Iowa golf course plants garden to supply on-site restaurant

Jack Cullen
Quad-City Times
In this Monday, June 5, 2017 photo, eight-year-old Quinn Hickey checks on the progress of a recently planted tomato plant in the new vegetable garden at the Palmer Hills Golf Course in Bettendorf, Iowa.

BETTENDORF, Iowa - After they groom the greens and fairways each morning at Palmer Hills Golf Course in Bettendorf, groundskeepers shift their focus to a new task, unrelated to the game.

Between the seventh and eighth holes, passing players will spot an 8-foot-high fence that protects a 2,400-square-foot fruit and vegetable garden, installed last month to feed customers at Palmer Grill, the restaurant and bar on site.

"I've seen it at these big fancy country clubs, and I thought, 'Why not us?'" said Brian Hickey, the maintenance manager of the municipal course since 2014. "I think everybody loves getting fresh produce out of a garden, so if we can harvest this daily and take some up there, it's a win-win for the community."

The tilled plot features a classic variety of tomatoes, lettuces, onions and peppers, as well as a mix of experimental crops, including cantaloupe, leek, pumpkin, watermelon and zucchini.

While nothing yet has sprouted, Hickey, who studied horticulture at Iowa State University, told The Quad-City Times ( ) they expect to harvest and deliver their first batch of goods to the cooks within the next month.

At Palmer Grill, Steve Schimmel, manager of the eatery, said the partnership eventually will reduce his bills and boost the quality of dishes coming out of his kitchen.

Touting an updated meat-heavy menu, which was unveiled this spring, Schimmel said the veggies will freshen up their salads, burgers and flatbread pizzas.

"In this day and age, people are looking for that healthy bite," he said.

Because they don't know how much the garden will yield this first year, Hickey and Schimmel devised a plan to get rid of excess food:

"If I'm not rolling it out of my kitchen as fast as we're growing it, we'll donate anything we have left over to food pantries in the Quad-Cities," Schimmel said.

On a mission to offer organic farm-to-table produce, Hickey and his staff, which includes 16 seasonal employees, refrain from using any artificial fertilizers, hericides or pesticides to care for their plants.

In this June 2017 photo, Brian Hickey, golf maintenance manager at the Palmer Hills Golf Course in Bettendorf, talks about the recently planted vegetable garden, in Bettendorf, Iowa. Hickey indicated the produce will be served at the Palmer Grill during the entire growing season.

In lieu of chemicals, workers remove weeds by hand.

Positioned next to the facility's tree nursery and practice area, the garden consumes a former vacant space on the western edge of the 150-acre course.

"It really doesn't interfere with golf play at all," Hickey said, crediting the city for supporting the project.

He also praised Paul Marietta, a frequent golfer at Palmer Hills, who doubles as a certified Master Gardener, for his assistance throughout the process.

As for the hefty fence that defends against hungry deer, Sampson Fence, the Davenport-based contractor that placed the infrastructure, did the work for $4,500, $2,000 less than what it would normally cost.

For additional security, Hickey's team lined the exterior of the area with rabbit guard, buried about a foot into the ground to block hole-digging rodents.

To aid the effort, Hickey's wife, Lisa, and their two sons, Quinn, 8, and Blake, 10, are volunteering this summer.

The brothers have experience at their family's garden at home, where Lisa educates them and regularly uses the outdoors as a classroom.

On less than two-tenths of an acre in Bettendorf, the Hickeys tend numerous food-producing plants, including blueberry and raspberry bushes and apple and peach trees.

"If you can maximize your space and use your acreage well, you can feed your family," said Lisa, who introduced her older son to gardening at age 3.

During a short break in his dad's office, an eloquent Quinn summarized the goal of the new venture at Palmer Hills.

"Well, the golf course is trying to save money," he said. "Instead of buying food from other stores, they can go over there, get the food, wash it and then just put it on your hamburger."