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With room to grow

Paul Gallagher seemed right at home digging in the dirt with his hands.

Although it's been a few years since he helped tend his grandmother's garden, Gallagher hasn't lost his green thumb.

On Saturday he deftly planted tomatoes and zucchini in a 15-by-16-foot plot as neighborhood growers took to a new community garden on the corner of Fifth and Ivy streets in downtown Medford.

More than 20 garden plots have been rented to individuals and social-service groups, giving surrounding residents living in apartments and houses with small yards a chance to plant crops.

Before he's done, Gallagher says he'll add lettuce, dill, basil, sweet peas and green beans.

"I'm not even supposed to walk on the grass where I live across the street," Gallagher said. "This will give people something to do."

The 20 garden plots — including three raised beds for handicapped and senior gardeners — were designed by Mary Foster.

Seeds for the project germinated early this year when a committee from neighboring Family Nurturing Center and St. Mark's Episcopal Church decided two empty lots could benefit surrounding residents.

A community garden producing fresh produce for its tenants is a far cry from what took place on the site just a few years ago. The two lots on the northwest corner of the intersection are now owned by St. Marks, but before that one was a meth house that was burned as a training project for firefighters, while the other was a dilapidated halfway house that got razed.

"It was in such bad repair that it would cost more to fix it than it was worth," Kit Nilles said. "It didn't make sense."

On Saturday Lew Meyer, who is disabled with a heart condition, alternately raked and rested.

"I plant to put in a lot of artichokes, Brussels sprouts, okra, tomatoes and carrots," Meyer said. "And maybe some cantaloupe and watermelon."

Up until now, Meyer has been limited to a small planter at his apartment.

"When I came by here the other day my jaw dropped wide open," he said. "I figured I'd have to do a lot of digging and rototilling. I didn't know it would be raised and ready."

Credit Jerry Nilles with having things raised and ready.

Nilles, who farms 15 acres off Vilas Road, ripped up remaining vegetation with a tractor and then rototilled the soil for the raised beds.

"They ain't going to have to worry about shade problems here," he said.

The lots are surrounded by a fence built by the Rogue Valley After Five Rotary Group. Dirt was provided by the Twin Creeks development in Central Point and Viscar Construction. Dunbar Farms loaned the equipment to work the soil. Volunteers began building a tool shed on Thursday and were still banging away Saturday.

Gardeners, paying between $15 and $25 for their plots, will have keys to the shed so they can access tools supplied by St. Mark's.

Compost was donated by Rogue Disposal, but the garden will produce plenty of its own in the months to come. A composting pen will be used to collect the garden waste.

So far about $10,000 has been spent on the project, ranging from water systems to insurance.

"We're applying for grants to help cover some of the costs," Kit Nilles said. "One surprise we found was how good the soil was. This would have been good farm land."

Twenty or more gardeners will find out how good this summer.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

Kate Baxted, left, and Marilyn Dickinson pass vegetable starts for planting in their West Medford community garden plot as a benefit to DASIL, an advocasy organization for the disabled. 5/23/09 Denise Baratta