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Food Forest organizers hope edible parks bloom across city

Max Hrenda • Apr 13, 2014 at 9:38 PM

On weekends, it’s not uncommon for many students — whether they’re in elementary school, high school, or college — to spend their time relaxing, partying or doing anything that doesn’t require any amount of work.

This weekend, however, a select group of students chose not only to work outside, but also to potentially start a revolutionary trend in Johnson City.

On Sunday afternoon, students from University School, the Appalachian Learning Academy and East Tennessee State University partnered with members of the Tree Streets community to tend soil and plant fruit-bearing trees at the Tree Streets Food Forest.

The forest is comprised of fruit- and herb-bearing trees and plants, all of which grows adjacent to First United Methodist Church’s food pantry, near the intersection of Buffalo and Maple streets. Food forest organizer Taylor Malone, a senior philosophy student at ETSU, said that although people from all walks of life participated in Sunday’s activities, it was just a day at work.

“Today is just another work day,” Malone said Sunday. “We’re doing some mulching and digging, and we have kids out here to paint signs for all the fruit trees: apple, plum, Asian pear, persimmon, raspberries and blackberries.”

In addition to being an ETSU student, Malone is a project leader for the nonprofit Build It Up East Tennessee, which focuses on the preservation of community and culture through the cultivation of sustainable foods. The forest itself began in December, after Malone approached Appalachian Sustainable Development, a nonprofit with a focus on healthy foods and ecosystems.

“I got a small grant from ASD of $250 to buy the trees,” Malone said. “I came and approached the First United Methodist Church about using this property here. What better place to grow fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables than on the food pantry property?”

In addition to planting food near the pantry, however, Malone and his colleagues share something else with it — both provide food to the public at no cost.

“The food is available for anyone to come pick and eat,” Malone said. “The whole idea is to just grow food. Fruit trees will produce for up to 80 (or) 100 years.”

Since December, Malone and his colleagues have received both attention and assistance from the public. Andrea Lowery, who teaches fourth grade at University School, said that after she heard news of the edible park, she and her husband walked over to the church from their home on nearby Poplar Street to see what was going on.

“It was so neat, and we were so impressed with everything they had done,” Lowery said. “(So) I made up a little flyer and sent it home to our elementary parents. I’m just trying to get the word out a little bit and let them know that it’s here.”

On Sunday, Lowery and several University School students painted signs for the forest, along with students from the Appalachian Learning Academy.

“Together it looks so beautiful, and it’s really going to brighten up our forest and make it look really nice,” Lowery said.

While work continues at the Buffalo Street location, Malone said plans were already in motion for the creation of another edible park in Johnson City.

“We’re starting another one on April 26 at 500 Wilson Ave.,” Malone said. “We’re trying to do this all over Johnson City.”

Anyone interested in assisting in the creation of an edible park or in learning about other community activities is encouraged to visit the Build It Up East Tennessee website at zval33.wix.com/builditupetn.

Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda

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