The Medford Gospel Mission will soon have a community garden, thanks to the efforts of the Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and members of the Chamber's 2011-12 Leadership Program.

The Medford Gospel Mission will soon have a community garden, thanks to the efforts of the Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and members of the Chamber's 2011-12 Leadership Program.

The Main Ingredient Garden, named after the mission's other well-established venture, the Main Ingredient Restaurant, is intended to teach community members the essentials of gardening and supplement community donations the mission receives, in addition to fostering a sense of community among project volunteers.

"I am truly thankful that the chamber chose our project," said Jason Bull, associate director of the Medford Gospel Mission, in an email interview. "Without the Medford Chamber's support, we may or may not have ever built a garden. If we did, it would have taken much longer to build and open."

Bull explained that the garden would supplement community food donations and allow the mission to serve fresh organic produce at the restaurant. He says the garden also will serve as a classroom for community members to learn how to grow and cook their own food, as well as provide a place to grow it.

The garden will be in what is an empty, fenced-off asphalt lot. To build the approximately 4,200 square feet of raised and ground-level planting beds, program participants will have to drill through the asphalt and remove it, chunk by chunk.

"It's a community project that's spearheaded by the leadership class," said Fylvia Kline, vice president of communications and programs at the chamber. She explained that program participants usually enlist the help of the community, getting volunteers and contributions from local businesses and organizations, such as Adroit Construction and Asante Health System.

Each year several dozen community members, most of them local businesspeople and professionals, sign up for the chamber's leadership program. The program costs $900 for chamber members and $1,200 for nonmembers. The eight-month program is designed to expose class participants to the resources the Rogue Valley has to offer, as well as provide networking opportunities and teach creative problem-solving skills.

Each class selects one project from the dozens of community proposals submitted, based on need and the viability of the project, and then spends the next few months fundraising and securing resources. Last year the chamber built a classroom for the Southern Oregon Child Study and Treatment Center boys home, which previously had to set up and take down a makeshift classroom in the living room of its group home every day.

This year, the program's 31 participants were split between two proposals — one from the Maslow Project for an interior storeroom to store food for its clients, and another from the Medford Gospel Mission for a community garden. The garden won out at a vote of 16-15.

"One of the things that really appealed to the class with the Medford Gospel Mission proposal was the dignity of the human being," said Kline. "They're not just a soup kitchen ... . It's a restaurant style, where people who don't have food or can't afford it can sit down and eat."

"The Medford Gospel Mission has been serving three meals a day, every day, for over 50 years, mostly with donated food from generous people in our community," said Bull. "The Main Ingredient Garden idea grew out of the idea of the Main Ingredient Restaurant.

"We were aiming to operate a restaurant that was run by friendly people, who cared about serving their guests great tasting food in a welcoming environment, absolutely free of charge. This would certainly make a difference in the lives of people in our community, that can use a break from these tough financial times and provide a place where the community could come and give back by serving our guests night in and night out."

"(The project) nurtures a community culture that is not common in this current economic time," said Kline. "A project like this gives the family the help that they need while not stripping them of their dignity."