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September 24, 2015

Guest Blog: Glendale Golf Course Food Forest (Bingham Food Forest) by U of U Professional Writing

This November, Salt Lake citizens will vote on the General Operations bond which will allow the Salt Lake City government to update and repurpose open lands such as parks, golf courses, and trails, in a way the city finds best. “The city golf program is at a point where it is no longer fiscally viable. Unfortunately, getting back to a solid, viable financial base at this point is just flatly going to require some course closures,” as stated by Art Raymond, a spokesman for mayor Ralph Becker. In its place, the mayor has created a “Connecting You to Nature” proposal which will offer new ways to use the allocated space. The opportunities include new paved and unpaved trails for bicyclists and walkers/hikers, new recreational opportunities, and an urban farm/orchard (or in other words, an urban forest).

The idea originated from the Beacon Urban Forest in Seattle, WA. The forest’s mission is to create awareness of the climate impact of food production, revitalize the local ecosystem, improve public health, and educate the community. Salt Lake’s future food forest anticipates a similar impact. The Bingham Food Forest will feature produce that consists of: groundcover, medicinal herbs, vegetables, berries, shrubs, fruit and nut trees, and vines directly viable and free of cost to the public. 

The design will be based on an agroforestry system (a system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland. It combines agricultural and forestry technologies to create more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy, and sustainable land-use systems) based on woodland ecosystems which will be low maintenance and sustainable. The idea is to plant species of plants that grow well together in close proximity to each other; for example, growing legumes which have nitrogen fixing bacteria in their roots along with other plants, which helps provide a nitrogen rich soil to surrounding plants allowing for more viable growth. In other words, the urban forest won’t look like an orchard, but rather a natural ecosystem filled with agricultural vegetation.

A successful food forest would help diminish some adverse effects caused by large scale agriculture entities. Based on a ground water study published in the Hydrology Journal in 2002, direct effects of agriculture include dissolution and transport of excess fertilizers and similar materials into irrigation and drainage areas. These materials often reach sources of ground water and either directly or indirectly affect concentration of inorganic chemicals in the water, including nitrates, sulfates, strontium, and radium. In addition to contaminated ground water, many large scale agricultural corporations have implemented the use of genetically modified crops which in turn creates a more resilient and uniform product. These more resilient plants are able to withstand Roundup and other harsh pesticides, which effectively remove weeds, insects, and rodents. As nature becomes resistant to these chemicals, it creates a vicious cycle of artificially engineering food to survive new pesticides. As stated before, the food forest will implement the use of agricultural diversity which will help maintain nutritionally rich soil and the use of natural non-GMO seeds will increase the crop’s nutritional value. The absence of fertilizers and pesticides will also help maintain a clean ground water source for the community. If the forest develops exponentially, it may provide food for a large amount of local residents reducing the need for imported food in the area; in turn reducing transportation pollution.

An urban forest’s purpose isn’t only to serve as a means of city agriculture, it opens up opportunities for recreation, wild-life, and a sense of community. The Bingham Food Forest will be carved with walkways for people to enjoy a sunny afternoon along the Jordan River, and also will feature an observation tower to take in the sights. The food forest will also be used as a meeting place for the Farmers Market every Saturday, allowing people to come and buy fresh, home-grown goods. The forest will also offer afternoon wildlife lectures at the observation tower, and use it as a venue for outdoor concerts.

Another alternative for the 160 acres that currently make up the Glendale Golf Course would be to restore it to the natural riverfront area it was before, which would provide a sanctuary for native birds, plants, and other wildlife. Plans have already been put together by Ray Wheeler, who is highly involved in the Jordan River restoration, that would help the city take advantage of the rare 
opportunity to use a large portion of land in natural restoration. One of Wheeler’s arguments is cost. If half of Glendale Golf Course was converted into soccer fields and playgrounds (which is a proposed idea), it would cost somewhere near $48 million. In order to change the golf course back to its natural state, the total Ray Wheeler has purposed would be $7.3 million dollars. This is broken down into $2 million to purchase the land, and an estimated $5.3 million for the restoration of natural vegetation. 

While there are a number of communal and environmental benefits from converting the golf course to a food forest, there are many that would like to keep the course open for recreation and financial purposes. There are indeed a number of courses in the Salt Lake area that are losing money but currently the Glendale course is not one of them. The Glendale course is in fact projected to run a $50,000 profit this year in light of a warmer, shorter winter. This change in profits have given rise to questions whether closing Glendale makes sense given other courses are losing much more money. The main deficit is coming from the Rose Park course, projected to lose $281,000 in 2015; accounting for over 100% of the city’s golf fund deficit going into 2016. The other main financial issue is how to pay for the repurposing of the Glendale course. Currently repurposing the course is estimated to cost $50 million, which, as of now, would be paid for via a bond measure funded by the taxpayers.

The city's system faces a national trend characterized by an overall decline in rounds of golf played each year. Salt Lake's the Golf Enterprise Fund is expected to lose $500,000 this season, putting it $1 million in the red after a similar performance last year. Also, the fund's annual revenues are about $8 million, but they have $23 million in deferred maintenance across the system over the past decade. Although reducing golf courses may create heartache for some, creating forests enriches life, biodiversity and fertility. Where life gathers, complex and mutually beneficial relationships are created between organisms; natural harmonious communities form, and life forms multiply and proliferate.

Other urban food forests such as Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest, and Los Angeles’ Food Forest are ran by a collective community effort. The Bingham Food Forest plans to model itself like Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest and be managed by large communal work parties. If Glendale Golf Course is turned into a food forest, this could also be a good blueprint to follow. This stewardship creates low costs to maintain the food forest, and creates a bond among the community. A lasting bond in a community is something that we can all agree on, and is something that should always be in the forefront of our minds.

You may not think that a food forest is the best option, or you might have another idea of what should be put in place of the Glendale Golf Course. Our state and city cares about the opinions of its residents. If you would like to voice your opinion the city has set this link up, where you can voice your opinion here. For our land to thrive we need to be responsible stewards, to do this our voice needs to be heard.

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

1) http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/to-giveth-and-taketh/Content?oid=2854257
2) http://www.good4utah.com/story/d/story/glendale-golf-course-closing/11583/-zFc-1eI40WbRDa-mgJwng
3) http://www.krcl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Bingham-Food-Forest-3.pdf
4) http://ouroutdoorsslc.com/
5) http://www.krcl.org/just-one-question-whats-a-food-forest/
6) http://www.beaconfoodforest.org/
7) http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10040-001-0183-3
8) http://www.earthrestoration.net/files/328801_328900/328810/2015-05-29-natureinthecityproposalsummary-reducedsize.pdf

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