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

Friday, February 26, 2010

Monroe's Own Food-Sharing Garden

As many of our readers already know, Alpine, Oregon (where we live) has been host to a unique community garden for a year (and is heading into its second). What makes this 'sharing' garden unique is that, instead of many separate plots, that are rented by individuals, this garden is one large plot, shared by all. All materials and labor are donated - either by local individuals and families, or through grants from businesses and non-profit organizations. The food we grow is shared amongst those who have contributed in some way as well as others who are in need in our community. All surplus is donated to our local food-bank. No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown. We like to think of it as a 'Stone Soup' garden where each of us donates a little of our surplus --whether in time or materials--to grow a sense of community, and plenty of food to share. 

These are teaching gardens as well. All food is grown without use of herbicides and pesticides. We rely on heavy mulching (to minimize the need for watering and weeding) and compost (made from yard and kitchen waste) to fertilize the soil. People who are interested in this project, if local, can join us in the garden and learn by doing. Our more distant supporters can follow these blog posts to pick up gardening tips and ideas, or learn how to start a Sharing garden in your own neighborhood.

         Tilling in maple leaves between rows of cover-crop.
In mid-February 2010, Alpine's neighbor, Monroe, became host to a Sharing Garden as well. We are extremely excited about this development. While Alpine's garden is about 80' x 100', we paced out Monroe's garden at 110' x 175'. Between the two gardens this brings us up to about 2/3 of an acre of rich and fertile soil. In addition, at the new site, we've got a 20' x 30' metal building built on a concrete pad which can store the garden tools and be a workshop space on rainy days. It'll be mighty toasty in the summer! and we're already designing an indoor food-drying system against the south wall. The well, at its peak, flows at 100 gallons a minute! Yes folks, you read that right! We won't have to worry about the garden drying out just as its coming into its fullest harvest time.
                                            Harvest 2009.
Another great feature of this site is its location. Monroe is a town of about 700 people. It's got a main-street with some shops. Monroe hosts about half a dozen churches and the elementary, middle and high-schools that serve this rural region. Our garden site is located in the empty field directly between the elementary school and the Methodist church that houses the food-bank where we take our surplus produce.  This way, it will be easy to involve school-age children and give them access to a garden for hands-on learning opportunities. Also, the recipients of our bounty at the food-bank can make a direct connection between the food they're eating and where it comes from. We've already begun drumming up some volunteer interest from those who benefit from the food-bank. As the Alpine garden has few people within walking distance, Monroe's garden site makes it more convenient for volunteers to participate.

As we mentioned in the last post. The Monroe garden is sited on the property of Chester Crowson, a long-time valuable member of the local community. At 86, Chester has been a bus-driver for over 40 years and has the distinction of being Oregon's oldest bus-driver on record. He currently owns the bus company that provides transport for all the local children to and from school. If the funding comes through, he'll be providing bus-service to the young people in our pilot program this summer, to bring them to and from the Alpine site. We are deeply grateful for Mr. Crowson's open-handed and good-hearted support for this garden project. Thank you Chester!

P.S To our local friends and supporters: We're going to need someone with a large tractor and tiller to do the initial ground-breaking in Monroe once the soil drains. If you'd like to volunteer, or know someone who can, please give us a call at 847-8797. Chris and Llyn

Friday, February 19, 2010

First Signs of Spring!

Well, it appears that spring is on its way, at least in our neck of the woods. The crocuses have been blooming for a few weeks now, willows are leafing out, and the robins have returned. There's a beautiful soft "blush" when you look to the hills as all the deciduous trees' buds slowly begin to swell. And the moist wakening earth just smells so fine on a sunny day. With the arrival of spring, we gardeners get itchy to be working the soil again and yearn to start the cycle of planting, cultivation and harvest once again.

We're happy to announce that we've received permission for a second year of gardening at Alpine's Food-Sharing garden. Chris has painted a beautiful sign to display at the park. The sign is made almost entirely from recycled materials. It provided a welcome diversion to get us through the damp, dark days here in Alpine. He also built several bird houses to attract bluebirds, and woodpeckers to the park. We'll let you know when the birds move in!

We'll be expanding the garden program for 2010. With the help of Evelyn Lee (thanks Evelyn!), we submitted an extensive grant proposal which includes funding to expand the program in the following ways:
  • We've been given permission by Chester Crowson (of the Crowson School-bus Company in Monroe) to expand our garden to a second, additional garden plot on his property between the Food Bank (where we've been taking our surplus produce) and the elementary school in Monroe. He made it clear to us that he is one hundred percent supportive of the program and will "help us in any way" he can. Be sure to thank him next time you see him.
  • We're creating a pilot project to involve young people ages 9-18 in serving their community by raising food especially for the Monroe Food Bank and others in need while they learn valuable gardening skills.
  • And we intend to expand and structure our volunteer program to involve more people in the project. (email us if you want to be on our volunteer list: alpinecogarden@gmail.com )

Pea Planting Tips: Fortunately in our area, there are a few things that can be started now with a cloche (unheated greenhouse) or cold frame. Though some gardeners can sow peas directly in the ground now, the Alpine garden site is still too soggy so we've started ours indoors. We've planted four seeds in the four corners of four-inch pots, about one finger-knuckle deep. The four-inch pots are deep enough that the plants won’t exhaust the nutrients or become root bound before they're transplanted. When its time to transplant, we'll put each clump of four into the soil without teasing them apart. Each clump will be planted eight inches apart. Other plants we've started in the cloche are: spinach, kale, broccoli, parsley, onions and lettuce.

We'll keep you informed about how you can get involved in the existing Alpine garden, the Monroe garden expansion as well as the youth program.

Llyn and Chris - Garden Coordinators