Eat your backyard

MetroParks instructs homegrown (literally) 

by Kristen Wicker

Photo: Quervo the donkey resides at Possum Creek MetroPark, 4790 Frytown Rd.

 

What’s one thing Connie Duncan, Five Rivers MetroParks education assistant, sees when she considers the farm at Possum Creek MetroPark? 

Quiche. 

That’s because the farm is being transformed into a demonstration space where visitors can see the type of plants they can grow and animals they can raise on a small property of just a quarter-acre or more. And yes, that includes the makings for quiche: fresh eggs laid by the farm’s hens, along with tomatoes, basil and other veggies growing in the community garden plots. 

Yet, the goal of this transformation goes way beyond the creation of tasty foodstuffs: The aim is to help visitors better understand where their food comes from, how their choices impact the environment – and how they can produce their own food while significantly reducing their carbon footprint. It’s all part of Five Rivers MetroParks’ mission to protect our region’s natural heritage. 

“People will be able to see what their yard would look like if it was used for food production and what sustainable methods they can incorporate at home, even in a smaller space,” Luci Beachdell, community gardening supervisor for Five Rivers MetroParks, said. “Our goal is to whet people’s appetite to go beyond the community garden plot while serving as a community resource center.” 

While the farm, 4790 Frytown Rd., is in the first stages of its transformation, visitors can already see composting in action and the beginnings of demonstration gardens, as well as mingle with farm animals, including Icelandic sheep, Nubian goats, Partridge Plymouth Rock and Dorking chickens, Quervo the donkey and Tom Terrific, the Narragansett turkey. People can learn homesteading and food production skills, including planning a garden, canning, cheese making and, yes, butchering animals, at educational programs held at the farm.

“When school tours come through and I ask the kids where their food comes from, they don’t have a clue,” Duncan said. “They think meat comes from McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets. They don’t understand all food comes from and starts on a farm.” 

At Possum Creek, Five Rivers MetroParks is capitalizing on the growing food movement and national trends in which more and more people want to eat well, know what’s in their food – and want their kids to know food doesn’t come from the back of a fast food restaurant. 

Eventually, the Possum Creek MetroPark farm will be home to a whole range of food production. A heritage breed of rabbits will be added to the farm in 2015, when the demo gardens will be completed. (The genetics of a heritage breed have remained the same for at least 100 years, making the breeds naturally hardy to the area, Duncan explained.) 

“Visitors to the farm will learn how food impacts the environment,” Beachdell said, “whether it comes from a grocery store, small or large farm or a backyard garden. We want people to know how food production affects the soil, pollinators, plants and humans. 

“We hope people will visit and realize there are lots of possible ways to raise your own food,” she added. “We want them to walk away knowing this is easy and possible, whether they want to raise animals, start a garden, have a small permaculture area or use animal byproducts. It is possible and will have a huge positive impact on the environment.”

Now, the best way to experience the farm is to attend a Five Rivers MetroParks program, such as:

Date Night, Dinner & Dirt, 6:30–8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21: Harvest what’s ripe in the garden, and then prepare a fresh, simple meal. 

Grow Your Own Potluck, 6–8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2: Bring food you prepared from produce you’ve grown or sourced from a local grower.

In addition, the Young Homesteaders program is held at Possum Creek. Kids ages 11 to 14 gain hands-on experience in gardening, small animal care, and food preparation and preservation. The next program, Goats in My Backyard, will be held from 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30. 

Call 937.275.PARK or visit metroparks.org to register for these programs, and check the site in mid-September for a list of fall programs. Those include the Gardener’s Plant Exchange (Sept. 25), a meet-and-greet with Quervo (Oct. 8), chance to try planting garlic (Oct. 29) and class on butchering your own chicken (Nov. 19). 

For those looking for ways to get started, Beachdell and Duncan offer these tips: 

Check the zoning codes in your local municipality to see what is – and isn’t – allowed. 

Google, visit the library and connect with local and online communities.

Let your neighbors know about your plans.

But their No. 1 tip is to know producing your own food is possible – without draining your bank account or eliminating your social life. A few $2 packets of seed can start a garden. Chickens will lay eggs for up to three years and you can grow their feed and make nesting beds out of something as simple as a milk crate.

“As long as you have a half hour to an hour a day, you have time to collect eggs, feed, water and spend time with your animals to make sure they’re safe and get a feel for how they normally act,” Duncan said. “Besides, these animals will make your day. There’s nothing better than, after having a stressful day, going outside to feed your chickens. It’s very rewarding to go out and collect eggs and harvest vegetables.”

“And if that seems too hard,” Beachdell added, “start by growing some herbs in a pot. Before you know it, you’ll be raising a goat.”

Duncan agreed: “Raising your own food can be very addictive when you start doing it yourself.” 

 

Reach DCP freelance writer Kristen Wicker at KristenWicker@DaytonCityPaper.com. 

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