As early as next year, visitors of Anderson Farm County Park might see fresh produce popping up in a 12-acre garden at 805 Union Road.
Roe Parker, Anderson Park Friends, Inc. president, told the Observer the field will serve as a market garden, which will likely comprise patches of land for farmers, gardeners and growers to lease, grow crops and sell.
The garden would be modeled after concepts like Silverwood County Park located in the Town of Albion and the Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability in Verona, Parker said.
While the garden concept consists of merely a paragraph in the 2013-established park Master Plan, the University of Wisconsin-Extension conducted a study five years ago indicating a need for more fresh food options in Dane County – especially access to organic food for low income residents. And Parker said the Anderson family’s original intent for a park included a focus on passive activities and agriculture, anyway.
APF is partnering with Dane County Parks, the UW-Extension and Community Groundworks in Madison to create an action plan this year and implement a pilot garden project in 2020 with around five or six growers, Parker said. He said the goal would be to have 35 to 50 farmers.
Parker speculated that a grower would lease a patch of land for a few years.
“It will be a transition to get there,” Parker said.
According to an APF August 2018 report, the primary recommendations for implementing a market garden include a three-phase plan.
Phase 1, which started last year and goes until 2020, includes the pilot project.
Phase 2, from 2021 to 2023, includes demonstration plots for farmers, employment, agricultural careers and public education. Parker said the house located at 805 Union Road might eventually be turned into office space for a farm manager to aid the growers.
Phase 3 would include a public education component, which spans beyond 2023. He said the house would also provide space for those opportunities. Parker also speculated partnering with area Future Farmers of America groups to help them learn more about agriculture.
While APF and its partners are closer to their 2020 pilot garden goal, Community Groundworks still needs to compile an action plan to be discussed at APF’s October meeting. Then, the plans would be contingent upon a Dane County Parks Commission vote before they could come to fruition, though Parker said he was hopeful.
The project has already gained some unexpected momentum, with APF acquiring a $23,000 tractor.
After thieves stole thousands of dollars of equipment from the APF garage in August 2018, a market garden seemed like a long way off. But it bought the tractor last January, after fundraising efforts, including an anonymous $7,000 donation.
The Friends of the Dane County Parks Endowment awarded APF $1,175 over the summer for a rear-tine rototiller to assist organization volunteers with the Oregon Area Food Pantry garden and with other projects like the market garden. Parker said APF plans to purchase that rototiller in November.
One question that remains is whether growers would be certified to use the equipment themselves, or whether it be operated by a farm manager. That portion of the plan is still being discussed, Parker said.
But if all works out, Parker said park-goers would eventually see more accommodations, like electrical improvements, space for refrigeration and freezing of produce, hoop houses, more storage space and separate preparation areas for organic and non-organic foods.
“It’s about partnership and collaboration to mutually benefit all the communities,” Parker said.