Inside Gardening Stories of NeighborSpace Gardeners
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Issue 1, Vol. 1, Jan. 2014
For me, if I were not in a community garden, I wouldn’t be gardening at all. I like the community aspect of it, the social aspect of it. Dunning Garden – Rita Lavin Location: Across the Street from 4243 N Neenah Date: Wed. Nov. 6, 2013 What’s your name? Rita Lavin How long have you been in this neighborhood? Just a year. And do you live in the condos next door? Um-hum. How do you spend time in this neighborhood?
When I was a kid, we had a garden at home. So I remember pulling weeds, planting things. So you’ve worked in other gardens? A little bit. I have not had a long history of gardening. I haven’t done that much of it. But I lived in Albuquerque for a few years recently and two different friends had big backyards with gardens. They didn’t like to garden alone so they ask their friends to come garden with them. That’s how I got back to it. So a little like what you’re doing here?
Library, walk to stores…
Yeah…except it was a selected group though. Otherwise, it was community.
Do you know your neighbors here?
What’s your favorite thing about gardening?
Some…in the condo building.
I like the physicality of it.
How did you meet them? In the hallway. Let me ask you about your gardening experience. What’s your first memory of gardening?
How long have you been working in this garden? We started in the Spring.
No, just a lot of effort and fun, getting people out here to work together and getting it to happen. What do you like about gardening in general? For me, if I were not in a community garden, I wouldn’t be gardening at all. I like the community aspect of it, the social aspect of it. What motivates your work here? I know you just mentioned the social aspect. Is there anything else? Well, a couple of things. I talked to the alderman about a community garden here before I moved in. It’s just such a fantastic space and I love the idea of community gardening and the environmental and social aspects. He said he loved the idea and he said go for it. So we came out and we just got it started. All this excellent space back here in the city and it’s just wasted, it’s not being used for anything and it’s such a shame. There’s all this potential.
Do you have any memories of this garden that is your favorite?
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Issue 1, Vol. 1, Jan. 2014
Pellentesque commodo leo Suspendisse sed leo eget dolor venenatis rhoncus. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Integer pretium. Ut vulputate tincidunt elit. Etiam purus nulla, vulputate ac, lobortis a, egestas vitae, mauris. How long do you see yourself working with this garden?
So this land is not part of the college?
As long as I live here. No time limit.
No, it’s city property.
So you bought this place?
And the condos are not part of the college as well?
How was this garden conceived or what is the history?
The college professor had started the garden here before and you guys took it over but he still bring his students out here.
The college started this little guerrilla garden about three years or four years ago, with the professor that teaches environmental biology. The students are required some time in projects and the garden was one of them. Then when I started to investigate doing the community garden I asked him if he would be ok with us adding on to what he was already doing. He said that would be great and at the same time when we started our conversations, his administration told him that it wasn’t school property and he shouldn’t really be out there, so it was really important for us to get the community garden up so that he would have an official space to bring his students out.
He’s very involved in decision making and teaching and the kids come out and they learn things. We work together and always will. It’s a unique community garden. I doubt there are very many gardens that have a community garden aspect.
Are they your main volunteers, the students or do you have others? Other people too, our gardeners, who lease the beds, they come out too from time to time, but we want to make sure there’s enough work for the students, and so far, there’s been enough work and we hope there continues to be enough work. But at some point, we’ll just work with the situation whatever it is. How many people are leasing the plots?
We’re very fortunate. How often do the students come out to the garden? He schedules. His spring classes, probably, maybe 3 sessions and then in the Fall he used to have 3 workdays. There might be another before the snow flies.
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Issue 1, Vol. 1, Jan. 2014
Continued We have 20 plots and 17 gardeners. How does that work? The leasing of the plots? Do people talk to you or do they have to fill out some sort of application? There is an application that they have to fill out. How many people applied? Did everyone get accepted? We had 3 people on the waiting list in the summer. They didn’t get the chance. We are losing some gardeners this year. A couple of people are moving away and a couple more probably won’t garden next year so we’ll have lots of plots. We got lots of room to add so we probably won’t run out but the problem is getting people to sign up early enough so that we can get the beds built in time to plant. Who builds the beds? We did. Volunteers helped. You are the garden leader and you have to keep in mind certain applications, like no pesticides or water conservation. How do you handle that? How do you let your gardeners know? Do you guys have those types of principles here? Yeah, they’re in the rules. We’ve have to add to it. We put the garden together before we had an organization structure so we’re meeting today to get our organization structure together. How we’re gonna do things, who’s a member, how do we govern ourselves – So things will change, probably a little bit in how we do things. You know…work.
How often are these meetings? Is this your first meeting or you’ve had meetings before?
Where do the plants come from? Where do you get your plants? Do people just buy their own?
You know in the very beginning, to figure out if there was interest in having a community garden. I just publicized around the condo association a little bit and we got about 10 people who said they were interested. Probably about half of those people did not end up gardening but other people came forward. I put up notices in the coffeeshop and the college, farmer’s market, things like that.
You talked a little bit about rules, what are the rules of the garden? Do you guys have a set list of rules? Um-hum. Can you send me a copy? Sure. Have you guys save seeds or do you guys have a composting system? Our composting system is right over here. We got three bins going, well, four actually, so we compost. Seed saving - I know one of our gardeners is interested in seed saving, but you know, we’re still at the beginning of the process here, I’m sure we’ll get into more of that. It’s important. What about water conservation? We had rain barrels out here, but we don’t really collect a lot of water in them. We do have a fire hydrant over there and we have a water source up on the street and we fill the water barrels. We had four small ones. We had two water barrels disappear for some reason. Just walked away. [Laughter] We can run hoses as well when we need to.
Has anything else been stolen from the plots? A few people has had some vegetables stolen but other than that, I don’t think we’ve had any hardware kind of thing besides the two barrels. Speaking of minor theft, what are some of the complaints or challenges that your garden faced this year? Let’s see. We’ve had some personality issues. That has had an impact. But we got a handle on that. I don’t know. It’s been an easy process. We’ve been fortunate in so many ways. We want woodchips so we ask somebody in Streets and Sanitation to bring us woodchips. Next thing you know, they’re here. Pat them down for us, if they can. We were nervous about the condo association. We wanted to make sure that the plots and the whole garden looked nice, so that they wouldn’t feel it was an eyesore. We haven’t had any complaints. We had one person who complained and her complaint was that she didn’t like the little pinwheels inside the gardens. Ok...interesting… Interesting...yeah. Otherwise, things are, I mean, we’re just so fortunate. How often do you come out and work and spend time in the garden? Me personally? I don’t know. Maybe twice a week. Do you guys have regular workdays?
Issue 1, Vol. 1, Jan. 2014
Continued Do you guys have regular workdays? No. So it’s just whoever wants to come?
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Um hum. I think we talked a little about volunteers already, so it’s mostly students and the condos. Do you guys have any other volunteer groups that come in? Not groups, but we’ve got a couple of people who’ll come out and volunteer just because they want to be in a garden but they don’t want to have a plot and they don’t want to be responsible for gardening. There’s one guy that’s done a lot with getting rid of weeds, pulling weeds. Actually, two different guys who’ve come out...patting the wood chips down, whatever. I don’t know if they’ll continue to hang in there and work with us or if that aspect will go away. I think it will depend upon how many other volunteers we’ll get in there.
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What is the professor’s name?
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E-mail. Isn’t that easy? [Laughter]
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Kurt Leslie How do you communicate to other gardeners here?
Did you guys raise funds for the garden at some point? We would have to do that. What kind of methods are you thinking of using to raise money?
We talk to a local restaurant and asked if we could work with them and he was willing to sit down with us and think about some ideas but we haven’t had to go that route yet. Some of us have spent some of our own money and we got donations and the lease fees have covered most of the expenses for the individual beds plus a little bit for tools. How much is in lease fee? 60 So for each plot is 60? Yeah. I think for next year when people are returning and we aren’t buying new products for the garden. A garden will typically charge less for a returning person to lease the same bed. Do you purchase everything for the beds or do they purchase and you get it set up for them? Yeah, we did. Some people added some fertilizer and we invited people to do that if they want to. We bought the basic soil from Lake Street which is a vendor that almost all the gardens use and they recommended a soil that was typically used and some of the more experienced gardeners added some nutrients. Could you clarify for me “we”, it’s you and…? We started out with a core group of three people plus the professor. We were the ones that had free time during the day to get it started so it’s basically the three of us and then the professor. He was very instrumental as well.
Issue 1, Vol. 1, Jan. 2014
Continued What are some of the projects that you’re currently taking in the garden? We just got funds released from Neighbor Space for a fence and the shed so we want to get those up in the Spring. Those will be the most important things. Once we have that we will do other projects like rain collection. We’ve seen some nice water collection systems so we wanted to put that together. We want to do some senior beds so we can have some of our older residents do some gardening. What does that entail? It’s just higher. It is 24 inches high instead of eight. The fence and the shed are probably our most important things - physical things, and some form of a shelter too. This is our official list. How is this garden perceived in this neighborhood? We got a lot of good feedback from people who don’t know about it. The negative is that it’s hard to find. [Laughter] Everybody has a hard time and you put it on MapQuest and they get directed a mile away and it’s just really hard and you try to tell people where to turn and there’s not an easy way to do it. It’s pretty funny because I had to use my iPhone. If I had to use my Google map instructions I would be somewhere else I would just be going up and down. That was definitely a little bit difficult. So you guys have done maps before to show people where it is? So far it’s just been explaining usually on the phone or through e-mail in detail.
You said you put fliers in coffee shops and stuff, what do the flyers have? What’s on the flyers? It was very basic. It just said, “New community garden south of Wright College. Volunteer or lease a space for your home produce.” and then the e-mail address. So very, very, short. I think our next one will have more information. Are there any gardens nearby? Central and Higgins is probably the closest one. That’s the only one that I’m aware of in this area and that’s not even very close. Have you talk to them before? Yeah. We did a plant giveaway here and they were the ones that approached us about doing it here so we did it here together. Do you have any other partnerships or partners besides NeighborSpace? Well, Streets and Sanitation have been really helpful. I consider them a partner. They give us wood chips for free. They have a big pile way on the other side of this lot here and they just take their forklift and scoop it and bring it over. Partnerships...so the college. Eli’s cheesecake has just been a business over here and they are very supportive of the garden. Anything we need. We borrowed a tent from them. Their marketing person did our little flyers and posters and they said anytime we needed anything just ask. The Chamber of Commerce – Executive director is our fiscal agent. The Chamber of Commerce is our fiscal agent, they’re a partner.
We got a lot of good feedback from people who don’t know about it. The negative is that it’s hard to find. Everybody has a hard time and you put it on MapQuest and they get directed a mile away and it’s just really hard and you try to tell people where to turn and there’s not an easy way to do it.