WORTHINGTON, Ohio — Plants that produce apples, pears, blueberries, papaws and walnuts grow wild and produce plentifully on Worthington’s public land.
Berries become plump and tree fruits ripen, ready to be eaten.
But with no one to harvest it, the bounty often drops, withers and becomes compost for next year.
Councilman Doug Smith wants that life cycle to include consumption by residents. He has created a map to guide them to food-producing sites throughout town.
He strolled through a city park recently, pointing out walnuts, sour crabapples and salvia, which is used to make tea. He stopped at a black locust, its thorn-draped bark a natural defense. But an abundance of curly honey-locust seeds hanging low from its branches are food. Smith stopped and plucked one.
“Raw, they’re poisonous,” he said. “But you fry them in beignet breading, and I’m told they’re delicious.”
His map includes about a dozen patches of nature’s bounty and is on his website: worthingtonohio.org.
City workers had told Smith about their favorite blueberry patch near a school on Worthington’s west side.
“The parks people kept them for themselves, up until now,” Smith said. Directions to the berries are now on the website.
Smith calls it a public-health issue, an antidote for all the packaged, processed food Americans eat.
“People who produce their own food tend to be healthier and happier and appreciate their natural surroundings,” he said.
Smith also would like to grow trees and bushes that produce food in city parks.
“It ultimately falls to the city to do the maintenance,” he said. “But, ideally, they shouldn’t have to do anything. You might not get the perfect apple, but it’s still going to be edible.”
But agriculture experts caution that maintaining healthy, fruit-bearing plants can be a challenge.
“Who on Earth is going to care for those plants?” asked Stan Smith, program assistant for the Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County. “If you’re talking fruit, there can be a significant amount of maintenance in order to get the quality of fruit that consumers see in grocery stores.”
He and other agriculture and recreation experts have not heard of other suburbs with similar plans, outside of community gardens.
Apples fill the tree at the village of Granville’s fire station, but more deer than people end up munching on them, said Jerry Miller, Granville Township’s fiscal officer.
Black raspberries, mulberries and blackberries do well in nature. For other plants, without regular pruning and fungicide and pesticide applications, “It would be much like coming across a wild apple tree in the woods: The fruit is gnarled and attacked by insects,” Stan Smith said.
Doug Smith, who grew up farming corn, soybeans and wheat in Sandusky in northern Ohio, doesn’t think spraying for pests would be needed. He mostly wants to educate residents and encourage them to grow their own produce.
“As people get back to nature, it can only help our public health,” he said.
Jennifer Fralic, director of the Worthington Food Pantry, is interested in the project. The pantry supplements its canned and boxed foods for needy families with fresh produce, and always needs more.
“Any resource to obtain fresh food is a benefit to this community,” she said.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com