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AUBURN | Auburn could soon join a list of communities across the nation that have implemented a sustainable public food garden.

Members of the Auburn City Council reviewed a proposal to use Lepak Park on Garrow Street as a permaculture park designed as a perennial food forest with educational opportunities.

With permaculture defined as an ethical, renewable means of environmental management, the park would feature a variety of perennial fruits, berries and nuts, such as apples, pears and apricots.

Designers came before the city council Thursday seeking permission to use Lepak Park. While a formal resolution will come before officials next week, the majority of council spoke highly of the plan.

Pending approval, developers said they plan to meet with residents to earn their consent, as well.

"I think we need to teach our children the pleasures of growing in the backyard and enjoying the fresh fruit, the trees and seeing how it's produced," said Councilor John Camardo.

The project was detailed Thursday by collaborators Peter Cramer and and Erin Humphrey, who are both certified permaculture designers. They explained how Lepak Park was chosen since it is presently one of the city's lesser used community spots.

"Hopefully if this first model is successful, we would like to expand upon it and use other underutilized spaces throughout the city to provide food to whomever feels they would like it," Humphrey said.

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Similar projects have been developed locally in Ithaca and Syracuse while larger-scale models include the Beacon Food Forest in Seattle and Greenbelt Food Forest in Maryland.

According to developers, the Auburn Beautification Commission would provide the majority of initial costs, including expenses for vegetables and planting materials.

A total estimated cost of roughly $3,700 does not account for mulch and compost, which the city is being asked to provide. Following that, however, the project proposal states this low-maintenance "edible forest garden" will be able to take care of itself over time.

Local nonprofits have been invited to help care for the Auburn Permaculture Park, while the pruning of the fruit trees would be handled by the educational facet of the proposal, Cramer said.

"It would have the resiliency of a forest where there's always something in abundance," he said.

Signage about the forest, Cramer explained, would detail each of the plants while workshops could be used to teach about fruit pruning. Councilor Peter Ruzicka encouraged developers to work with local schools in that regard.

"I think it's a very worthy project," he said. "I think the educational aspect in itself is (worth) more than the value of what I see as the upfront costs."

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Staff writer Greg Mason can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or greg.mason@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenMason.

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