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Patchy start to ‘food forest’

A plot of grass in front of Paso Robles’ Centennial Park Community Center will soon become something very different through the work of the Transition Towns Paso Robles Food Group.

The Paso Robles City Council recently approved the creation of a demonstration “food forest,” as organizers call it, to teach people how to convert grass yards into other vegetation types that require less water. They also plan to teach people how to grow their own food.

“We originally wanted to have a traditional community garden to give a chance to people who lack a lawn or yard, such as apartment dwellers, to raise their own food,” group spokeswoman Judith Bernstein said.

However, given Paso Robles’ water conservation efforts — which become mandatory again in May 2010 — organizers decided to do a demonstration garden and hold out for a garden with rentable plots in the future.

The project is to be carried out on an agreement between Transition Towns — an international effort with chapters that aim to encourage rebuilding community resilience and self-reliance — and the city’s Library and Recreation Department.

The 3,500-square-foot site will also be used to teach hands-on gardening through workshops, bringing in experts to host discussions and for school-age children.

Members also plan activities such as preparing soil, putting in the layers of trees and plants and tending the garden during the growing season, Bernstein said.

There will be pistachio, persimmon, apricot, fig, almond and plum trees; a middle layer of drought tolerant shrubs; and the lowest layer of vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, chard and carrots.

Grape arbors will go over existing picnic tables and guava and pomegranate trees will serve as windbreaks.

The trees will take years to mature, Bernstein said, but the vegetables could be harvested during summer and fall 2010. A portion is expected to be donated to the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County.

The first step in creating the garden will be to let the lawn decompose into soil this winter by putting down large squares of cardboard and mulch on the grass area, Bernstein said. That process will allow the planting to begin in spring. It will be watered by drip irrigation, using less water than the existing lawn, and will be fenced for protection from animals and possible vandalism.

All that, as well as an entry sign, is estimated to cost $5,000 through donations, Bernstein said.

The nine-member Transition Towns group has also been working with the Multiflora Garden Club as a community partner during the first phase of the garden.

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