Eugene’s six community garden sites, from Amazon Park to the Whit, brighten local neighborhoods with colorful bursts of tomatoes and chard. It takes a network of volunteers, nonprofits and city staff to keep the garden plots up and running.
Last year, however, the city of Eugene reorganized its staffing and cut the staff time of the community gardens manager in half, from .5 full-time equivalent (FTE) to .25 FTE.
Lorna Baldwin, the city’s current community gardens manager, says she has 10 hours a week to make sure Eugene’s six garden plots run smoothly. She is also volunteer coordinator for Eugene Parks and Open Space.
“There’ve been a string of people doing management of the gardens, and at that time, staff were allocated 20 hours a week to do it,” Baldwin says. “Then those funds went away.”
Neil Bjorklund, parks and open space planning manager for the city of Eugene, says there has never been a dedicated position for community gardens manager, and the period in which staff spent 20 hours a week on the gardens was a trial “career development” program. At that time, a different staff member each year could spend half his or her FTE on the gardens.
“There’s no funding for this,” he says. “There’s no community gardens line-item in the budget. Each year we propose that in our internal process and it hasn’t been funded, so we continue to run the program ‘smoke and mirrors,’ in a way.”
Alice Aikens, a longtime community gardener and site coordinator for Amazon Community Garden, says the city’s dwindling staff time for the gardens is challenging.
“In the past, the city would mow the grass adjoining the community garden plots, but last year it was mowed only once, so grass has slowly encroached into the gardens,” she says.
Gardeners are supposed to keep the plots tidy, but Aikens says that without mowing it’s difficult to accomplish. Additionally, she says, the city used to trim weeds around the base of the garden fence, but that hasn’t happened for a few years.
“It’s really difficult for that person to do the job adequately,” Aikens says. “They’re really overworked but trying their best.”
Baldwin says she thinks the community would like to see more resources allocated toward community gardens. “I became a master gardener in 2012, and the interest here in learning to grow food is really broad and deep,” she says.
The interest is there, Bjorklund says, but not the money. “It’s ironic, because it’s a really popular program, and we do get lots of requests to expand. But until we find funding to support it, that’s not going to happen.”
The deadline to enter the lottery for a garden plot is March 16. Find information at http://wkly.ws/1p9./p>