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Drake students, Boys and Girls Club plant native trees in Sprout food forest

Photo by Andrew Kennard | News editor

On the afternoon of Oct. 8, Drake student volunteers and members of the Boys and Girls Club worked together at the Sprout Garden on 30th Street to add 13 trees to the garden’s food forest. 

The trees are now scattered in various spots outside the garden’s fence, which encloses most of the Sprout Garden’s crops. According to Sprout Garden coordinator Marlee Ruteledge, all of the trees are Iowa natives: hazel, eastern redbud, chinkapin oak, plum, pawpaw, hackberry and American elm. 

While Ruteledge said it will take years for these trees to start producing food for donation, the end goal is to create a seven-layer ecosystem that mimics patterns found in nature, according to the garden’s website. Ruteledge said that trees are the first layer needed to establish a food forest because of the shade and other benefits they bring to the ecosystem.

“The eventual plan is, because we can only have so much space inside of the fence, we created a food forest so that it’s more welcoming and more habitable for people to just come in and hang out while also providing an ecosystem service,” Ruteledge said. “Because there is a rain garden there to kind of trap some of that stormwater that we have issues with.”

The Sprout Garden is operated by Drake’s Office of Community Engaged Learning that provides an outdoor classroom with fruit trees, raised beds and native Iowa plants, according to its website. The website also says that any student who learns or volunteers at the garden can take home fresh produce and that the garden has a mini pantry outside the gate offering free and fresh food to all. 

Minh Ahn Nguyen, the Sprout youth coordinator, said that she regularly creates lesson plans for the Boys and Girls Club’s visits, including songs and activities. She said the teens from the club have hands-on opportunities to learn about topics like trees, composting and eating healthy. Nguyen said the Boys and Girls Club will soon stop visiting the garden for this year due to frost. 

“Of course there’s a lot of changing internal staff and stuff like that, but the idea when they start this garden was they built it in partnership with the Boy and Girl Club,” Nguyen said. 

Rutledge said the tree planting was funded by an approximately $1,300 grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. She also said Drake should be investing more in the Sprout Garden. 

“The more that people donate to us and the more that we earn grants, the more that we can achieve the goals that we want to achieve,” Rutledge said. 

Rutledge also said that student participation in the garden is important to keep it going. She added that she hopes students will use the garden as an urban community space. 

“We really want Drake students that are interested in maintaining the food forest and the garden in general,” Rutledge said. “Because that’s the only way that it’s going to really stay alive.”   

Students interested in getting involved with the Sprout Garden can email marlee.ruteledge@drake.edu.

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