Near the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania Street, a community is building around one of our most basic needs, a need we often keep to ourselves: growing and eating food. While many of us grow our food in our own gardens and purchase by ourselves at the grocery store or Farmers Market, the goal of the community garden at 1313 Pennsylvania St. is to bring neighbors together to learn this basic and important skill in community.
Michael Morley is the point person for the community garden. He is a supporting member of the Sustainability Action Network, the nonprofit that sponsors the garden by providing insurance and experienced gardeners. Those gardeners are Sustainability Action Network board members Steve Moring and Michael Almon. When the Common Ground program released applications to the public, Morley, Moring and Almon had already been looking for a space to host a new community garden.
“One of the missions of the Sustainability Action Network is to help educate people about how to grow their own food,” Moring said. “We want to create community gardens with the hope that people get the bug and get involved. We envision seeing community gardens sprout up all over town.”
After the group was awarded two Common Ground sites—1313 Pennsylvania St. and 1304 Pennsylvania St.—they began plans to start growing. They estimated they would need approximately $3000 in startup costs and applied for a number of grants, including local, county and state grants. Unfortunately, they did not receive funding, making the process to begin gardening slower. However, this did not stop the group from moving forward. Instead of relying on grant money, the three pooled their own resources and also asked local businesses to chip in. And they were successful in their requests—wood chips, posts and gravel were all donated by local businesses, and the city offered to install a water meter. They also were able to rely on participants’ fees, which totaled around $700. With the help of the Sustainability Action Network, which donated $1000 of its own funds, the garden at 1313 Pennsylvania St. could be built.
“Ours is a classic community garden centered around people sharing a common space,” Morley said. “Our goal is to produce local food, relocalize the source of food and build community.”
Now there are 12 plots with 11 gardeners signed up. Most of the plots are tended by a couple of people, who are able to grow whatever they would like in their 200-square-foot-plot. The garden lease for each plot is $50 per year plus a $30 water fee plus a $20 deposit to make sure people clean up at the end of the season.
If you go to the garden, you will see plots full of tomatoes, peppers, okra, melon, corn, sunflowers and eggplant. The participants have been tending their garden often, and it shows. And the participants as well as the leadership are already making plans to expand and excel next season.
“I know we can help each other more,” participant Marie-Alice L’Heureux said. “We watched a neighboring plot as a bunch of basil plants grew, prospered, and then overgrew and died. I thought, if we just clipped the plants for them, they would grow again 10 times stronger.”
L’Heureux and her husband were one of the few to secure a plot at the garden this year. Morley said there were more people who were interested in having a plot, but the group ran out of funds and couldn’t afford to expand to their other plot at 1304 Pennsylvania St. However, they have big plans for this space for the fall, especially since they were awarded a small grant from the grassroots funding organization Green Wish.
“Sustainability Action Network is developing permaculture-inspired garden plans there, primarily through ongoing design charettes by permaculture trainees, to culminate with a "perma-blitz" installation of the garden design,” Almon said. “Volunteer labor will be used as well as that of any interested community members.”
Though the produce from the individual plots will not be donated to local food pantries, the produce from the new space might be. Morley, Moring and Almon would also like to see more perennials and a space that is more inclusive of a wider community.
“We want to build up the community part of the community garden,” Morley said.
And the group is ensuring gardeners know their neighbors. Their first potluck was July 15, and they plan on hosting another in a month. Please contact Michael Morley (firstname.lastname@example.org), Steve Moring (email@example.com) or Michael Almon (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information about how you can get a plot for next season, get involved in potlucks and help during the “perma-blitz” this fall.
BY CHAD LAWHORN
If you’ve got the green thumb, Lawrence city commissioners may have the ground for you.
Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday will consider approving a plan to allow four pieces of city-owned ground to be used for community gardens or market farms to promote everything from free fruit to fresh produce for local school lunches.
“We feel like we have four projects that can really showcase what’s possible,” said Eileen Horn, the city and county’s sustainability coordinator. “We have phenomenal soils for growing fruits and vegetables in Lawrence. The potential in Lawrence is huge.”
City commissioners previously had agreed to accept applications for 13 pieces of city-owned property across the city, but on Tuesday commissioners are being asked to move forward on four specific proposals.
• A community orchard by Skyler Adamson and the Lawrence Fruit Tree project. The site will be near 13th and Garfield streets and along the Burroughs Creek Trail in East Lawrence. Horn said plans call for the orchard to be open for free picking by community members.
“People can just hop off their bike and pick some fruit to sustain them,” Horn said.
Members of the Fruit Tree Project also plan to host frequent workshops at the site to teach community members about fruit production. In addition to fruit trees, the site — which will take a couple of seasons to develop — is expected to have several types of berry plants and bushes.
• A community garden at John Taylor Park at 200 N. Seventh St. in North Lawrence. Horn said the community garden will be unique because it will reserve several plots of ground to rent to children. The project, proposed by Justina Gonzalez, is planning to partner with the nearby Ballard Community Center.
• A neighborhood garden at 1304 and 1315 Pennsylvania St. The garden will be run by Michael Morley and the Sustainability Action Network. It will be open to neighborhood residents, and the project will include frequent classes on gardening and food preservation.
• A larger scale farming operation on about 1 acre of ground near the Kansas River levee at Eighth and Oak streets in North Lawrence. The project will be run by Johnson County Community College’s Sustainable Agriculture Program, which has about half dozen or more Lawrence residents as students.
Plans call for 50 percent of all the produce grown on the site to be donated to Lawrence public schools or to a local food bank, if school district officials aren’t in a position to use the produce, said Stu Shafer, coordinator for the college’s sustainable agriculture program.
“We really want to work with the schools,” said Shafer. “There are lots of studies that show kids who are exposed to fresh fruit and vegetables at a young age will eat more of them.”
JCCC plans to partner with the Community Mercantile’s Education Foundation to get the food into the schools.
If city commissioners approve the four projects on Tuesday, Horn will work to create essentially rent-free license agreements for the groups to use the city property. The growers will have to pay for any city water their crops require, but Horn said the city is seeking grant opportunities to pay for installation of water meters and hydrants on some of the sites.
Originally, Horn and the Douglas County Food Policy Council had envisioned having farms on all 13 sites that were proposed. But Horn said upon further review several of those sites had more challenges than originally thought when it came to soil quality or water availability.
“We decided to hit the pause button on some of the more complicated sites,” Horn said. “But we hope to make larger tracts available next year.”
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
Lawrence vice mayor Bob Schumm is a lifelong garden enthusiast and is happy to see more gardens growing in Lawrence.
“I think it’s absolutely wonderful that the schools are getting involved in gardens and showing kids what they can grow and how to take care of things,” he said.
He’s leading an effort to use plots of vacant, city-owned land for gardens. The land, depending on size, could be used by residents or Lawrence farmers who want to grow more produce for markets.
“There’s seems to be a lot of genuine interest in this,” he said.
Eileen Horn, sustainability coordinator for the city and county, said city staff members have identified about 20 sites around town for possible use. They range from one-third of an acre to 7 acres and are primarily located near parks and ballfields or on vacant lots where houses have been abandoned and bulldozed. Also, there quite a few in North Lawrence where the soil is rich because of the nearby river.
The city is meeting with neighborhoods and farmers to get their thoughts on how a community garden program might work. Among the main questions:
• Who would oversee the garden plots?
• What would the contract look like?
• Is there adequate parking and water access?
Schumm said he thinks the biggest hurdle will be deciding who manages the gardens.
“If you have a site with 10 plots on it and two people let it go and it becomes an eyesore, then who is going to be the person who agrees to take care of it?” he asked.
That was an issue with the Free State Community and Learning Garden project across town at Free State High School. The project is a community garden and a school garden.
About a dozen community, school and business leaders were involved in the planning of the new garden, but once the hands-on work began this summer — there’s was some confusion about who was exactly in charge of overseeing the project.
Laura Priest, an agricultural education teacher and FFA sponsor, and Patrick Kelly, fine arts and career and technical education specialist for the Lawrence School District, were among those who helped in the planning stages. They said there was a meeting in July to kind of regroup and figure out who was in charge of what areas.
Priest oversees the school garden and she said the district plans to hire a community garden liaison by October to oversee the community garden.
Theresa Martin, an English teacher at FSHS, said she’s paid $60 so far to have a 30-foot by 30-foot plot this summer.
“It’s the first year, so there’s a lot of things that need to be worked out,” she said.
Among her suggestions:
• Having smaller plots or varying sizes available.
• Better groundwork. She recommends tilling the ground at least twice for gardeners. She said it was a lot of work to get the ground ready for planting.
• Lower payments. She called the $60 for three months or $180 for a growing season “outrageously expensive.”
Martin said she leased the plot because she has a backyard full of trees, so there’s no sun for growing vegetables. She said having the community garden plot was worth it this year for the tomatoes alone. She also planted peppers, okra, brussels sprouts and squash.
She said that the weeds got out of control during a three-week vacation and she’s had a hard time catching up.
“I’m embarrassed by my weed patch,” she said Wednesday while picking the fruits of her labor. “I wouldn’t consider it a very successful garden year for me, but the tomatoes did great and the peppers did sort of OK.”
She said she would like to participate in a community garden again next year.
“I think it’s a really good thing,” she said.
Priest said they plan to have a fence around the garden by homecoming. They also plan to expand the community garden from four to 12 plots next year.
Priest said she’s received no complaints from community gardeners.
“The first year, I think, is always one of the hardest, especially for as inexperienced as we are,” she said. “You’ve got to get over those rough spots and I realize that people want things to happen quickly but that’s part of growing and learning.”
Shooting for spring
The city of Lawrence is not only taking notes from the Free State garden, but looking at successful community garden projects that are on city-owned property in places like Manhattan, Lenexa and Salina as well as Cleveland and Boston.
The plan for community gardens will make its way to the City Commission where the public will have the opportunity to talk about it. In the meantime, residents can weigh in by contacting Horn by e-mail at email@example.com.
Horn and Schumm said the goal is to have at least a couple of plots ready for planting by spring.