It seems that building community gardens is like planting perennials. The saying goes, "The first year they sleep, the second year the creep and the third year they leap." Well, we're right in the middle of creeping and leaping if everything pans out this season. Here's a synopsis of what we have planned so far with River City Harvest:
Park Place Gardens - Last year was our first year at Park Place Health Care Center, and we've been granted permission to double the size. This means we'll have approximately 17,000 square feet at this location. Last year we had over 14 plots for our renters, and a couple for Meals on Wheels. The greatest drawback, besides the invasion of the gophers in June, was sharing one faucet with everyone. Thankfully, we had a wet summer so it wasn't a huge problem, but if we would've had a typical hot, dry stretch in July and August, it would've been ugly. This year we'll have a faucet for every two plots.
To help make the Park Place Gardens a showcase for other community gardens throughout the state, Ace Hardware is stepping up to help us with improvements. They're going to install a water line with spigots down the middle of the garden so we have plenty to handle the water needs of everyone. Plus, they're supplying the materials to build a pergola and benches so the elderly residents at Park Place can come out and relax near the activity. Many of them are retired farmers or lifelong gardeners, and we heard that they enjoyed watching our progress. A couple of times I was able to speak to some of them, and share a few handfuls of the first grape tomatoes of the season.
Electric City Conservatory - For the two previous years, Our Saviors Lutheran Church youth group had a garden at Electric City Conservatory in downtown Great Falls. Casey, the youth director, is absolutely swamped with his work on his own farm so RCH is taking over the garden. We're going to keep this one organic since there are several people who want an area free of synthetic pesticides and herbicides.
This space is roughly 10,000 square feet (maybe a bit more), and we'll divide it between renters and charitable plots since the Meals on Wheels and Food Bank are right down the road. It's also completely fenced, which will provide us with easy trellises for pole beans and peas. And since it's located on the corner, we want to plant plenty of flowers to make it attractive as well as productive.
University of Great Falls - Part of our mission statement at RCH is to help other groups start community gardens, which is what we're doing with UGF. They want to have it primarily for students and staff, along with a certain percentage dedicated to charitable organizations. I believe the first garden will be 100x150 feet with the possibility to expand to four acres.
Salvation Army - We've been talking with the Salvation Army since last summer, and will hopefully have a plan to go ahead this year. They have a wonderful vacant lot (except for a perfect garden shed) next to their main office. We're hoping to plow, fertilize and get them started so they can grow for their own families. They have an excellent food storage faciility, and already care for the needs of many people. This will expand what they can do.
CMR High School - There is a new Agricultural Academy starting at CMR High School, and RCH is helping as much as we can. Jodi Koterba is the powerhouse behind the program, and secured a grant from the Montana Farm Bureau to construct a 1500 sq ft greenhouse. She and her students will plant greens and other veggies for the school's salad bar throughout the fall, and hopefully winter.
We're going to help by plowing and preparing the site for the greenhouse, as well as create outside gardens where we can plant for the food banks in the spring and summer. The students will use all of them for science and math classrooms as part of the academy. It should prove to be a fantastic project.
Even though it's still months away from working the ground, all of us are very busy. Deb is working hard to finalize our non-profit paperwork (no small task - it's a beast); Sheila is helping us with grants; Wade is lining up materials and people to build the structures we need this year ( four sheds might also be on the to-do list); I'm contacting companies for seed donations and trying to plan what we'll need to be able to supply more fresh produce to Meals on Wheels and other programs.
But our greatest need is probably volunteers. Deb and I struggled last year trying to keep up with harvesting the veggies for Meals on Wheels. The plan this year is to have teams assigned to each garden to take care of such things so nothing goes to waste. The need is great, and hopefully we can make a difference.