A Community Garden for My Birthday! (Part 1, Co-Garden Series)

Jul 6, 2012 by

A Community Garden for My Birthday! (Part 1, Co-Garden Series)

“Happy birthday; here’s a community garden! Just what you’ve always wanted…”

How did you know? Since I began my personal-professional journey of “Going Sustainable Together” last fall, I’ve bemoaned the fact that the nearest community garden on Oak Street is fully subscribed and not accepting new members.

Now, because of this unexpected gift, on the eve of my 36th birthday two weeks ago I hosted the first organizing meeting of the newest community garden in the network of 20-odd such gardens on private land that exist in Jefferson County.

Until someone comes up with a better name, we’re calling it the Adams Street Community Garden—and this post is the first in a series chronicling its creation.

ORGANIZING MEETING

Twenty people squeezed into my living room, a diverse group of young/old, owners/renters, couples/singles, retirees/parents of young children. Most, but not all, were known to me (the neighborhood socialite), but there were many new acquaintances to be made even though we all live within a 3-block radius of the garden site.

There was a palpable feeling of excitement in the room, as attendees introduced themselves and said a few words about why they were interested in the community garden. A recurring theme was, “I can’t garden in my own yard because (A) it’s too tiny, (B) doesn’t get enough sun, or (C) isn’t deer-proof.” (The roaming city deer are too hungry and numerous to be deterred by anything other than an 8′ perimeter fence!)

On the positive side, themes that emerged were a desire to be more self-sufficient, eat more food we’ve grown ourselves, learn how (or more about how) to grow food, and get to know neighbors and grow the community.

Mary from the yellow house down the block summed up the general mood: “Coming together with my neighbors to grow food just totally excites me!”

WHY COMMUNITY GARDENS?

Community gardens—especially the kind that are gardened collectively or communally (both terms are used) instead of offering space for individual “pea patches”—are proven to grow community, along with copious amounts of food

They are a perfect example of how sharing the journey toward a more sustainable life can make that trip easier, more enjoyable and more fruitful (I’m thinking raspberries and strawberries!).

Neighborhoods that garden together are more cohesive and more involved. We envision the garden becoming a neighborhood gathering place, with an artful sign and bench to invite visitors to linger.

I’ll be able to peer at the garden site from my second-story deck and see if my son and I should head over to socialize…and maybe pull some weeds, too!

LAND OFFER

I should explain that the “gift” is a generous pledge that for the next eight years, a sunny, level lawn between two buildings at either end of a double lot will be made available for a community garden. The landowners, former neighbors my age who moved to a big city for a job (an all-too-typical scenario for young professionals), had their house rented to someone who was not supportive of the big lawn being used for this purpose, but with a change of renters comes a change of heart!

I asked Jen (half of the landowning couple) to write a statement of purpose I could share with the interested gardeners. Here is an excerpt of her eloquent submission:

Our family has great affinity for this land and neighborhood. Knowing how precious an open sunny lot in Uptown is, we do not want to see it unused. A community garden where folks work together to grow food, relationships and community well-being is a dream come true.

Personally, I am an avid gardener (Jen wrote). I tend to transform wherever we live into a verdant garden space. Not limited to growing showy flowers, I am also an advocate and proponent of encouraging folks to grow food.

A few years ago, I started a gardening program at our daughter’s elementary school…. [E]very student is invited to join what is called “Farming Friday,” when they can engage in gardening activities during their recess. The prime activity is digging in the soil and nibbling on what’s growing….The kids devour kale and sorrel but leave enough to donate to the local Food Bank.

So now you know why we are so enthusiastic about your intentions to grow vegetables! We are thrilled to be able to make this happen.

And we in the neighborhood are thrilled as well!

CONDITIONS

The landowners set some reasonable conditions for the Adams Street Community Garden:

–  That the garden group always have a leader and that members employ at least a verbal  contract. (We plan to use a boilerplate written contract/waiver.)

–  That usage/behavior expectations be posted, out of respect to the land and the neighbors.

–  That we be reimbursed for expenses related to water usage. (Easy to do with a $80 water meter we will purchase and install on the faucet conveniently located at a standpipe on one side of the lawn. Divvying up the water bill is a job for our garden bookkeeper.)

–  That we are not liable for injuries or damages incurred from community garden activities on the property. (See waiver, above. And we’ll look into garden insurance.)

–  That the position of fence posts not obscure the peekaboo water view from the house. (We will send digital photos and a site map, for approval prior to fence placement.)

–  That the tenant of the adjacent house be allowed a garden plot, a share, or whatever is reasonable based on mutual agreement.

RECRUITMENT

When I heard about the land offer, I admit I had conflicting feelings. “The universe is trying to get my attention,” I posted on Sustainable Together’s Facebook page May 16. “A perfect space for a big community garden has been offered by a landowner ON MY BLOCK.”

But the timing felt a little off, as I was literally called away from weeding our newly expanded backyard vegetable garden to answer the phone. (Five of our 10 raised beds are pictured below—plus we have 8 tomato plants in pots and a kitchen-door herb garden.) Believing we didn’t have access to a community garden and weighing the pros and cons of a CSA share (Community Supported Agriculture), my husband and I had made a conscious decision to invest in growing food in our already-fenced backyard.

Yet the opportunity to be a part of a new community garden—on our block, after all!—was too much in alignment with Sustainable Together’s mission for me to ignore. (My husband is still skeptical of how it will vie for the time we currently spend gardening; I tell him even if we don’t become full-fledged members, we will benefit from the creation of a community garden in the neighborhood, so let’s help get it going!)

The county’s community garden network is loosely coordinated by Local 20/20’s Food Resiliency Action Group (learn more about why and how in this 5-minute podcast, part of a 2009 “One World Report” series on “gardening as community development” in Port Townsend). It was the action group leader that Jen phoned to offer the land—not me, although I heard about it soon enough.

Three of us in the neighborhood who are plugged into Local 20/20 were contacted and asked to spread the word among our friend and neighbor networks. We also put an announcement in Local 20/20’s weekly e-news for three weeks running, and for one week prior to the meeting I posted a sign on the lot for walkers-by to see.

The response was immediate and enthusiastic. Since I fielded the RSVPs, I can tell you we had 18 interested families represented at the first organizing meeting, with two families out of town but wanting “in”—which is the maximum number we think the garden plot can support, so we’re not doing any more recruiting for now.

GARDEN ADVICE

Local 20/20’s Judy Alexander (eloquently interviewed in the podcast referenced above) was there to give us a primer on community gardens and assure us we don’t have to know how to garden to be a meaningful participant. We will be learning from each other, and there are roles to fill that don’t involve gardening knowledge: watering the plants, keeping the books, scavenging for free materials and manure, communicating with the group, entertaining the kids during work parties.”Each one of you has something to contribute,” Judy said. “Honor the diversity.”

Judy also urged us to make a minimum time commitment for all members, and ask for a cash contribution (annual fees in Port Townsend gardens range from $25 to $125, and go to purchase seeds and supplies). Work parties on Saturdays or Sundays where all members are encouraged to attend help to build a sense of community.

The two biggest fears that Judy has seen derail garden members are the fear of not knowing enough and the fear of letting go of control. She counseled us to recognize these fears and help each other face them down. She also advised us not to get stuck in the “scarcity model.” “Don’t look at the work put in and the harvest through the fairness lens,” she said. “It will drive you nuts!”

What she’s seen work is the abundance model. Don’t plant low-producing crops like asparagus (you’ll be fighting over the few stalks to come up); stick with abundant varieties. Plant extra outside the garden gate for passers-by (um, and the deer). Plant extra rows for donating to the Food Bank. And don’t begrudge the amount of time you think someone else isn’t putting in—chances are they are doing some important behind-the-scenes work. And if they aren’t, well, there’s probably a good reason and we’re a community and we pick up the slack for each other.

If we do this, “You will be amazed at the abundance of gifts and talents—and produce!—that will emerge from this group,” Judy said.

And as I looked around my living room at the wonderful people assembled at that first organizing meeting, I believed it!

Next Steps

Tilling the turf and planting a cover crop, in preparation for a Spring 2013 garden debut.

This is Part 1 (exploring the land offer and initial organizing) in an ongoing series on the new Adams Street Community Garden.

Part 2 describes tilling, cover-cropping and fencing the first fall.

5 Comments

  1. Ann Testerman

    Way to go Adams Street! We’ll be anxiously looking at your progress. Good luck!

  2. Fantastic! What a great birthday gift. I am so impressed with the participation in this community. The homeowners who are providing the space deserve some applause, too. What a great idea!

  3. chauncey

    Love it!

  4. Polly Price

    Your Ohio family is looking forward to comparing gardening notes!
    Our supper table included fresh Swiss Chard, garlic, basil, onions and tomatoes from our little salad garden. Bell peppers and sweet corn are also ready on Long Lake! Keep us posted on your progress.

  5. Brian Goldstein

    I am a perfect example of “you don’t have to know anything to join a community garden”. I have never grown food before, but in the 2 years since I joined, I have learned quite a bit about planting, setting up a watering system, and composting/worm binning. The organic food is great, and I’ve come to know other garden members on a personal level. It’s well worth the modest investment in time and money.