Planting the seeds of community cohesion
by Rachel Foster
|Friendly Neighborhood Farmers|
I must thank this year’s BRING Home and Garden Tour for getting me over to the Common Ground Garden. Billed as the first neighborhood garden in Eugene growing on a city street, it all started when Anne and Chris Donahue began growing food on a city right-of-way next to their yard on the west side of Van Buren Street in southwest Eugene. Anne Donahue had been mowing that strip of grass for years when, five or six years ago, an idea came to her. Why not use it to provide food for area residents? Pretty soon there were 11 tomato plants and a 50-foot row of beans growing there. “It seemed a wonderful way to give back to the neighborhood,” she says.
A couple of years back, Carlos Barrera, a member Friendly Neighborhood Farmers (FNF), said to Donahue “What about the plot across the street?” “Well, it’s a beautiful spot for a vegetable garden,” she responded, “but I can’t do it.” No time, no energy to spare. Doug Black, also a member of FNF, says there was talk about doing something there for years, but things came to a head after he and Katie Lewis brought a 2009 Green Neighbors Bike tour through the area. “We were standing at Annie’s looking at that big, gaping unpaved right of way across the street,” Black says. Donahue remembers him telling the crowd “One day we’ll have a community garden on that site.”
By September Donahue was resigned to the fact that the garden had to happen. But she worried about where the energy would come from, and whether there would be enough people to take it on. Enter Robin Scott. In 2008, she had set up an online social networking site to organize urban farmers in the Friendly Neighborhood (www.eugenefriendlyfarmers.ning.com). Now she used that site to ask, “Who wants to share this vision for a Friendly Neighborhood garden?” In response, at least a dozen people showed up for a first meeting, took a look at the site and said, “Lets do it.”
“I was thrilled,” Donahue says. “We envisioned the garden and talked about a name.” It was Black who suggested ‘Common Ground.’ The group hired a tractor service to haul out concrete debris and till up the grassy area with amendments, and in October there was a work party to measure out some beds. By June of this year, those beds were producing beets, chard, cauliflower, garlic, broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce, bushels of snap peas and more.
Progress was helped by a city neighborhood matching grant that went to buy tools and the ICOSA hut (a pentagonal-shape dome shelter made from salvaged materials) built recently by Resurrected Refuse Action Team (www.rractionteam.com). Carlos Barrera installed the recycled kiosk, used for posting upcoming tasks and long range plans, and a bench he built from snowboards he found in a dumpster. A bike rack is coming soon, along with raised beds close to the street for alter-abled access.
Donahue, who volunteers her time to help create the Common Ground Garden, told me: “After that first meeting I presented our idea to the city, asking may we do this? Can we put in for a grant?” The city was enthusiastic. In fact it was an initiative the city of Eugene would like to encourage. Because of the success of Common Ground Garden, Donahue says, we can expect to see more neighborhood gardens growing throughout Eugene. On a professional level, Donahue, the city of Eugene compost specialist, looks to replicate the model and provide assistance for projects of this type.
Friendly Neighborhood Farmers has about 375 members; the special interest group for the Common Ground Garden numbers 40. Scott and Black now co-administer the website, thanks to which, Scott says, “We are able to tap into a larger audience, including younger people and others who wouldn’t necessarily come to a neighborhood meeting.”
Black, who serves on the Neighborhood Leaders Council Committee on Sustainability, is really excited about the venture. “This is a win-win-win-win-win. It’s building empowerment and community cohesion. It mitigates climate change, since anything you grow at home doesn’t have to be shipped here, consuming energy. It makes people more self sufficient. Fifty percent of the kids in nearby schools use the school lunch program (a measure of economic insecurity), and some of them help out here. This is priceless social capital, for a fairly minimal investment.”
Work parties at the Common Ground Garden are from 10 am to noon on the first two Saturdays of each month, and from 2 to 4 pm on the second two Sundays. Come and work: leave with produce.
Eugene’s Green Neighbors (not just) Bike Tours are organized by Doug Black in conjunction with the Eugene Neighborhood Leaders Council Committee on Sustainability (NLCCoS). This year there will be pedicabs from Eugene Pedicabs for those who can’t bike and don’t want to drive. The tours will visit sites with different combinations of grass to garden, rain water catchments, active and passive solar design, chicken-keeping, non-conventional residential arrangements, permaculture, beekeeping, habitat restoration, neighborhood initiatives and more. The first of 10 tours (on July 17 and 18) are in River Road area, starting in Rosetta Park. The tours include two new areas this year, Bethel and Laurel Hill Valley. Visit the NLCCoS wiki site for more: http://wkly.ws/ny or http://eugenesustainability.org