An idea planted during a community workshop in 2019 suggesting that the City of Gainesville plant fruit-bearing trees in municipal parks has blossomed into a 2022 Florida Municipal Achievement Award from the Florida League of Cities (FLC).
The Edible Groves program was launched in 2020 with the planting of 175 fruit and nut trees in three public spaces throughout 2021. Two years later, trees in Fred Cone Park at 2801 E. University Ave., Smokey Bear Park at 2300 NE 15th St. and along the 4200 block of SW 40th Boulevard are offering up ripened bounties including pears, peaches and soon persimmons.
The program’s primary goals are to improve access to fresh produce in parts of the city that have low access to healthy food, encourage visits to city parks and community spaces and increase knowledge of food-bearing plants and trees that are well-adapted to the City’s local environment.
According to the FLC, “the City Spirit Award recognizes a specific citywide effort that successfully addresses a local need.”
City Horticulturist Eric Kohnen planted the trees and continues to care for them making sure they are watered, fertilized and pruned.
“The Edible Groves program provides me a unique opportunity to utilize my horticultural knowledge to increase public access to healthy food, especially in areas where access is limited,” said Kohnen.
“Not only is the program a benefit to the community, it was a fun experience selecting the plant material, designing the plantings, and physically planting the fruit and nut trees.”
Signage at each location provides details about the Edible Groves program through a QR code that links to its webpage. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Master Gardener Volunteer Program contributed to the groves project by developing informational resources for the city’s website about the species planted at each location.
The initiative is financially supported by the City’s Tree Mitigation fund and the Wild Spaces & Public Places sales tax. The City’s departments of Communications; Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs; Public Works; Strategic Initiatives and Sustainable Development also contributed to the initiative.
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe refers to the groves as “edible landscapes.”
“This is one more way the City is working to build a sustainable community for the future,” he said. “The trees not only provide a healthy, locally grown source of food, they offer shade, clean the air we breathe and help increase the diversity of species in the area. The benefits are countless.”
Gainesville was one of three cities in Florida to be recognized by the FLC’s Florida Municipal Achievement awards. The Florida Citizenship Award was presented to Miami Shores Village for Brockway Library: A Conduit for Historical Preservation. The Environmental Stewardship Award was presented to the City of Orlando for its Kidz Zone Sustainability Adventure Program.
The three winning cities “will receive a trophy and be featured in the League’s award-winning magazine, Quality Cities (QC), as well as on the League’s website and social media outlets.”
FLC President and Commissioner for the City of Lakeland Phillip Walker said about the 2022 award recipients, “Florida’s local governments are constantly finding new and innovative ways to better serve their communities. This year’s award winners are shining examples of that.”
Gainesville Interim City Manager Cynthia W. Curry expects the program to expand and future locations for more edible groves are being considered.
“This is a win-win for our neighbors and a fitting use of tree mitigation funds,” Curry said.
City Arborist David Conser said he hopes the public heads out to the groves to take advantage of not only harvesting the ready-to-pick fruits, but tea leaves as well.
“Loquats and mulberries are already gone,” he said, “But the peaches and pears are ripe for the picking and there are Yaupon leaves that are available for making tea year-round.”
Kohnen stands ready to plant more trees. “I am grateful for this award and the acknowledgment by the community of its usefulness,” he said. “It is my hope to plant many other Edible Groves in the future.”