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Growing together

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Community gardens are flourishing across the region
Jamie Howington was one of the new gardeners tending a plot at the restored Blue Heron Community Garden last summer. [Photo by Rhonda Nowak]
Cameron Radcliff, left, and Kaleb Rigby, work at the community garden in Blue Heron Park in Phoenix. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Trea Connor, with the city of Phoenix, works on rebuilding the playground at Blue Heron Park in Phoenix. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Sandy Wine, a member of the Blue Heron Community Garden steering committee, shows a native pollinator plant donated by the Pollinator Project of Rogue Valley. [Photo by Rhonda Nowak]

Community gardens have sprouted around the valley, growing in many neighborhoods and in most cities.There are small gardens and large gardens, many with vegetables, fruit and flowers.

“The biggest part of it is the sense of community,” said Mary Foster, a Master Gardener with the Jackson County Master Gardener Association.

She said the gardens are a place to socialize and get to know your neighbors, while endeavoring to try your hand at earning a green thumb.Her organization provides a list of some two dozen community gardens in Jackson County at jacksoncountymga.org/community-garden-grants/.

The Jackson County Housing Authority, which manages low-income housing, has nine community gardens from White City to Ashland.

Foster said the list doesn’t contain all the community gardens in the valley.

Her own work with community gardens locally began in the early 2000s. Foster was working with kids in a Jackson County shelter and taught them gardening techniques.

Some 15 years ago, she received a $5,000 Carpenter Foundation grant and received the support of the city of Phoenix to establish a community garden in Blue Heron Park.

Foster remembers going around to different apartments in the area to see what people wanted in the garden.

“I remember one woman said just one word: ‘Flores,’ which means flowers in Spanish,” she said.

The site for the garden had terrible riverbed soil, Foster remembers.

“We had to bring in soil for $4,700, and that used up almost all the money,” she said. “We were begging for a shed.”

The garden has 20 20-by-20-foot plots as well as a children’s garden.

In 2006, after Foster retired from the Southern Oregon Education Service District, she got involved in a food-sharing gardening project with ACCESS.

“We started a community gardening network about 15 years ago,” she said.

There can be fees attached to joining a community garden to help pay for water and other services.

The local Master Gardener association also offers a grant program to help start community gardens.

The Jackson County Master Gardener Association Community Garden Grant Committee, in collaboration with the Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardener Program, helps assist with establishing community gardens throughout Jackson County.

Some of the requirements for the grant include the applicant being sponsored by a nonprofit, the garden has to be in an established location, gardeners have to participate in the garden, produce cannot be sold, the garden has to have clearly stated policies and procedures, and it must have an ongoing educational component.

To learn more about starting a community garden, cvontact Foster at 541-482-5283 or abdia-ziz10@charter.net.

If you really become serious about growing things, you can become a Master Gardener. There are costs associated with the program, and you have to put in some time. It requires 45 hours of volunteer service, 21 of which is at the Master Gardener Plant Clinic, which operates at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center on Hanley Road in Central Point and at the Grower’s Market in Medford.

To learn more, see https://jacksoncountymga.org/become-a-master-gardener/.

Another useful network for community gardening is the American Community Gardening Association, which links 2,000 gardens in the U.S. and Canada. Its website, www.communitygarden.org, lists 12 gardens in the Grants Pass/Medford area that are members of the organization.

Sandy Wine, a Master Gardener who is involved in the Blue Heron Park garden, said a portion of all Master Gardeners produce goes to ACCESS, which provides food and other services to the poor in Jackson County.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.

Click here to read the 2022 edition of Our Valley.