Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sang the Song of Hiawatha

Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest....
Listen to the wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The circle was getting too big for the room. The room was a large conference room in the Nokomis Community Center, in Minneapolis. The meeting was a gathering of people who want to turn the City Parks Hiawatha Golf Course into a food forest.

The circle was overflowing, which was unexpected, more than RSVP'd, despite it was nearly 60 degrees and sunny, 30 degrees above normal this time in February, but also a Saturday.

Most astonishing, the intelligence and talent in the room: teachers, professors, directors of non-profits, CSA farmers, half a dozen trained and professional landscape architects. Fifty people with varying expertise in organizing, teaching, design, plant management. An impressive group.

All the more impressive, as the likelihood that the Minneapolis Park Board would turn a revenue producing golf course into a revenue neutral food forest, is near zero.

What is a food forest? You tell me. Food grows throughout? The whole forest is food for something. A forest with an abundance of food for people? Gardens too. Aquaculture. Fungi.

It's also true the fate of the Hiawatha golf course is uncertain. After flooding in 2014 killed 47 acres of sod, knocking down 23 mature trees, causing an estimated $1.49 million of damage, people have begun to question the wisdom of rebuilding a golf course that suffers perpetual flooding.

It's also true, usage at the municipal golf courses has been cut in half since 2000, when revenue peaked at $1.85 million. The system lost half a million dollars in 2013. A report in 2013 suggested the course needed a minimum $8.1 million in upgrades. A kind of 'if you build it they will come,' failing to take into account, after the dot com crash in 2000, and the housing bubble, credit expansion and stagnant wages for 30 years, there just aren't that many golfers anymore.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) ponied up $1 million. But at least some of that has been spent just studying the water predicament, as it was revealed in 2015 that the Parks Board had been pumping 1 gal/sec from the course into Hiawatha lake, 1/4 billion gallons per year equivalent, or 7 times what the MN DNR said they could. It seems clear, much of the course would flood every year, at least seasonally.

It's clear as an idea, the food forest's time has come.

Every human heart is human
That even in savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not

Like bad, patronizing poetry full of made up "Indian" words, the Minnehaha Creek meanders it's way through Hiawatha golf course, dumping the toxic residue and trash collected on it's path from Lake Minnetonka, through the suburbs, into Lake Hiawatha, before continuing to the Mississippi.

It was a wetland before it was a lake and a golf course. Purchased by Theodore Wirth, the father of the Minneapolis park system, the "lake" was dredged, and the fill became the golf course. Still the course is on average about 2 ft below the surface of the lake, so the course is soggy much of the year and floods in the wettest.

In a kind of epic timing, like a curse, the golf course was built in 1929, when the market crashed, and didn't open until 1934.

Doubling down on absurdity, in 1993 and 1999, in the heady days of Greenspan/Clinton market deregulation, the city spent millions, adding several water hazzards/storm water holding ponds and expensive pumps.

Just in time for the market to revert to a rich man's game. Rich men don't play muni's.

But then there aren't a more brash bunch than your typical muni golfers, so the demand to keep the golf course is loud if not particularly broad.

There he sang of Hiawatha,
Sang the song of Hiawatha,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people.

"For Christ's sake wouldn't it be better to have these guys doing some meaningful work, instead of riding around on lawn mowers?"

A 50 acre food forest is no joke. That would require a lot of maintenance. Especially if there are cultivated gardens, greenhouses, aquaponics.

The educational return would be immeasurable. Seriously, who cares about a golf course if you have the opportunity to show tens of thousands of kids what the city's parks could look like? Where does your food come from? Right here!

How do you cultivate an appreciation for nature, in the city? The world is being ravaged ecologically by ignorance.

After 2008, it should have been clear. Food sovereignty should be on everybody's lips.

When they asked in the circle, what is the word to describe what today is about, the first word out of anyone's mouth was "renewal."

What that circle revealed, is the circle is expanding. There is a lot more support for this than anyone thought.