Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Community Garden Project

The past several weeks have been hectic ones since a few dedicated gardeners and I decided to turn a beloved 100 year old rural village doctor's fertile garden into a community garden to feed the local families who need more food.

Dr Rowe died in August.  There have been several huge memorial tributes about his amazing life, but none more legendary than the beloved garden he tended and shared with the needy families he saw in his daily visits.

When his large family decided to have a giant yard sale in September to empty the family home he lived in most of his life, I asked for his many cedar poles that he used to grow his rare pole beans. They graciously granted my request and I asked the village librarian to assist me in pulling them all up out of his big garden.  It was an emotional afternoon as we walked down to his garden, passing his favorite chair and going down into the garden where he spent so much of his time. As we were pulling up the poles the librarian remarked that it would be a shame to make this fertile piece of ground into a lawn and that it would make a perfect community garden.  I thought the same thing.   Both of us have been feeding other families in town who needed food.  There is a "share the harvest" basket at the library where extra veggies from gardens are brought so other people who need it have access to it.  The local food pantry has had increasing numbers of people showing up to get food as well and are having  a difficult time keeping the food pantry stocked with basic items.   The community garden is within easy walking distance from where most of the needy families live, most without transportation.

The librarian and I brought our idea to our little Garden Club meeting and discussed the possibilities with the members.    Lots of questions were asked, a sub committee formed and a long list of things we needed to do.

I am a dirt diva. I just want to get in the soil and grow stuff.  Little did I know that we had to get permission from several different places and contact 4 non-profits in town with hope they would "adopt" the community garden so we could apply for grants if we needed them and borrow their kitchen facilities for Harvest classes next year so that community gardeners could learn how to preserve and cook the foods they grew.   So far 3 organizations have adopted the garden, as long as "we" the Garden Club members organize, maintain and run it.   So far, so good.

Yesterday was the 1st annual "Put the garden to bed" day from 10am-1pm at the new Rowe Memorial Community Garden.  The day before had been torential rains for 16 hours so it was doubtful weather we would even be able to get on the garden at all.
Luckily, Saturday morning brought blue clouds and sunshine.  A picture perfect October day.

Five hardy gardeners gathered under a huge oak tree at the garden promptly at 9:56am.  I was quickly appointed as the Project Manager and I read my list of things that had to be done before 1pm OR before we collapsed from exhaustion. 

We had 2 wheelbarrows, twine, stakes, tools and many smiles, so we knew we could accomplish the job.

A local high school student and his grandfather showed up to help us and because of these two wonderful new volunteers we were able to get much more done than we anticipated.


While some of us cut down the cornstalks and weeded, others raked leaves from the large front lawn and wheel barrowed them down to the main garden for mulch.

I roped off the asparagus beds and put tomato cages around the rhubarb so the rototiller man (when we find one) won't chop them up. Good thing I learned that this spring!

The present garden is 100 x 40 and we think there will be 10-15 garden plots for people who need and want to grow their own food.  We can also grow a few long rows of veggies to supplement the local food pantry.  PLUS there is plenty of room for expansion!  Doctor Rowe's garden once spread to the furthest limits of his 4 boundaries, which would be 3-4 times the size of this remaining one.

As we were starting to slow down, two more garden club members came and re-energized us.
They got right down to weeding the other side of the garden.

Every time I walked up the hill for water after dragging tree limbs and giant picker bushes to the tree pile, I could see the progress being made.  I had a vision of many people growing their own gardens next May.
This will be a happy place. This will be a colorful place.  And it will grow!!

Just before 1 pm we knew that we all needed to stop. Our knees and backs had pretty much slowed down and we were out of water.    100% of the garden was weeded and 70% of the garden was covered in leaves. 
The giant picker bushes, vines, tree suckers and other debris had been removed from in and around the garden plus from a few other smaller gardens near by.

The big items we will need to raise funds for will be electric fencing and a solar charger to keep the hungry deer out, several truckloads of magical 3 year old composted cow manure and the rental of a rototiller or someone who will rototill the garden next spring.

Meanwhile, we will continue working on the garden plus start repairing a possible future tool shed for spring use.
There will be gardening classes this winter at the library with supplemental reading provided by the hundreds of great books the library has and classes run by other Garden Club members.

Next there will be an article in the local paper announcing the community garden and its mission.

The local church food pantry will be directing needy families, who are interested in growing their own food, to us to reserve their 2013 garden plot.

We will also be looking into applying for grants for deer fencing, seeds and perhaps our own rotoiller.

Every time I see this garden I think of Pete Seeger's song, Inch by Inch, Row by Row.
The 30 grandchildren of Dr Rowe sang this at his memorial service and I just can't get it out of my head.
I think you will agree that the lyrics are perfect for this project.

So, my questions are:
Do you have any experience with participating in or organizing a community garden?

Please share some of the best ideas, cautions and suggestions.

Does anyone know of grants for community gardens or great ideas for a fund raiser?


  1. I am sorry that I cannot answer any of your questions. But I wanted to say what a wonderful thing, undertaking, you have started. There is a community garden on the island where I grew up. It has been in the works for five or six years and has been well received. It has provided a real sense of community effort. I wish you well and hope your back has recovered! Greetings, Julie.

  2. I had forgotten about this song...heard it first by another folk singer, and I agree it's perfect! What a neat idea you have...hope those who need it will appreciate and benefit from the garden!

  3. Janis,
    You are inspiring! What a brilliant idea, and you have the hutzspah to back it up. I will be looking forward to future posts about the progress in the Doctor's garden. Well done!!

  4. We have a community garden here. It is sponsored by our local nursery and is home to 40 9 X 12 garden plots. People sign up for them every year and as long as you are responsible and take care of picking up after yourself when the growing season is over, then you are welcome to sign up again for the next year. Our garden is more for families that want to grow their own produce, although next summer we are hoping to turn our yard into a garden and donate our extra produce to the food bank that is directly across the street from our house. I love your blog!