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Pollinator-friendly garden good for people, too

Prompted by a general decline in the population of bees and other pollinators, a dozen volunteers began work on a pollinator garden behind the Ashland Emergency Food Bank (AEFB) on Sunday, Sept. 13, designed not only to help with more forage and nectar for flying bugs but to feed hungry working families with fresh veggies.

The crew used the time-tested method of laying cardboard mulch, piling compost on the beds and covering it with yard waste from on-site. Planting will begin in October. Food should start flowing to AEFB shelves in late winter, says Food Bank Executive Director and city Councilor Pam Marsh.

“The food from this garden will all be fresh, beautiful produce, really good for you and a tremendous asset for us all,” says Marsh. “It’s being done right here on Food Bank land and will provide beets, tomatoes, green beans and other veggies and fruits.”

The garden, built by Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, a partnership of several organizations, is next to a vegetable garden installed two years ago by Ashland High School students.

Plants for the garden will be drought-tolerant and adapted to the Siskiyou bioregion, says Kimberly Brown of Lawn Gone, the designer of the garden, along with Kristina Lefever.

“This is an old parking lot with very low fertility," says Brown. “We’re doing sheet mulching, sometimes called lasagna gardening, for its layers of cardboard, compost, wood mulch and yard waste.”

Lefever, a prime mover with the Pollinator Project, says, “The pollinators are in serious decline due to habitat loss, lack of forage and too much pesticide and herbicide use, so we’re trying to reverse that. This garden will not only be productive but provide a place of solace for clients and volunteers.”

The pollinator-friendly plants will include catmint, sunflower, buddleia, thyme, salvia and sedum, said Brown, all of them drought-tolerant.

“We use organic material from on-site to create height in the beds, in a yin-yang shape, with a space in the center for people to gather and meet,” says Brown. “We are trying to have something in bloom through the year for the pollinators.”

Jamie Hickner, a teacher supervisor with Southern Oregon University and activist with Talent Bee City USA, said, “It’s a terrific garden that will support pollinators and the Food Bank, to benefit the community. We’d love to see more gardens with linked habitats like this. When we build housing, it breaks up the habitats that used to provide great homes and forage for them.”

Sharon Schmidt of Cascade Girl and the Oregon Honey Festival, says, “We’re not trying to save the pollinators; we’re trying to save the world by feeding pollinators and people without harmful, cancer-causing pesticides, so our children will have food too.”

The cardboard mulch obviates the need for herbicides, she adds, because it keeps weeds down.

The garden was built with a grant from AEFB, compost from Munson’s Farm, mulch from Biomass One, design by Lawn Gone and snacks from the Food Bank.

The date for planting in October will be posted on the Food Bank site and www.pollinatorprojectroguevalley.org.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.