Downtown Coeur d’Alene’s Garden District is about to boast one more garden. A big one.
Three vacant lots at the corner of 10th Street and Foster Avenue will be transformed this spring into Coeur d’Alene’s first Shared Harvest Community Garden.
The garden project, a collaboration among the Garden District, the Community Roots Program of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance and property owner Marshall Mend, will bring area gardening enthusiasts together in a place where they can rent plots to raise organic foods for their families and to donate to area food banks and soup kitchens, said Korrine Krielkamp, a garden organizer.
“The vision is that the ‘Shared Harvest’ program becomes a catalyst for other giving,” she said.
Krielkamp, the Community Roots program coordinator who also is on the garden planning committee, did have one piece of bad news. All 30 of the plots for this growing season have been snapped up. But, there are plenty of other ways for folks to get their hands dirty.
Two large plots will be dedicated to growing fresh produce for area food assistance agencies, and those plots will be tended by volunteers. People who love to maintain raised beds, care for plants and harvest fresh produce will be in demand. Also, she added, organizers plan to gather harvested food on a regular basis for distribution to area agencies. A bicycle route is being established to ferry food from garden to table, a project also manned by volunteers.
Other plans include construction of beds tall enough to be accessible to those who use wheelchairs. Another area will sport fragrant plants in a “sensory” garden designed for the visually impaired.
Mend, a Coeur d’Alene Realtor, bought the lots in the early 1990s with the idea of putting houses on them. But he ended up hanging on to them, hopeful that someday the lots might be worth something.
“I said ‘I think I’m going to keep them,’ ” he said. “I knew they were going to be a lot more money than I paid for them.”
When garden organizers asked about using his lots, which had been untended for a couple of decades, Mend jumped on board. “It would be a benefit to the community,” he said, “and I think it would be a good idea to do other properties like that.”
He’s pledged to preserve the space for at least two years, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted 10 or 15 years,” he said. “I’m not in any rush to sell it.”
He would love to see other empty lots around Coeur d’Alene transformed into gardens, parks and green spaces. “It would increase the value of the property around it,” he said. “Instead of having an empty lot with weeds, … you give people a place where they can go to enjoy life.”
The 2,500-square-foot property has several trees, and the plan is to preserve as many as possible, Mend said. “If a tree needs to come out and it makes sense to come out, we’ll take it out. But the idea is to keep it looking as nice as possible,” he said. “I don’t want it to be something that people who live in the area wouldn’t like. I want the people in the area to like the garden.”
Krielkamp said much of the neighborhood is supportive. A work party last fall to begin cleaning up the site brought in 40 people, mostly neighbors.
“We got neighbors out to help clean up the property,” she said. “It kind of showed how much support there was for the garden.”
The garden’s shaded north side, home to some “100-year-old oaks that are just gorgeous,” will become a parklike, multipurpose gathering place for families and community events, Krielkamp said. Along 10th Street, on the south side of the property, organizers plan a demonstration garden highlighting drought-tolerant plants.
The garden will be designed to use as little water as possible and will be outfitted with a drip-line irrigation system.
“That’s part of the reason why the water department is on board with this,” Krielkamp said.
The city water department has agreed to offset a portion of the garden’s irrigation costs, while the parks department will help haul away heavy materials, according to Community Roots. Garden organizers also have agreed to pay the property taxes for the site.