Plan would make it easier to use city of Madison land for edible landscaping

By Linda Falkenstein

Published on The Isthmus Daily Page 2/26/13

An ordinance will be introduced at tonight's Common Council meeting making it easier for residents to plant edible landscaping on city land.

Section 8.32, Edible Landscaping on City-Owned Lands, to be introduced by Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, is meant to "encourage the planting and harvesting of locally grown fruits, vegetables, nuts and other edible plant forms, and to regulate the permitting, placement and maintenance of such edible landscapes on certain city-owned land." No fee.

"The whole idea of expanding options is high on the list of priorities for the Food Policy Council," says Rhodes-Conway.

The proposal will allow citizens -- neighbors and neighborhood groups -- to plant edible perennials on parkland. This is primarily meant to be fruit trees or possibly nut-bearing trees. "It's not about planting a garden in a park. If you wanted to do that," suggests Rhodes Conway, "you should ask the city about starting a neighborhood community garden."

Right now, it's not practically possible for people to plant edible perennials on city land, due to the high cost of insurance. A similar plan was okayed for master gardeners doing work in parks and for those who take care of neighborhood signs; they're covered on the city’s insurance as volunteers.

It's expected that those applying to plant will install and maintain the plantings as volunteers.

As far as what can be planted, "We don't want to call out species," says Rhodes-Conway, although nothing can be on the state's list of invasive species. Other than that, you pick a spot, come up with a planting plan and submit it to the city for approval.

There will be another ordinance amendment to make it possible for residents to plant gardens in their terraces. Part of the motivation for this amendment is to make legal what in many cases is already being done -- planting gardens and other edible or decorative landscaping in the city-owned land between the sidewalk and the street.

City staff will have to come up with some suggestions regarding the allowable height of plants and raised beds, for instance, but Rhodes-Conway notes that "it's a positive use of the space." And since it's being done anyway with apparently no ill effects from eating food grown in the terrace, it makes sense to legalize the practice.

The Department of Public Health has been pushing people to eat healthier food that they've grown themselves, but sometimes the only space available for gardening is in the terrace.

"It's a good step forward," says Rhodes-Conway. "More people want to grow their own food."