If you’ve got the green thumb, Lawrence city commissioners may have the ground for you.
Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday will consider approving a plan to allow four pieces of city-owned ground to be used for community gardens or market farms to promote everything from free fruit to fresh produce for local school lunches.
“We feel like we have four projects that can really showcase what’s possible,” said Eileen Horn, the city and county’s sustainability coordinator. “We have phenomenal soils for growing fruits and vegetables in Lawrence. The potential in Lawrence is huge.”
City commissioners previously had agreed to accept applications for 13 pieces of city-owned property across the city, but on Tuesday commissioners are being asked to move forward on four specific proposals. They are:
• A community orchard by Skyler Adamson and the Lawrence Fruit Tree project. The site will be near 13th and Garfield streets and along the Burroughs Creek Trail in East Lawrence. Horn said plans call for the orchard to be open for free picking by community members.
“People can just hop off their bike and pick some fruit to sustain them,” Horn said.
Members of the Fruit Tree Project also plan to host frequent workshops at the site to teach community members about fruit production. In addition to fruit trees, the site — which will take a couple of seasons to develop — is expected to have several types of berry plants and bushes.
• A community garden at John Taylor Park at 200 N. Seventh St. in North Lawrence. Horn said the community garden will be unique because it will reserve several plots of ground to rent to children. The project, proposed by Justina Gonzalez, is planning to partner with the nearby Ballard Community Center.
• A neighborhood garden at 1304 and 1315 Pennsylvania St. The garden will be run by Michael Morley and the Sustainability Action Network. It will be open to neighborhood residents, and the project will include frequent classes on gardening and food preservation.
• A larger scale farming operation on about 1 acre of ground near the Kansas River levee at Eighth and Oak streets in North Lawrence. The project will be run by Johnson County Community College’s Sustainable Agriculture Program, which has about half dozen or more Lawrence residents as students.
Plans call for 50 percent of all the produce grown on the site to be donated to Lawrence public schools or to a local food bank, if school district officials aren’t in a position to use the produce, said Stu Shafer, coordinator for the college’s sustainable agriculture program.
“We really want to work with the schools,” said Shafer. “There are lots of studies that show kids who are exposed to fresh fruit and vegetables at a young age will eat more of them.”
JCCC plans to partner with the Community Mercantile’s Education Foundation to get the food into the schools.
If city commissioners approve the four projects on Tuesday, Horn will work to create essentially rent-free license agreements for the groups to use the city property. The growers will have to pay for any city water their crops require, but Horn said the city is seeking grant opportunities to pay for installation of water meters and hydrants on some of the sites.
Originally, Horn and the Douglas County Food Policy Council had envisioned having farms on all 13 sites that were proposed. But Horn said upon further review several of those sites had more challenges than originally thought when it came to soil quality or water availability.
“We decided to hit the pause button on some of the more complicated sites,” Horn said. “But we hope to make larger tracts available next year.”
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.