Burnsville to pilot ‘food forest’ at Civic Center Park

Burnsville to pilot ‘food forest’ at Civic Center Park

An old hockey rink in Burnsville will soon be transformed into an educational garden under a new citywide initiative to implement sustainable land practices and build long-term solutions to health inequities.

The Market Garden, where student interns will help grow produce for local nonprofit, is one of several new programs being launched this summer under the “Grow Burnsville” initiative.

The City of Burnsville’s sustainability pitch won first place at this year’s Childhood Obesity Prevention and Environmental Sustainability Awards held by the United States Conference of Mayors and the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America.

The $125,000 prize money set “Grow Burnsville” into motion.

“It’s just thrilling,” said Sue Bast, the city’s environmental specialist and sustainability coordinator.

A “food forest” planted at Civic Center Park this spring is one of Grow Burnsville’s pilot projects, Bast said. Once it’s matured, the food forest will be an open food resource to anyone looking for free access to fruits and other edible plants. Using the principals of permaculture, no chemical pesticides or fertilizers will be used in maintaining the forest, according to Bast.

David Woods, the conservation program director with Urban Roots, said Burnsville’s food forest is designed to be low-maintenance.

The city enlisted Urban Roots, a St. Paul-based nonprofit, to help with the design and implementation of Grow Burnsville initiatives.

The food forest will take 3-5 years to fully develop, according to Woods. The forest includes around 40 different plantings, such as apple, pear and plum trees, herbs and a variety of native shrubs with edible berries or nuts.

“I’m hoping the successes that’ll come from the Burnsville project will help promote it elsewhere,” Woods said.

“We’re going to see how this works,” Bast said. “It could possibly be a direction we want to go with some public land that is underused.”

CONNECTING THROUGH FOOD

The opportunity to grow food from seed brings together residents from across the metro.

Lakeville resident Nancy Abuga tends a garden plot at the Neill Park Community Garden in Burnsville; this summer, she’s growing onions, carrots, tomatoes and beans. She’s gotten to know people from Bloomington, Shakopee, Apple Valley and Minnetonka while spending time at the garden.

Plantings at the Wolk Park Community Garden in Burnsville grow under June 2021 sunlight. The city’s new Grow Burnsville initiative will widely expand opportunities for area residents to access fresh foods and learn best practices for growing. (Christine Schuster / Southwest News Media)

A few miles away, at Wolk Park, Burnsville’s second community garden bustles with nearly 50 garden plots. It’s the Kishel family’s third summer tending a garden here.

“We don’t necessarily have a lot of success, but we have a lot of fun,” said Amy Kishel, walking through the garden with her two young daughters.

This year, they’re keeping watch over bell peppers, zucchini, basil, green beans, snap peas, zinnia and milkweed. They also keep their eyes on the expert — Burnsville resident Laurie Boyden.

Equipped with a PhD in plant science, Boyden has been tending garden plots at the Wolk Park community garden for a decade. This year, she’s growing tomatoes, peppers, beans, garlic, sun chokes, pumpkins, corn, watermelon, squash and zucchini, to name a few.

Nearby, community garden-newcomer Kim Nichols stands watering her garden. Among her vegetables, beans and herbs is a patch of Swiss chard to feed her daughter’s pet rabbit. She took up the community garden plot this summer to have an opportunity to grow something from a seed with her daughter.

Whether a newcomer or seasoned grower, community gardeners in Burnsville say it’s an opportunity to meet and learn from others.

Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz remembers when the city’s first community garden opened 15 years ago.

“At the end of the season, the community came together and had a potluck with all the produce,” she said.

Food and gardening is a way to share cultures, Kautz said. The variety of foods grown in Burnsville is a reflection of the cultural diversity within the community.

Kautz said growing produce is also an opportunity to empower and educate local residents, including local youth.

EVENTS, CLASSES PLANNED

Bast, the city’s environmental specialist and sustainability coordinator, said there’s hopes to continue expanding Grow Burnsville’s community outreach and impact. Events, cooking classes and volunteer opportunities are currently being planned.

This summer, a group of teens from Savage, New Market, Lakeville and Burnsville were chosen to be Grow Burnsville’s first interns.

They’ll primarily be working in the Market Garden — the educational garden currently under construction just northeast of Nicollet Middle School.

“I truly did fall in love with planting, especially because I started at an early age with my mom,” said fourteen-year-old Madeline Her.

Her, a Lakeville resident, said the internship brings an opportunity to hone more professional growing skills. While she aspires to one day attend medical school, she said she values the opportunity to learn more about agriculture.

“I’ll bring along the skills I have to my own garden in the future,” Her said.

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