Mountain View Voice

News - June 28, 2013

New city property a 'food forest' in the making?

by Daniel DeBolt

It may be hard to imagine walking into a park in the heart of Silicon Valley and being able to eat freely from an abundance of fruit trees but that may soon become a reality with the city's purchase of a lush, one-acre property on North Rengstorff Avenue.

When the City Council recently approved the $3 million purchase of the land at 771 North Rengstorff, it may have unwittingly set the city on a course to have one of the first "food forests" in the region.

While the city's planning process has yet to begin for the property, its numerous fruit trees may very well be saved if the City Council decides to stick to its goal this year of maintaining the city's tree canopy. Cities around the world are beginning to see the value of using park space to grow orchards, vegetable gardens and berry patches, turning parks into sources of food free for the taking. The largest example is in Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood, where residents will soon be able to forage from 7-acres of food-bearing plants.

The 92-year-old woman who sold the property to the city, Frances Stieper, has a similar desire, according to firefighter John Miguel, who has become close friends with Stieper. He met her eight years ago on a medical call for her late husband and realized that she needed help around the house. He's been pitching in ever since, along with other firefighters.

"I feel like she's my grandmother," Miguel said as he also helped with the cleanup. He said Stieper had even visited his home in Modesto and was in his family photos. He had numerous stories about his times with her. Though he's often helping her, "I've gotten way more out of it then she ever has," he said.

As for the prospect of turning the land into a park where people could enjoy the vegetable garden and fruit trees, Miguel said. "That's my vision for it and Frances' vision too. She's just a humble, sweet person."

Stieper politely declined to speak with the Voice, saying that enough about her had already been printed in the paper. Stieper is still living on the site temporarily and would prefer not to be disturbed.

Miguel said Stieper was a "giving" person, and her property could keep on giving if her wishes to preserve it as a park are honored by the city. Among the 125 trees on the property are those bearing apricots, figs, avocados, peaches, apples, oranges and plums. A large collection of bee hives keep the trees pollinated.

"Those ginormous fig trees could feed half of Mountain View," said Marina Marinovich, who grew up on one of the many orchards that once existed in Mountain View, and was helping during a clean up day at the site last Friday. Marinovich has been leading the effort to preserve the tiny historic 1880s "Immigrant House" that the City Council decided to place among the fruit trees on the land, once funds are raised to restore it. She envisions taking school kids on tours of the property and being shown how food can be grown.

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga also admired the fruit trees.

"It would be ideal to preserve these," she said pointing to the fruit trees and artichoke plants while helping to load debris into dumpsters during the cleanup day.

Last Friday, a dozen firefighters were helping to clean up the site and move Stieper's things after finishing two- and three-days shifts at the firehouse that morning.

"This is the stuff we thrive on, we're here for the community," said Capt. George Mocak.

"It's going to be nice for this city to have an open space with mature trees ," said firefighter Brendan Siegal. "Parks make a community."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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