and transportation of food is growing expensive. It is hard for me to imagine the mayor spending so much of our money on circuses when there are already concerns about bread.
Secretly, I hope I’m wrong, but it seems only smart to get prepared for uncertain times. How, you ask? By learning to garden and by planting fruit trees. At the end, I will list some garden classes, but let’s start with trees.
The best way to get fruit in the future is to grow your own. There are many good options for planting fruit. One is the Friends School plant sale, held Mothers’ Day weekend at the State Fairgrounds; good quality transplants can be bought at reasonable prices. A bit more expensive, but with excellent quality and expert advice, are local nurseries like Mother Earth Gardens and Minnehaha Nursery.
There are some things to consider. With the partial exception of serviceberries and raspberries, most fruit trees and bushes need a lot of summer sun to produce. You can tuck in a few short fruit bushes in the boulevard, but you will be sharing your blueberries and currants with dog-walkers and others. Also, don’t forget that new stuff will need good watering every couple of days if it doesn’t rain.
What I dream about is public orchards we all can share. I am inspired by streetside fruit trees in many cities, where you can munch your way as you walk to work or school. For centuries, pedestrians have gathered oranges along the sidewalks of Seville and many Italian cities. As you walk, you can legally gather loquats in Los Angeles, chestnuts in Greenwich Park near London, walnuts and olives in Berkeley, and pecans in tiny Elizabeth City, N.C.
Seattle recently made national headlines by using a $22,000 grant to plant apples, blueberries, pears and plums to create a seven-acre orchard in one of their poorest neighborhoods. Chicago just planted the Kilbourn Park Orchard. Phoenix planted date trees. Edinburgh, London, Manchester, Calgary, Christchurch and Canterbury in Australia have each planted tens of thousands of fruit and nut trees in public parks, schoolyards and community gardens.
Portland, Ore., and Madison, Wis., both have excellent recent initiatives. Madison Fruits and Nuts is an organization blanketing that city with yummy blueberries, peaches, plums and currants. Portland has set a five-year goal of having a third of its urban tree canopy in fruit, including private yards, public parks and boulevards.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to do something beautiful and tasty like that here, starting with our public parks? Consider themed plantings, where particular species were chosen for each park, like raspberries in Powderhorn, pears in Longfellow and apples in Nokomis. We could have neighborhood festivals to celebrate the harvest as each type of fruit ripens over the season. After our pies and cobblers, we might listen to Parks-sponsored music or have community sings.
What could be the downside? Communities grow stronger and crime abates. Food becomes a shared public and very local resource.
We can think of it as an investment. Certainly we could put a third of a billion dollars or so into a stadium that will be obsolete before it is paid off. Or we could spend much less than a thousandth of that planting public fruit trees that would flower in the spring, shade us and filter our stormwater all summer and give us a delicious food for generations. Which legacy would you rather leave your great-grandchildren?
If you would like to see more fruit trees in our parks, consider talking with your Parks commissioner, found at www.minneapolisparks.org and clicking on “Comissioners” in the upper left-hand corner; it can be a friendly call, since many are publicly in favor of such an initiative. The Parks Department Tree Advisory Commission meets on the second Thursday of the month at the Parks headquarters; more info at 612-230-6400. You might also contact the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council at 612-673-2301, or attend its monthly meetings to add your input.
OK, on to the gardening classes:
April 2, 6:30 - 8 p.m. Free. “Small space vegetable gardening,” Champlin Library, 12154 Ensign Ave. N., Champlin 55316. 612-543-6250. www.hclib.org/-pub/events
April 3, 6 - 8 p.m. Free. “Organic gardening on a small budget,” Northeast Library, 2200 Central Ave. N.E., Minneapolis 55418. 612-543-6775. www.hclib.-org/pub/events
April 3, 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. $22, pre-registration is required. “Seed Starting with Mini-Greenhouses,” MN Hort Society, 2705 Lincoln Drive, Roseville 55113. 651-643-3601 or 800-676-6747, ext 211. www.northerngardener.org-/classes
April 3, 7 – 9 p.m. Free, but RSVP. “What is Organic Gardening?,” Mother Earth Gardens, 42nd Ave. and 38th St., Mpls. (Held at Riverview Wine Bar across the street.) 612-724-2296. www.motherearthgarden.com-/seminars.html
April 7, 1 – 4 p.m. Free, but reservations required. “Lazy Gardeners’ Class: Garden Manage-ment,” Silverwood Park from the 3 Rivers Regional Park system. 763-559-6700. www.threeriver-sparks.org/events.aspx
April 8, 3 - 4:30 p.m. Free, but RSVP. “Seed starting workshop,” through EXCOtc.org. FFI contact Sarah.email@example.com.
April 10, 6 - 8 p.m. Free. “Growing berries in Minnesota,” Hopkins Library, 22 - 11th Ave. S., Hopkins 55343. 612-543-6400. www.hclib.-org/pub/events
April 11, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. $14. “Healthy Soil, Healthy Food,” Valley Natural Foods, 13750 County Road 11, Burnsville 55337. 952-891-1212. www.valleynaturalfoods.com/CoopCalendar.shtml
April 12, 7 – 8:30 p.m. $8. “Composting 101,” Wedge Co-op in Mpls., 2105 S. Lyndale Ave. 612-871-3993. www.wedge.coop/class-schedule/
April 12, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m., $12. “Urban Chicken 101,” Seward Co-op in Mpls., 2823 E. Franklin Ave. 612-338-2465. www.seward.coop/classroom
April 14, 10 – Noon. Free, but RSVP. “Beginning vegetable gardening,” Brookdale Library, 6125 Shingle Creek Parkway, Brooklyn Center 55430. 612-543-5600. www.hclib.org/pub/events
April 15, 1 - 3 p.m. Free, but reservations required at 763-559-6700. “Heirloom Seed Savers Exchange,” The Landing from 3 Rivers Regional Parks. www.threeriversparks.org/-events.aspx
April 18, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. $14.“Beginning Seed Saving,” Valley Natural Foods, 13750 County Road 11, Burnsville, 55337. 952-891-1212. www.valleynaturalfoods.com/Coop-Calendar.shtml
April 18, 7 - 8:30 p.m. $8. “Worm Composting,” Wedge Co-op in Mpls., 2105 S. Lyndale Ave. 612-871-3993. www.wedge.coop/class-schedule/
April 18, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Free. “Edible landscaping,” Rockford Road Library, 6401 42nd Ave. N., Crystal 55427. 612-543-5875. www.hclib.org/pub/events
April 21, 1 - 3 p.m. Free. “Edible landscaping,” NE Library, 2200 Central Ave. N.E., Mpls. 612-543-6700. www.hclib.org/pub/events
April 24, 6 - 8 p.m. Free. “Beginning vegetable gardening,” Nokomis Library, 5100 34th Ave. S., Minneapolis. 612-543-6800. www.hclib.org/pub/events
April 26, 6 - 8 p.m. Free, but RSVP required. “Advanced vegetable gardening,” Pierre Bottineau Library, 55 Broadway N.E., Minneapolis. 612-543-6850. www.hclib.org/-pub/events
April 28, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. Free. “Insect pests of fruit trees,” Horton Park, 1383 Minnehaha Ave. W., St. Paul 55104. 651-266-6400.
April 29, 7 - 8:30, $8. “Basic Vegetable Gardening,” Wedge Co-op in Mpls, 2105 S. Lyndale Ave. 612-871-3993. www.wedge.coop/-class-schedule/
May 5, 10:30 – Noon. Free. “Beginning vegetable gardening,” Washburn Library, 5244 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls. 612-543-8375. www.hclib.-org/pub/events
May 5, 2:30 - 4:30 p.m., free, “Edible landscaping,” Southeast Library, 1222 - 4th Ave. S.E., Mpls. 612-543-6725. www.hclib.org/-pub/events
Charley Underwood is a retired teacher who spent 41 years teaching in the Congo, in West Africa, Puerto Rico, Michigan, Texas and Minnesota. He is a recovering political activist who spent nearly 45 years campaigning for progressive candidates, but who has “lost faith in a corrupt political system.” He is a part-time horticulture student at the University of Minnesota and a frequent attender of permaculture and other gardening classes. He has two community gardening plots in South Minneapolis and is gradually turning his own shady yard into a food factory, plus foraging and gleaning whenever he can.
Inquiries and suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.