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Communal garden feeds neighbors, the needy

PHOENIX — A communal garden at Second and Pine streets is in its fourth year, with the goal of free food for all, including the homeless, the garden's founder says.

“Everybody in the neighborhood is invited to freely pick what they need,” says Nic Andelin. “The other primary motivation is hopefully changing people’s relationship with food. It’s not just about me doing all the work or picking or selling. Instead, it’s to have the people pick the food for themselves.”

Andelin started the garden in 2014 on the lot adjacent to his home after the property owner gave him verbal permission for the project. Andelin has seen use grow each year. He got assistance from permaculture advocate Andrew Mount and received reduced prices on soil amendments from local companies.

Andelin says the effort is a communal garden rather than a community garden. In the latter, people may pay fees and manage their own plots in a tenant situation.

“I felt like that would put me in a logistical situation that is very complicated,” says Andelin. “I just wanted to figure out a way to work together with the community to grow as much food as possible, but to do it in a way that is a little less traditional.”

The garden creates an ecosystem approach to urban agriculture, but it is not agriculture of the normal sort, says Mount. It’s part of the common rather than a commercial food system, he says.

“We are getting an increasing amount of interest and starting to grow as the community learns more about the garden,” Mount says. “We have a dramatic increase in the amount of soil carbon and did so by recycling a lot of waste materials.”

Last year, about a dozen families worked in and enjoyed the garden’s bounty regularly, Andelin says. There were others who helped, too.

“A few different homeless people have really helped out in the garden tremendously. They really enjoyed it,” Andelin says. “It gave them an opportunity to give back to the community and maybe have access to healthier food.”

Andelin was previously homeless and now describes himself as one rung on the ladder above that.

“There used to be only a few types of plants. Now the diversity is tremendous,” Andelin says.

Experimenting with broadcasting seeds and soil amendments led to a different dynamic, he says, with the garden and the soil working together to maintain moisture — requiring less work to grow more food.

“A number of crops overwintered. They became seed producers this year,” Mount says. “We will give away the seed, too. “

Squash, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, peppers, collards, onions and garlic are just some of the plantings. There are artichokes that will aid pollinators if they aren’t harvested, Andelin says. Wild edibles and indigenous greens are also there for the picking.

Hoses stretched from Andelin’s residence serve the site, which has no operating water service. Andelin pays the water bill and covers a lot of expenses himself. Sometimes those who pick crops will leave donations to assist, and at planting time, many of the regular users contribute seeds.

The best ways to contact Andelin are through the 2nd Street Garden Project Facebook page or by dropping by the garden, he says, adding that he works there most days.

“I could definitely use like a handful of people helping out right away,” Andelin says. “A good four or five who wanted to do some different work around the garden.”

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Nic Andelin works at a communal garden that he started in 2014 at Second and Pine streets in Phoenix. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]