Backyard Abundance plants edible garden at Iowa City Farmers Market

IOWA CITY -- Tucked underneath the shade of small trees and the hulking Chauncey Swan Ramp in Iowa City, a small garden began to take shape Saturday morning.

Officials with Backyard Abundance, an Iowa City-based environmental education organization that also provides some landscaping services, began the process of "sheet mulching" at the Chauncey Swan Park. The technique involves laying a level of cardboard on top of the soil, covering it with several inches of compost, then spreading wood chips across the area.

Passersby frequently stopped to watch Fred Meyer, the organization's director, and Melissa Sharapova, an ecological designer, pour and spread mulch on what will eventually be a garden with edible fruits and vegetables.

"Most everyone wants to help the environment, but folks don't really know how to do that," said Meyer, who founded Backyard Abundance in 2006. "We want to show you how to do things in your own backyard."

And everything about the project is local. Beyond the organization's partnership with the Iowa City Farmers Market, the cardboard for the garden beds came from the local co-op's dumpster, the compost was brought from Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City provided the wood chips. Later this week, the group will insert wild ginger, alpine strawberries, ostrich ferns, and other plants from local growers into the soil.

"This needs to happen on every side of the city every day," Meyer said. "Ninety-five percent of our food is from out of state. When we reverse that, that's when it'll be a big success."

Officials with the Farmers Market also said they appreciate the garden's presence.

"We're all on the same page," said Cassidy Bell, a market supervisor. "We support their mission as a farmers market . . . I think the community enjoys it and it's working well so far. I think people forget about food grown in their backyard. Living in Iowa, it's important and we need to be more aware."

Market attendees -- from the kids who played in the mulch to the home gardeners who asked Meyer and Sharapova for advice -- seemed to enjoy the project as well.

"I love how it's at the Farmers Market," said Joan Cook, an Iowa City resident. "It makes it  very holistic."

Phil Bear -- another Iowa City resident, who said he will use some of Backyard Abundance's methods on his new home -- praised the organization.

"It's beautiful," Bear said. "It's like a church that I worship."

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