'Edible classroom' grows a different kind of learning space Iowa City

Dedication of interactive space is Saturday at Robert A. Lee Recreation Center

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IOWA CITY — If you’re attending a class at the newest public space at the Iowa City Robert A. Lee Recreation Center and you get hungry, you can just reach out and pick a snack.

The “Edible Classroom” is to be officially unveiled at a ribbon cutting ceremony from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, but activities have already begun in the outdoor, interactive learning space.

The 3,000 square feet on the south side of the Recreation Center features raised garden beds, fruit trees and other elements designed to help people connect with the food they eat.

“It’s supposed to be a demonstration garden, so people can see all different types of food that can be grown,” said Jen Kardos, co-director of Iowa City-based non-profit Backyard Abundance.

Members of the community can also taste the space; it’s called an “edible” classroom for a reason. The space is open for the public to walk through and try the herbs, fruits and vegetables growing there.

The space was developed in partnership between Backyard Abundance and the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department, which together applied for a grant from the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The $24,000 two-year grant started last November when organizers began planning the space. A community visioning event in January helped solidify plans, and students helped build raised beds this spring before a May groundbreaking.

Anyone can reserve the edible classroom for an event or class, the same way they can reserve a meeting room inside the Recreation Center, 220 S. Gilbert St. To do so, call (319) 356-5100.

Backyard Abundance is also looking for groups to sponsor the six raised beds as demonstration plots. A gardening focused summer camp for teens was held in the space this year and may take over one of the beds next year to grow produce the teens were interested in promoting.

“Basically, it’s an outdoor classroom,” Kardos said.

It is also meant to be a model for school gardens; as part of the grant, Backyard Abundance is also designing two outdoor classrooms at area schools. The first, at South East Junior High School, has been designed and is to be planted this school year. The second site still is being identified.

“We really want to reconnect kids with nature,” Kardos said.

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