Iowa City is promoting local food this summer by planting more than 40 community planters throughout the city with fully edible plants and inviting residents to sample the produce. The plants range from staples such as tomatoes and kale to edible flowers.
“The pots around the city are a place to show all the citizens kind of what they can do themselves,” said Tyler Baird, a horticultural specialist with the Iowa City Parks and Forestry Department and project leader. “That’s one of the ways I approach it, showing everyone that edible plants are quite ornamental as well, and they can be something that doesn’t just have to be in a traditional vegetable garden. There will be plenty for everyone. If you have to break off a leaf or two of the chard or the kale to try it, it’s not going to hurt it. It’ll grow back.”
Baird stated that choosing the right mix of plants was a challenge, citing factors such as edibility, visual appeal, and longevity. Late-season vegetables such as sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts will be harvested at the end of the season and donated to local food banks. Maintaining the mini-gardens has proven to be no more work than annual plant maintenance.
Simon Andrew, assistant to the city manager, feels that promoting local foods is an important part of a strong local economy, mentioning other city-supported local-food efforts, such as increased community garden space and edible forestry in public parks.
“These planters are a very good, highly visible signal to the public of what possibilities there are,” Andrew said.