Berry Controversial 

A neighbor proposes an edible landscape, but other neighbors don't bite

Peter Skenandore and his 14-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, have walked past their neighborhood's stormwater retention pond hundreds of times, but recently they had what he called a "wouldn't-it-be-fun-to" moment.

The pond, at 2280 E. Roanoke Drive, is intended to mitigate flooding in the east Foothills neighborhood. While most retention ponds are taken over by homeowner associations or maintained by the city, this one fell through the cracks. A few residents take it upon themselves to mow the weeds, but other than that, the ground is covered in dried-out grass.

The Skenandores, who moved from Seattle to Boise three years ago and live less than 10 minutes from the pond, have a different vision.

"To us, this neglected, overgrown lot is an absolute garden and education gold mine," their development plan states.

The idea was born to create a community garden, complete with interpretive trails and a dock, an orchard, native vegetation, benches and beehive boxes. The possibilities piled up, including educational opportunities for students, pie-eating contests, bike-riding workshops for the local kids, even a street fair.

Working toward a degree in nonprofit management, Skenandore used his skills to launch Boise Community Gardens Inc. With the help of his home-schooled daughter, they crafted a model based on volunteers. They planned to donate extra food to the Idaho Foodbank. They created fundraising campaigns.

They were enthusiastic, but the response from neighbors was not what they expected.

"I was surprised," Skenandore said.

After passing out fliers to nearby houses, the plan ran up against a wave of rejection. Skenandore said he struggled with the "territorial" approach other neighbors took.

"We have lived in our home for over 20 years and one of the primary reasons we purchased the home and have remained there for so long is the quiet, privacy and natural feel that the retention pond area directly outside our back yard offers [sic]," one resident wrote.

Several other neighbors joined in emailing the city, bringing up concerns over foot traffic, loss of privacy, barking dogs, parking and traffic congestion, safety of neighborhood children, additional noise and the possibility of a garden attracting wildlife to the area.

"[H]aving to deal with a community garden right in our backyard adds a new element of stress and uncertainty that could not come at a worse time," wrote another resident.

"I believe that I am not far off by saying that most, if not all, of the neighbors who live closest to the proposed berry patch are NOT in favor of the idea," wrote yet another.

The Skenandores scaled back their plans, leaving only a raspberry patch and a bench or two. Then they sought approval from Boise Parks and Recreation commissioners.

"Our goal is to enhance that area and make it more presentable and broaden the utility of it," Skenandore said in a public hearing.

Despite testimony against the raspberry patch, the commission approved it.

Skenandore said what he really wants to create with the Roanoke Raspberry Patch is an edible landscape. That means incorporating plants that produce food into normal landscaping. It's a trend taking off in Boise.

Owner of SplitPea Edible Landscaping Niky Dryden creates what she calls a "full blown relationship with nature."

"You think about food growing in your yard," she said. "It's so much more than that. It's as local as you can possibly be. It's grocery shopping on your way into your house, it's removing things that aren't providing for you ... and replacing it with things that will provide for you and your family and your neighbors."

Dryden uses sunflowers as trellises for beans; squash plants as natural mulch; and fills in the spaces with plants like asparagus, peppers, artichokes, quinoa and rainbow kale.

"Strawberry plants are great for edible landscaping," she said. "They're very pretty, they offer great ground cover, they choke out the weeds and you get to eat the strawberries. ... You name it, I will put it in the front yard."

When Dryden sees a disused city-owned lot, she lets loose with a growl.

"It's really frustrating to see open space with nothing, not providing anything to anyone or any critter," she said.

Rob Bousfield, assistant city engineer with the Boise Public Works Department, admitted that the pond at Roanoke Drive was neglected.

"Public Works maintains it," he said, "and to be honest, we have done little to no maintenance. That's why it looks the way it does."

With approval from the city, Skenandore and his daughter have set to work to raise an initial $1,200 and started conversations to defuse upset neighbors. They hope to start planting next spring.

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