February 17, 2011 in Washington Voices

Proposed garden in Grant Park enters planning phase

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Map of this story's location
Meeting planned

Spokane Community Gardens is hosting a meeting on Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. at the WSU extension office, 222 N. Havana St., about how to best build a citywide system for community gardens. Seattle has the P-Patch community garden program.

Spokane Community Gardens is looking for volunteers to help with planning, practical matters and fundraising. Call (509) 477-2173.

About 30 people showed up to get their hands in the dirt at a Saturday planning meeting for a proposed community garden in Grant Park.

The community garden would be located to the west of Grant Elementary School and north of the central parking lot and restroom area in the park.

Initially, the plan was to cultivate a 150-by-150-foot area, but when workshop participants got a measuring tape out and saw exactly how much land that is, some got cold feet.

“I think they are going to start with a plot that’s 100-by-50 feet,” said Pat Munts, who is with Spokane Community Gardens. “Then they can develop it in stages beyond that.”

The plot will likely be located along the northernmost edge of the park, along 10th Avenue.

That location is just off an existing turnout and parking area, which features a wheelchair-accessible cement path.

The Spokane Parks and Recreation Department will remove sod from the garden area and rework the existing irrigation system to fit the gardeners’ needs, but before the project gets that far there are quite a few things that need to fall into place.

“A formal proposal must be made to the Parks Department for gardening to happen this summer,” said Brian Estes, who is with Vinegar Flats Community Farm and is one of the organizers behind the project. “You’d want to plant by late May. I’d say if the group organizes soon and puts the proposal together now, it’s possible to be up and running by spring.”

Neighbors and gardeners showed up with a host of issues and questions Saturday morning, and by early afternoon six key areas had been identified: security, teaching, accessibility, design specific concerns, policy and management and community connection.

Work groups were assigned to each area and are moving ahead with planning.

“I think the energy of the group is really good and they have great sense of what this project can be,” said Estes.

Some park neighbors worry that a community garden may bring more people into a park that’s already a well-known hangout spot – especially when school is out – and that may create problems with vandalism and property crimes.

Munts said that’s not the experience at other community gardens.

“Sometimes neighbors just don’t know what to expect, but community gardens won’t bring problems into the neighborhood,” said Munts. “Of course we have to watch for vandalism, but that has not been a big problem. And we make friends with the police department and people who are out and about, to watch out for us.”

Munts was also impressed with the turnout and the participation.

For the past five years she’s been working on establishing community gardens in Spokane through a grant-funded program administered by the Spokane Regional Health District. There are community gardens in various locations across town, but locating them on park land is a new idea.

“Having the Parks Department give us a policy we can work under was amazing,” said Munts, who’s also a WSU Master Gardener and writes a gardening column for The Spokesman-Review. “I stood there in the background on Saturday thinking, ‘This is five years of work coming to fruition.’ ”

Two bigger issues that must be decided before a formal proposal can be made to the Parks Department are; which organization is going to take responsibility for the garden; and how to determine who can garden there.

“The Parks Department will be looking for a group that will take a strong management role,” Estes said.

The South Perry Business and Neighborhood Association is not a registered nonprofit. Unless that changes, then SPBNA can’t fill that role.

Grant School has been mentioned as a community partner several times, especially because students could have a garden plot.

“An informal steering committee is getting together,” said Estes, “and it will be meeting again soon.”

Park land is public property so anyone can apply for a spot in a community garden.

“We try to give some priority to low-income people who live in the neighborhood,” said Munts, but rules may vary from garden to garden.

“Gardeners must respect the fact that it’s a public space, and should be treated as such,” said Munts, adding that community gardens also become natural gathering spots in the neighborhood. “Garden people are friendly people – you rarely leave a garden without someone giving you something to eat.”


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