Less than a year ago, three vacant city lots at 10th Street and Foster Avenue in Coeur d’Alene were overgrown with weeds and littered with debris.
Today, 52 raised beds overflow with flowers, vegetables and a pumpkin so huge it should be in “Cinderella.” A handsome shed and latticed arbor are under construction. Picnic tables sit beneath shade trees inviting visitors to kick back and relax.
Coeur d’Alene’s Shared Harvest Community Garden has become a welcoming place in more ways than one. Twice a week it invites nonprofit organizations to share its bounty. About half the food grown in the garden is donated to soup kitchens, food banks and other nonprofit organizations.
As a result, Community Roots, which provides food to the needy through donations by local gardeners, has celebrated its best year since its beginning in 2007. About 2,400 pounds of food has been donated this year, much from the community garden, and the fall harvest of apples, squash, cabbage, peaches and pears has not been counted, said Korrine Kreilkamp, program coordinator.
“We’re about double what we were last year,” she said.
On Saturday, garden organizers will hold a fundraiser, offering dinner and music in the garden for $25 a person. Proceeds will help pay the property taxes on the land, owned by Realtor Marshall Mend. Organizers hope to make “Dinner under the Stars” an annual event.
“This isn’t just a fundraiser. It’s also a celebration of what we’ve accomplished in a small amount of time,” said Kim Normand, president and founder of the garden. “It’s pretty unbelievable. It just gets better and better.”
Normand lives about a block away, and for years she thought the land could be put to better use. In September, she approached Mend with the garden idea and he agreed to allow the lots to be used. Word spread and 40 people showed up to help clear the land – a task Normand expected to take three weeks was complete in six hours. The first garden plan called for 12 raised beds, but demand kept growing, and now 52 plots are organized in neat rows.
Gardeners rent the beds for $25 a season and donate about half of what they grow to the needy. They are required to volunteer 10 hours in the garden and to water and weed their own beds.
“We have all different types of people down there, and I think that’s what’s neat about it – the diversity,” Normand said. “People are meeting each other who probably would not have met. We have all different walks of life.”
Community Roots, a program of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, uses about one-quarter of the garden to grow food for the needy. Another section of the garden demonstrates water conservation techniques by showcasing drought-hardy plants.
The garden is also a collection point. Twice a week, on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, gardeners can drop off surplus produce for delivery to nonprofits through Community Roots. The shed and arbor under construction, donated by Art Spirit Gallery and KEA members, will provide storage and work space.
The garden, which will be part of Coeur d’Alene’s next garden tour, could become a venue for gardening workshops and yoga classes. Organizers also would like to acquire new bicycles and carts for the Community Roots program, which uses them to collect surplus produce from gardeners.
“My goal is to live in the moment right now,” Normand said. “But my mind is going crazy for next year.”