November 22, 2010

Urban Foraging in Asheville, NC

Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl

Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl

Research Assistant

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

While accompanying my fiancé to Asheville, N.C. for one of her residency interviews, I found myself bouncing around from coffee shop to coffee shop in downtown Asheville, scooping up free internet, downing coffee, handling bits of work, bits of personal business and trying to think about whether I could live here for the next 4+ years.  Then I remembered an article we had read in the New York Times about an “Edible” park in Asheville.  I quickly looked it up, and found out that Asheville indeed had embarked on an edible park based on the foundations of permaculture and “edible forest gardens

Canopy of Fruit Trees

Canopy of Fruit Trees

I drove five minutes out of downtown and found a small park with a recreation center, looking out onto city hall.  As you walk down a path through the park, what you see are grapes lining the fence of a basketball court with fig trees, elderberry trees, and kiwis both growing and vining through fence-like structures.  Further down the path are apple trees, peach trees, berry bushes and other edible plants that I couldn’t recognize due to the coming winter season.  Everything in this area of the park is both edible and representing of mini-ecosystems called “edible-forest gardens.”  Planted next to the fruit trees are plants that work in symbiosis with the fruit tree, much like the different species in a forest.  I saw herbs that attract pollinators, ground cover like lemon balm and strawberries that keep the ground moist, avoid evaporation and block out weeds.  Other perennials like borage, comfrey and purple tree collards act as dynamic accumulators, which bring important minerals from the soil and make them available to the surrounding plants, while plants like artichoke act as natural “mulchers” that continually feed the soil.  I did not see all of these plants present, but I can understand that is their vision.

I was really struck by two things.  (I must admit that it was late November when I went, so the fruit from the apple, pear, peach, and fig trees had long ago fallen to the ground)  The first is, that the trees were really big!  Through my work with students and school gardens, I’m used to the idea of starting fruit trees very small (to manage costs) and watching them develop, and I didn’t know how old this park was, but I thought it was a relatively new venture, so I was surprised at how developed all the trees were.  Upon further research, I realized the park was over 12 years old.  This is exciting because it provides a glimpse into the future of many of these urban agriculture projects and what wonderful growth we can expect in the coming decades.  The second thing that struck me was a vision of the near future, when kids playing in this park during the summer will play basketball next to an urban orchard, with vines of luscious grapes growing right next to the court; where it might become normal to come out of the local recreation center and grab an apple off of the tree and eat it as a snack on your walk/drive home.  I know it’s hokey, but if the places we are affect us in a meaningful way, then in urban areaswe are being affected by things like the prevalence of fast food restaurant and easy, convenient calories.  If that is true, why wouldn’t the being connected to the way food is grown in our parks and schools on a daily basis have an affect?  Of course, I’m skeptical about the edible park’s chances in a battle of influence against food company marketing, but it’s just the beginning and that may not even be the players in the fight.

Fruit Tree Guild with Elderberry

Fruit Tree Guild with Elderberry

For now, it’s just exciting to see another story of communities searching to reconnect with food in a tangible way, bringing the principles of permaculture into the urban setting and making our cities more enjoyable places to live in.

– Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl


  1. Posted by Kathy H. Moore

    Dear Jesse,
    Our youngest son is home for Thanksgiving from grad school at Vanderbilt U. has been telling us about urban foraging. We were so excited to come across your article when we googled “foraging in NC!” We plan to visit the Edible Park in Asheville you mentioned. My husband has been unemployed for two years and we have been learning to garden, recycle, reuse, make, and be more self-sustaining overall. We’ve also been learning to do without and concentrate on the “needs” rather than the “wants.” We all look forward to seeing what we might find to forage around our vicinity of Fletcher and Hutch Mountain where our house is located. We know there are scads of edible mushrooms–it just takes knowing which one NOT to eat! Thanks for your informative article. Kathy H. Moore

  2. Posted by Sharon

    I’m an Asheville native, have lived here all my life and I’ve never heard of this park/edible urban trail. I recognize where it must be located from the photo, so I’ll have to go and take a walk there soon.

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