Favorite

Westside gardeners try new model 

Growing community

click to enlarge Kendall Merrill, left, and Richard Mee are organizers of the Westside Community Garden. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Kendall Merrill, left, and Richard Mee are organizers of the Westside Community Garden.

The “core team” of volunteers who took over the Westside Community Garden last summer changed the game — this year, the whole group will grow fresh produce together and share the fruits of their labor.

But don’t expect the innovative volunteers to take a lot of credit for launching this  neighborhood food revolution. “Somebody had to initiate it to get it started,” says Richard Mee, a garden organizer. “But we certainly are hoping to disappear into the fabric of community.”

Normally, members of a community garden each grow their own produce in one or two planter boxes. Not much interaction among the gardeners is necessary. 

The Westside Community Garden works differently. All of its 25 members work together to grow fresh fruits and vegetables in 72 communal beds. The work, and the harvest, are shared equally — and volunteers are expected to attend classes each week about different aspects of planting, growing and harvesting.

“There’s just so much that can be achieved working together, beyond our own individual needs,” says Kendall Merrill, another member of the garden’s core team. “It’s bringing back that neighborhood connection. And also, the importance around knowing how to grow our own food.”

click to enlarge Individuals or families pay $145 for a 26-week membership, including classes. - COURTESY WESTSIDE COMMUNITY GARDEN
  • Courtesy Westside Community Garden
  • Individuals or families pay $145 for a 26-week membership, including classes.

Before Mee, Merrill and other team members took over the garden, it was managed by Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, or PPUG, a nonprofit that currently operates six community gardens around the city. PPUG uses the traditional model, which allows members to rent individual planters in the garden of their choice.

The Westside garden’s current core team had been part of a group in Old Colorado City that taught gardening classes. When that group fell apart after the first year, in Mee’s words, “we just couldn’t sit idle and not do anything.”

So, they approached PPUG about taking over the garden using a communal model and teaching classes.

Barbra Gibb, who had recently been named executive director at PPUG, confesses she was “a little defensive” about the idea when she first walked into a meeting with the Westside gardeners.

“We joke about that now a lot,” she says, “because, you know, I was sort of new to this position and wanted to make sure I was holding the integrity of the organization as we moved forward. [But] as I listened to what they had in mind, it just felt so — I mean, light bulbs were going off in my head. I was like, ‘Wow, what a cool idea.’”

click to enlarge More young people are gardening to become self-sufficient, Barbra Gibb says. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • More young people are gardening to become self-sufficient, Barbra Gibb says.

By the end of the meeting, Gibb was more than happy to have the group of volunteers take over the garden.

“I inherited this model that PPUG currently runs by, but I wasn’t married to it,” Gibb says. “And so when Richard proposed something different, I was like, ‘OK, why don’t you go explore that, try that, see how that goes. Please let me stay involved so I can watch and see if this is a model that we need to reproduce.’

“Maybe this is the way that we do our gardens in the future. Maybe it’s a better way.”

The group began working on the garden and holding classes this winter at the Westside Community Center. Unlike with most community gardens, Mee says, they’ll meet 12 months out of the year.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to build the soil, build the life in the soil — and then by ignoring it for five, six months, allowing that life to die, again to rebuild,” Mee says. “Doesn’t make sense. So the garden will need water in the winter.”

Since a large part of what the gardeners hope to build is a sense of community, they limit membership to Westside residents. A 26-week membership fee of $145 per individual or family covers the expenses of maintaining the garden and improving infrastructure.

click to enlarge The Westside Community Garden’s new organizers took it over last summer. - COURTESY WESTSIDE COMMUNITY GARDEN
  • Courtesy Westside Community Garden
  • The Westside Community Garden’s new organizers took it over last summer.

Members are expected to invest about four hours a week in the garden, including group work days, individual watering time and classes on topics such as planting, mulching, pest management, composting and harvesting.

The group’s work is guided by principles of regenerative agriculture, a school of thought that takes sustainability a step further by not only maintaining the soil and environment, but restoring its health.

Through a partnership with local nonprofit SoilCycle, the garden will soon become a drop-off location for compost materials.

“The focus is definitely on growing the food and also bringing that community, but what I’m enjoying is also learning how to lessen the trash that we produce as people, just by understanding how the compost system works and how it feeds the soil,” Merrill says. 

When it comes to regenerative agriculture, animals are also “a vital, important part of the puzzle,” Mee says — so much so that the group hopes to bring in chickens and goats next year.

click to enlarge Growing food together means the success of the garden depends on everyone. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Growing food together means the success of the garden depends on everyone.

It’s more important now than ever for residents to learn to garden, says Gibb, of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens.

“I think it’s so easy for a typical consumer in our community to drive down to the Safeway or the Costco or whatever and load up a cart and feel like everything is just fine,” Gibb says. But she points to the time she couldn’t find cabbage for a St. Patrick’s Day meal after the “bomb cyclone” snowstorm closed Interstate 25 — cutting off distribution trucks — as an example of why Coloradans should be concerned.

Due to climate, location and the loss of farms, Gibb calls the Pikes Peak region “one of the worst communities in the state ... with regard to access to food and growing spaces.”

But she thinks residents are taking notice, given the increasing number of people, especially young adults, that she’s seen joining community gardens and attending classes.

“There’s just a lot more interest in being self-sufficient — not being dependent on structures that you might not want to support,” Gibb says. “And so I think [gardening has] taken on a new interest in young folks.

“We need these folks that are getting quite old now, but who hold a vast amount of gardening knowledge, to share that knowledge, with really — it would be like their grandkids’ generation, frankly — and it’s cool.”

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Local News

Readers also liked…

More by Faith Miller

All content © Copyright 2019, The Colorado Springs Independent

Website powered by Foundation