Eugene Residents Form Community Garden for the Needy
Nate Gartrell, EDN
In the Fall of 2009, a group of residents in Eugene’s Friendly Area neighborhood decided that they were tired of looking at an empty grass field at the intersection of 21st and Van Buren–it was a fire hazard in the summer, a mud pool during the winter, and something needed to change.
“This was a different concept from the traditional community garden where everyone manages their own plot,” Robin Scott, one of the garden’s founders, said. “We really wanted to have a cooperative model, and manage it as a group.”
At first, Scott and others in the group began surveying the neighborhood to see what crops people were interested in growing. From there, they were able to get a city grant of about $6,000 to help start the garden, and have been maintaining it themselves since. They’ve cut costs by building some of their structures out of recycled supplies, and local business Down to Earth helps provide seeds.
Volunteers meet on Saturdays or Sundays to garden for two hours, and are only expected to help out at least once per five weeks. At each harvest, food is collected and nonperishable items are left at the garden site for people to pick up, Scott said.
“There’s no fence here. Anyone in need can harvest, any volunteers can harvest,” Scott said. “It’s an honor system, and we haven’t really had any problems.”
There has been no poaching, and the only instance of vandalism occurred when some young children were seen pulling out broccoli plants, but it turned out to be a teachable moment, Scott said. The children later apologized, and offered some painted rocks to help decorate the garden area.
Such moments fulfill one goal garden founders had–to teach kids to appreciate backyard gardening. The other goal, to provide free food to community members, seemed evident to many residents. For instance, Scott’s been told that up to 60% of schoolchildren in the area are on food stamps.
According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, 18.6% of Lane County citizens were below the poverty line in January 2012, the last month data was available. This amounted to more than 65,000 people.
“There are people that rely on even the meager beds we have during the winter,” Scott said. “We bring excess to the food pantries in the area, like Food for Lane County–if there’s excess. But there’s a lot of need in this area.”
A strength of the garden has been the multiple skill sets volunteers have brought to the table, Scott said. For example, one of the most passionate garden supporters, Anne Donahue, is the City of Eugene’s Composting & Agriculture Program Coordinator. She helped Common Ground apply for permits to build the garden, and navigate red tape.
“The idea is to garden in a way that doesn’t bring complaints from the neighbors,” Donahue said. “Because then the city will come out an issue a ‘stop work’ order.”
To work within city guidelines, Common Ground workers have also had to maintain pathways through the garden, and keep it open to the public. Donahue and Scott say that so far, things have worked smoothly, and that city officials told them no one had previously applied for such a permit in Eugene.
“They had to figure out what kind of permit we needed,” Scott said. “It turned out to be something like a ‘revocable non-recorded permit,’ which sounds bizarre. It cost $250, which we were luckily able to pay for with the city grant.”
Since the Common Ground Garden’s beginning in 2009, other community gardens have began popping up around the city, and many have used the garden at 27th and Van Buren as a model, Donahue said. Of course, there is no accurate way to measure the number of unofficial community gardens.
“There’s a lot of ‘guerilla gardens,’ and as long as they keep things tidy, it’s not an issue,” Donahue said. “As long as you don’t stop pedestrian walkways, and keep it nice and maintained, it becomes a real benefit to the area.”