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Growing Gardens, Growing Communities

“Now is the time for us to join together and plant the seeds that will transform the places in which we live.”

— Greg Peterson, "Grow Wherever You Go," 2009

The Jackson County Master Gardener Class of 2015 is busy right now sowing more than 250 seed varieties that will become thousands of plants available to local gardeners at the Spring Garden Fair come May. As the volunteers work together to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers, they are also cultivating a gardening community that personifies the goal of the Master Gardener program: “To learn, practice and teach the art and science of gardening in the Rogue Valley.”

In fact, gardening communities are growing up all around us in a variety of community gardens that range from school plots to gardens managed by nonprofit groups to those sponsored by the Jackson County Housing Authority. One of the newest community gardens is underway at Union Park in West Medford, scheduled to open in April. The ACCESS Food Share Garden program will oversee 10 raised beds at the Rogue Disposal and Recycling Center in White City, after the center moved its office and staff to downtown Medford. In addition, a community garden is being re-established at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point.

Although these community gardens differ in their design, operation and goals. According to Mary Foster, head of the Community Garden Network of Jackson County, they all share one important characteristic — “They bring people together in shared growing spaces.”

This is especially important now when neighbors are often strangers, and food security means not only having enough to eat but also having access to nutritious, naturally grown produce.

As an advocate of community garden efforts, the Jackson County Master Gardener Association is currently accepting applications for a $2,000 grant. Debra Osborne, head of JCMGA Community Outreach Programs, says funding is available for start-up and established community gardens that meet grant guidelines. Recipients are also eligible for long-term support through on-site demonstrations and classes, provided by Master Gardener volunteers. Applications are due by April 20, and grants will be awarded May 1.

The Medford Gospel Mission received a JCMGA Community Garden Grant a few years ago to help start its garden. Associate Director Jason Bull says 13 raised beds and 2,000 square feet of ground-level plots now at the mission produce organic “salad fixings” that go into the preparation of 100,000 meals served at the mission every year. Participants are mostly neighborhood residents. “It’s wonderful that we’re able to serve fresh, healthy vegetables,” Bull says.

Urban farmer Greg Peterson has written several books in which he discusses the benefits of community gardening. I share his hope when he writes, “I envision a day when every city and town has … community gardens and growing spaces, nurtured into life by neighbors who are no longer strangers, but friends who delight in the edible rewards offered from a garden they discovered together.”

For information about the Master Gardener’s Community Garden Grant, see www.jacksoncountymga.org.

Rhonda Nowak is a Jackson County Master Gardener and teaches writing at Rogue Community College. She can be reached at rnowak39@gmail.com.