Putting down roots

Cherry tomatoes grow outside Union Station Smoke House in Durand Aug 19 as part of the city’s newly implemented edible landscape. The Durand City Council voted unanimously earlier this month to make the edible landscape a permanent program in the city.

DURAND — Fresh fruits and vegetables will remain free for the taking in several green spaces throughout downtown Durand for years to come.

The Durand City Council voted unanimously Oct. 4 to make the city’s edible landscape a permanent program, agreeing to budget up to $500 each year in support of the initiative.

“With making it a budgeted item, we guarantee the program can continue, independent of donations,” Mayor Pro Tem Matt Schaefer said. “At the end of the day, $500 from the budget is a drop in the bucket for a program that has done so much good for the citizens of Durand and I was happy to vote (for it).”

By the end of the harvest season this month, program leader Michael Nazarian estimates the edible landscape will have produced more than 300 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables for the community in its first year.

Nazarian, a sustainability advocate, approached the city with the edible landscape idea in early April. He believes the edible landscape will help alleviate struggles with business retention, as well as foster a greener, healthier community in Durand.

Residents and visitors are encouraged to sample the fresh offerings and take home anything they please, and restaurants are also legally permitted to use the food, he said.

“Looks like we will be doing this for years to come,” Nazarian wrote in Facebook post following the Oct. 4 council meeting. “Thank you all so much for the massive effort.”

The city partnered with the Durand Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Greater Durand Area Chamber of Commerce to form a beautification committee in April, enlisting local volunteers to clean up green spaces throughout the downtown.

Included in the plans was Nazarian’s idea for an edible landscape. Jeff Brands, a Durand City Council member and longtime community volunteer, was tapped to lead the program.

“Everybody seems to love it,” Brands said in August. “I’ve actually seen more people walking downtown, checking it out.”

Funded primarily through donations in its first year, the edible landscape, Nazarian believes, is likely the first city-run, free food program in the United States. He’s researched the topic at length, finding only community gardens run by small organizations.

The edible landscape is overseen by the Greater Durand Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The Chamber will manage the newly allocated funds in conjunction with the city and DDA.

“We are of course thrilled that the city sees the benefits of the edible landscape,” said Candyce Wolsfeld, executive director of the Chamber. “The produce is available to everyone and it has fed many people. The restaurants have used the produce. It has brought out volunteers who work on their own to weed and continue to beautify Durand. With the funds provided by the city and other donations to the Foundation, we can expand our efforts and plant more.”

Wolsfeld said the existing partnership between the city, the Chamber and the DDA makes for a stronger community.

“Our goal with the (edible landscape) project is to enhance the downtown area,” she said. “Walkers, visitors and tourists have read about the program and made visits to our area. The more people, the more opportunities to bring business to our existing businesses. You can’t promote business without promoting community.”

For more information on Durand’s edible landscape program, visit greeningyourlife.org/ediblelandscapedurand.

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