Edible park just keeps on giving

Twelve years ago, local volunteers teamed up with the city's Parks and Recreation Department to replace trash with trees and establish Asheville's first edible park. City Seeds, a now-defunct local nonprofit, enlisted a group of Warren Wilson College students and other volunteers to transform a rubble-filled lot into an urban orchard. Today, George Washington Carver Park occupies the former site of Stephens-Lee High School, which served African-American students during segregation; it was demolished in 1975 in the name of urban renewal.

"A for apple and Z for Ziziphus": More than 40 varieties of fruit and nut trees grow in George Washington Carver Park, Asheville's first urban orchard. Photos by Jonathan Welch

Boasting more than 40 varieties of fruit and nut trees, the park serves as both a peaceful place to relax and a city farm providing the community with nutritious, locally produced food. "We have everything from A to Z growing there," notes permaculture guru "T. Bud Barkslip" (aka Bill Whipple). "A for apple and Z for Ziziphus (also called jujube fruit or Chinese date)."

Barkslip learned of the orchard five years ago while looking for a good place to view the Fourth of July fireworks. Realizing that he was surrounded by fruit trees, he also saw that they needed attention. "Many people are intimidated by [maintaining] fruit trees, since they need lots of cutting and care." Barkslip now helps provide that care, along with a cadre of volunteers from the Bountiful Cities Project.

Seeing the park as a source of inspiration for the community, Barkslip hopes the experience of harvesting fresh fruits and nuts from the land will encourage residents to plant trees of their own while continuing to enjoy their fair share of the park's annual harvest. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, he reports. "Since this is a public park, people are welcome to pick from the trees, though it's interesting to see that most people aren't used to sharing. We ask people to take only what they need."

On Saturday, April 3, Barkslip will lead a hands-on program designed to help the general public learn more about this special place. Presented in cooperation with local grass-roots group Transition Asheville, the program will include a 10:30 a.m. tree-pruning demonstration followed by the tour, which will start at 11 a.m.

"We envision a thriving, resilient Asheville known for its strong local economy, regional food system, minimal dependence on fossil fuel and skilled citizens," writes Jeanie Martin, describing Transition Asheville's mission. "The edible park is a great example of how public land can be put to its highest use," she continues. "It offers local food, shade, educational opportunities and a spot that neighborhood residents can be proud of."

The April 3 tour will start at the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center. The suggested donation is $10 per person; all proceeds will be used to buy additional fruit and nut trees for the park. For details, visit http://transitionasheville.ning.com.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at local edible park projects, go to http://bountifulcitiesproject.org (for Carver Park) or http://ashevillegreenworks.org (for Magnolia Avenue, West Asheville Park and Hall Fletcher Elementary).

Participants are also encouraged to join The Buncombe Fruit Nuts, a club that meets monthly at the West Asheville Library. Info: whipplebill@hotmail.com. They'll meet Wednesday, March 31, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Chuck Marsh will discuss "The Big World of Small Fruits."

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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

2 thoughts on “Edible park just keeps on giving

  1. Joseph Mokoatle

    fantastic! I love it:-) Been reading a lot about the subject of done forests and have had the idea with a friend of mine here in our community of Slovoville [Johannesburg, South Africa] to do the same thing.

    I am really inspired by this. Well done:-)

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