Edible forests ready to bloom in Park Rapids, Nevis and Akeley – Park Rapids Enterprise

Edible forests ready to bloom in Park Rapids, Nevis and Akeley – Park Rapids Enterprise

Four forest gardens emerge from the landscapes of Park Rapids, Nevis and Akeley.

The Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) received a $60,000 grant through the National Association of Conservation Districts to build these edible forests.

The labor of love “the centerpiece”

The most epic garden, complete with walking trails, is located at the Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) depot in Park Rapids.


The Depot’s edible forest measures 304 feet by 85 feet. “We take up about a half-acre,” said Jim Etzl, a consultant with the Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District. Planted last fall, rye is growing everywhere.

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Emily Mathisrud supervises programming there. She told SWCD they had an empty field, manpower and interest.

“This is going to be the biggest. This will be the centerpiece of the SWCD,” Mathisrud said, adding that the SWCD staff has been “wonderful to work with.” They were great in supervising us.

Pointing to a field of rye, Mathisrud said, “This used to be our roofless shed, where we stored all our stuff in the off-season. So we cleaned it up and placed it behind a fence.

The DAC already had a gardening program. And it flourished.

“Two years ago we started with a few tomato plants,” Mathisrud said. “We installed flower beds and they became bigger. So we put chickens in, and then we had a greenhouse. So that’s the next evolution of creating an edible forest and building a trail and a community garden for people to enjoy.

The grant paid for the mulch, plants, DAC staff time and customer time.


Kenny Barr digs and plants berry bushes for The Depot on a rainy day in late May.

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Wheat, barley, raspberries, elderberries, gooseberries, chokeberries, currants, red currants, native dwarf honeysuckle and comfrey are among the many species found in the half-acre garden of the Deposit.

“It will all be local edible plants, all forage, all natural and native,” Mathisrud said.

Jeff’s Tree Service brought the mulch. The RD Offutt Company loaned a dump trailer so Gene Hagen, a DAC volunteer, could haul more mulch.

DAC paid Elsner’s Well Drilling Inc. to install a well, while Hansen’s Electric provided electricity for the sprinkler system.

“We had many community partners in this project,” Mathisrud said.

Among them is Jim Etzl. He owns Earth Is Our Home Environmental Solutions of Hackensack. He is a consultant for the SWCD project. His company provides soil health education and coaching.

He took DAC customers to buy plants at the Forest and Floral Garden Center.

Mathisrud said the DAC team is learning more about plants, foraging and gardening. “Jim has been instrumental in teaching us about inoculation and soil health to create a good soil base for these plants.”

Because the site was initially covered in invasive species, they plowed the area, added a layer of manure and planted winter rye last fall.

Rye, of course, can be made into bread.

Full sun and sandy conditions meant oaks, sumacs and paper birches were ideal.

“There are 150 pounds of oats. The rye is already growing,” Etzl said. “Then we have four different types of clover, buckwheat and rapeseed. We need a lot of plant diversity and we need to keep that (rye) covered.

The purpose of grasses and mulch is to build black soil.

“We’re building an ecosystem here and replenishing the soil,” Mathisrud said.

In total there are 108 plants in the garden.

Nannyberries taste like raisins, Etzl said, while sumac can be made into bitter lemonade. “But with honey it tastes amazing,” he said.

Besides humans, plants are beneficial to wildlife and pollinators.

The DAC has beehives on site.

“We also need to feed the bees,” Mathisrud said.

“Without them, we don’t eat,” adds Etzl.

To build the walking trails, Mathisrud said he rented a tiller.

The DAC will ensure that the garden thrives and maintains the trail. Signs will help identify plants for visitors.

“We are excited to be able to expand our gardening program with a fun and cool project and share it with the community. I’m really excited that we’re putting in green space because Park Rapids is expanding in that direction, and so the green space is being swallowed up. Separating a place that was once a trash pile into a beautiful garden is pretty awesome.

“The trees are already starting to come out of the guards,” Etzl said of the Depot Park site.


This edible garden at Depot Park in Park Rapids is one of four gardens in the area, all supported by a grant to the Hubbard Soil and Water Conservation District.

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The central garden includes rhubarb, raspberries, currants and gooseberries.

“Any berries you can make jam with,” he said. “The plan is for people to come to the park and pick berries.”

The community garden resides in raised beds.


Community members are invited to water, weed and enjoy produce from the Depot Park community vegetable garden.

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The public is invited to water plants, pull weeds and pick ripe produce to share with friends and family.

Heartland Trail Garden in Nevis

Along the Heartland State Trail in Nevis, Etzl planted pine, crabapple, arrowwood, nannyberry, honeyberry and aronia, among others.

“We’re going to put raspberries, just so the bikers will eat berries,” Etzl said.


Etzl plants native trees and bushes along the Heartland State Trail in Nevis. The berries and other produce will be a treat for trail users.

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There are about 150 plants that are both pollinator-friendly and edible.

“It’s degraded soil, and these shrubs, which can be deeply rooted, build the soil and provide shade,” he said.

Etzl is still working on the Akeley Forest Garden. It will be on an empty lot across from the Cenex gas station, between Willow and Staff streets.

Birch, arrowwood, black cherry, aronia and others are planned for Akeley.

“Arrowwood has very bitter berries, but it makes good jam,” Etzl said.

Claire Hansen, SWCD community ecologist, explains that they are sustainable, cost-effective, climate-resilient, biologically diverse, self-sustaining and require minimal maintenance.


A red pepper plant grows at Depot Park.

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“Growing your own food in a permaculture garden encourages outdoor physical activity and provides access to fresh, nutrient-rich produce,” adds Hansen. “These are plants that you only need to buy once. These are easy and cheap products.


If conditions are right, this plant will mature into a Better Boy tomato.

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The goal of the Community Canopy and Forest Gardens Pilot Project is to create “manageable, scalable forest gardens in our communities and use them to provide additional sources of food, using native plants,” Hansen said.

The pilot project also aims to provide resources to create “green spaces” in urban and rural areas of Hubbard County.