A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Sharing Gardens is Going to Court!

The Sharing Gardens is in the process of applying for an exemption from paying property taxes and we need letters of support from as many people as possible by Friday, May 15, 2015 -- (sent to the email below). If you have been touched by what we do--either directly through receiving seeds, starts or vegetables; participated as a volunteer, received mentorship or guidance on starting a similar project and/or growing food organically; or you are one of the thousands of people who come to our website from all over the world each month, please write us a letter of support so we can show the court that what we do makes a positive difference in your life!

All government buildings, libraries and public service agencies such as police and fire departments are exempt from paying property taxes. Some non-profit agencies and projects are also granted exemptions if they can prove that they are providing valuable services to the public that supplement or augment government programs. We feel that the Sharing Gardens qualifies. The money that we save from paying taxes can go directly into keeping the Sharing Gardens thriving and expanding.

Here are some facts about the project:
  • The Sharing Gardens was begun in 2009 (we are now entering our seventh season).
  • We are 100% non-commercial and rely entirely on donations and volunteer labor for the success of the project.
  • We save 85% - 90% of our own seed which we share freely at seed swaps and to local gardeners. Seed-saving is one of those skills that is a dying practice but one that we hope to keep alive and teach others how to do.
  •  We grow all our own 'starts' from seed. Each year we give away literally hundreds of these 'starts' to other local sharing-type gardens and non-commercial gardeners. This amounts to over 2/3 of the starts we grow.
  • All the vegetables we grow are shared freely with volunteers and local food charities. In 2012 (the last year we kept records) we shared over 6,000 pounds of food and hundreds of heads of lettuce and other greens. Our capacity to grow and share is still expanding. For many of our recipients we provide their only source of organic produce. No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown.
  • Our educational website receives over 8,000 visits per month! People come from all over the world seeking simple, clearly illustrated information about growing food without the use of harmful chemicals. We also teach about using local materials such as leaves and grass for soil fertility to begin weaning gardeners away from using commercial products mined and shipped from far away places in unsustainable ways. We are giving new meaning to the idea of growing 'local' food (if you have to ship your soil amendments from half-way around the world, just how local and sustainable is it?)
  • We provide mentorship to other people starting up sharing-type community gardens where they live.
  • We have begun forming a partnership with the Benton County Health Dept., and Monroe Health Clinic to make ourselves available as a resource in delivering a class for people at-risk, or already showing signs of -- diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Their class tracks vital health statistics (giving participants direct feedback), offers hands-on instruction for changing life-style habits (including food choices and exercise) and allows time each session for a private consultation with Dr. Kyle Homertgen and peer-to-peer support. The six-session program takes place over a 10 week time period and the final class will culminate with a tour of the Sharing Gardens and a potluck salad-bar.
    to increase health and well-being
  • Since 2013, when we began hosting Oregon State University students "service learning" projects we have had at least 17 groups of 4-6 students each spend four-hours learning about organic farming, experiencing first-hand the spirit of generosity.
  • Nine months out of the year we have volunteer sessions 1-3 times a week. Our "Share-Givers" learn about gardening, form new friendships and experience the feeling of sanctuary that the gardens provide.
Kids in the carrot patch.
We feel that one of the most important "services" we provide is one of inspiration! In a world that is overrun with competition and strategies of "giving the least to get the most" we feel it is especially important to provide a demonstration of the power of generosity. The Sharing Gardens is an oasis of hope in a desert of cynicism and despair. Each year as we plant seeds in the soil that will grow to ripeness and feed the bodies of those in our community, we are also planting seeds of love, inspiration and joy that will feed people spiritually as well. If you are one of those people who has been touched or fed by the Sharing Gardens, please send us a note about it today!

Please include:
  • Your name and where you live
  • Your title and name of organization you represent (if relevant). Letters on letter-head are particularly persuasive.
  • Email is fine, or a Word-doc or PDF. Send to: Our Email address
  • Please address your correspondence to "Whom it May Concern".
  • Send ASAP, by Friday May 15, 2015 at the latest (we have only one chance to make our case).
Regardless of the outcome of our case, we will do our best to continue to provide this public service for as long as we are able. Thank you for all the ways you have shown us your support in the past and the ways you are making the world a better place in your own way! Much love, Llyn and Chris

P.S. The Sharing Gardens is already a legal non-profit organization and can receive tax-deductible donations. This court case will simply determine if we must pay annual property-tax.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Flying by the 'Seed of Our Plants'

Generosity 'blooms' at the Sharing Gardens
Rob with kale "raab" (pronounced "rob").

Spring is in full bloom here in the Pacific NW. We have most of the spring vegetables planted: broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, kale and chard. About half of our onions and potatoes are in the ground and we still have  a lot of celery to plant but we're over the first big hump of spring-planting and now all the plants can get busy and grow! We've begun to harvest our first edible-pod peas (planted in one of our greenhouses Dec. 22nd! - see picture below) and the lettuce is growing faster than we can keep up with so soon we'll have enough to share with our volunteers (share-givers) and the local food pantries.

Plant give-away on a rainy day.
The surplus cool-weather "starts" that we grew this spring all went to good homes. Aside from a few local gardeners we gave the majority of our surplus to three local community-gardens that also grow food for "those in need" (food pantries and Senior lunch programs). These are the S.A.G.E. garden in Corvallis and the Philomath and Brownsville community gardens. We are excited to be deepening our relationship with these groups and to share both our surplus, and any mentorship that they need from us as they expand their "sharing" capacity.

We've done it again!
Llyn with some of this year's tomato plants.
When it comes to growing tomatoes, peppers and other heat-loving plants, we just can't seem to contain ourselves! We have close to 300 tomatoes (and we won't plant more than 100 ourselves) and the peppers, cukes, squash and melons are in an equal abundance. They'll be ready to share with local gardeners by early June. We're growing them in our new "Ark" greenhouse. We're so glad we installed a wood stove in the Ark as there have been several frosty nights that Chris has had to rise in the early morning hours and light a fire to keep our "babies" safe!

Happy Birthday!
The Gardens just had they're sixth anniversary! We originally broke ground in Alpine (with the help of Steve Rose and his tractor) on tax-day, 2009. Something ironically beautiful about giving birth to a project that will never yield any tax revenues on the day most Americans dread because of what they "owe". There are definitely some advantages to giving it all away!

Alpine Sharing Garden - July 2009. Ten weeks after breaking ground!
"Easy is highly over-rated!"
In the early days of the project, there were many times that Chris and I felt very alone. Each month was a test of our faith: would we have the resources, both financial and in terms of "man-power" to accomplish all that needed to get done? Often I'd turn to Chris for encouragement and he'd say, "Think of this project as if you were pushing a heavy boulder up a hill. It's always going to be most difficult before you reach the top but at some point, the boulder will reach the top and once it crests it will begin to roll down the other side, gaining momentum as it goes." Well, it seems like our "boulder" has finally crested!

Our newest greenhouse, the Ark, under a spring rainbow.
Llyn and Chris - under the blessing of the rainbow!

Many hands make light work
As most of our readers know, we've begun to host four groups of college students each term. This brings in dynamic, eager assistance to our project every other week for eight weeks, fall, winter and spring! Our core group of volunteers has held steady through the winter and our ranks are slowly growing too. We consistently have seven or eight adults who've made a weekly commitment. In fact, we have so much help that, on weeks that the college students are scheduled, we often ask our "regulars" to take a break so we're sure to have enough for the students to do! This is what we call "a high-quality problem"!

Some of our many student helpers from OSU

Aubree in the greenhouse.

Llyn and Amy plant onions.
Ross with mint-straw mulch.
Caitlen loves kale!
Planting peas.
Those bales are heavy but no problem for Anthony who grew up on a farm!
Such beautiful concentration...Ross was a 'natural' at transplanting.
Preparing the potato-patch.

Happy transplanters!
Digging and grinning!
Shallots in the ground. (They're about 8" tall now. We took our first harvest to the Food Pantry today.)

Once the students take a break for the summer though, we'll be back to relying heavily on our local "share-givers" for garden assistance. The eight weeks between mid-July and mid-September are just a passionate rush of harvesting, preserving the food for winter-enjoyment, and planting our Fall crops as well so we are so thankful for this core-group of support. Our help with the gardens will also get a big boost from our new summer intern Heather, who came to us originally through one of the OSU service-learning groups. She will be with us 9-hours/week for ten weeks learning "everything it is you do out there"! Heather is a lovely young woman; a natural gardener and generous spirit. We know we will have much fun with her in the months to come.

Heather-our summer intern.

Acting locally, reaching a global audience
Our Sharing Gardens website has become a popular resource for organic gardening information on a global scale. Currently we are receiving over 8,200 site-visits a month. The majority of these are from English-speaking countries although people from Russia and the Ukraine come to our site daily as well as France, Germany and other European countries. South Korea and China are regular visitors as well.   Once a week or so we get a visit from a country we've never even heard of!  
The main topic people are interested in is:
"Growing Potatoes".
Other hot topics are:  
"Scarlet Runner Beans-Growing Your Own Protein",  
"Using Grass and Leaves to Increase Soil Fertility" and "Deep-Mulch Gardening",  
"Organic Solutions to Slug Control",  
"Carport-Frame Greenhouse Design" and "Saving Tomato Seeds".

In addition to our informational/"how-to" posts, people are also reading about  
"Tom Sawyer in the Sharing Gardens" and "Real People Doing Real Things".

Thanks for helping us spread the word about generosity, community-building and gardening in cooperation with Nature by continuing to forward our posts.
Preparing kidney beans we grew for the cooking pot!
Forks Over Knives: Plant-based-diets to improve health

Eat your vegetables for a healthy life!
Recently we were contacted by Monroe's new local doctor (Dr. Kyle Homertgen at the Monroe Health Clinic) and Emily Tanner of the Benton County Health Department to partner with them in a behavior-change program aimed at obese/pre-diabetic patients in our area. The first five weekly sessions will teach them practical ways to improve their health through diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices. Then, after a five week break, during which they are encouraged to put what they've learned into practice, they will come for their final class to the Sharing Gardens. The details of that class haven't been worked out but, at a minimum, we will give them a tour and invite them to get involved as volunteers. We're also kicking around the idea of having a brief class in simple vegetarian cooking, or having a hands-on gardening project they can help us with before sharing in a vegetarian potluck. Dr Homertgen is a vegetarian (as are Chris and I) and the 6-week class will be encouraging participants to shift to a more plant-centered diet to improve their health. Each week they will have all their vital-signs measured and recorded so they have tangible feedback if their new lifestyle habits are having any effect. We're excited about where this new partnership may lead.
Healthy soil, healthy worms, healthy garden!
A little further into the future, as the gardens are just past their peak and the first signs of Autumn will be upon us in earnest (Sept. 17 - 20, 2015) a group of 12-15 urban pilgrims will come join us for a long weekend of communing with the gardens, each other, and some of our local wild places. They come to us through an organization called Nature Connect based in Portland (for more info, email Judy Todd).

Greenhouse dis-assembly (we'll be re-assembling this one in the fall).
This 30'x50' greenhouse was donated by Les and Susan Koltavary in Alpine. Much thanks!!
Kathy unscrewing poles.
Rann removes electrical conduit.
Chris and Kathy loading tables.
Danny salvages greenhouse lumber for re-use.
Spring crop-planting with our "neighbors"  from Monroe and Corvallis
Planting spring crops - the "kids" just about out-numbered the "grown-ups"!
Adri distributes milk-carton sleeves for plant protection. Ricardo pulls last year's carrots to take home and feed his bunnies.
A manure sifting party!

Picnic after a morning planting cabbage and lettuce.
Pickin' and Grinnin': A Gallery of Share-givers
And now some smiles and happy scenes from our garden to you...
Grandpa Jim and Adri shell dried beans.
Sabine, our new share-giver from Germany, transplants peppers.
Abel pets the worm.
Adri fills pots with soil. Doesn't she look peaceful?
Cindi sifting soil.
Doreen and Rob planting onions.
Pea-picking Sara, April 23, 2015. Peas were planted Dec. 22, 2014 in one of our greenhouses. We're now picking a quart every two days!
We hope this spring update finds you happy and healthy and able to find where your gifts and 'bliss' intersect with the world's need.
Onell - a very gentle farmer.