Cultivating crop of young gardeners in Peaceful Valley

Audrey Connor, coordinator of the Youth Sustainability Council, and Taylor Weech, Riverwalk Community garden master have been part of the Peaceful Valley garden since its construction last year. (Dan Pelle)
Audrey Connor, coordinator of the Youth Sustainability Council, and Taylor Weech, Riverwalk Community garden master have been part of the Peaceful Valley garden since its construction last year. (Dan Pelle)

The Earth Turners Community Garden sits on a small plot of park land near the heart of Peaceful Valley. Above it, cars rumble by on the Maple Street Bridge, and below it the river rushes by. It’s urban and pastoral at the same time.

Located just a short walk from the middle of downtown, Earth Turners – officially known as the Riverwalk Community Garden – is one of two public gardens being cultivated on land owned by the Spokane Parks Department.

Taylor Weech has been involved since the inception of the garden last year.

“I was here when we moved everything over here from the community center,” said Weech, who’s with the Youth Sustainability Council and the official garden master.

Audrey Connor, coordinator of the Youth Sustainability Council, is the garden coordinator.

“The Youth Sustainability Council is a project of Community-Minded Enterprises, which works to get young people engaged in community work,” Connor said. “We have five beds this year and we sell the produce at the West Central farmers market every Tuesday.”

Neither of the two young women were gardeners when YSC got involved in building the garden last year.

They both laugh when asked about their garden experience and simultaneous answer, “we are learning as we go.”

And they sure have learned quickly: strawberries and raspberries are ripening, tomato plants have plenty of tomatoes and carrots, beets and onions are filling in.

“I’m actually now teaching my mom how to garden,” Connor said. “I’m totally stoked about that.”

There are 14 beds at Earth Turners and they are all full. A bed costs $20 for a season and priority is given to Peaceful Valley residents.

“I’d say we have eight families gardening here,” Connor said.

Pepper plants are just beginning to show some fruit and Connor and Weech said they are looking forward to making strawberry jalapeño jam.

They both have an easygoing approach to gardening.

Weech said that last year, during the garden’s first season, she was “all in science mode” about gardening, wanting to know exactly how everything grows and thrives and what every plant needed.

“I learned a big lesson: that I couldn’t micromanage the garden,” said Weech, laughing. “Now I’m more like, ‘put the seeds in the ground and let’s see what happens.’ ”

The garden has become a great way to connect with younger people, a sort of gateway to get them involved in other YSC projects such as the annual Sustainable Uprising street fair.

Weech said what’s there today is phase one of the garden project, and that phase two would take the number of gardening beds to 26. YSC has raised funds to pay for materials needed for the expansion, and new beds may go in for next season – pending Parks Department approval. The garden also very much needs a storage shed, Weech said.

“We keep our stuff over at the community center, which is not that far,” she explained. “We have some money and we are trying to figure out if we should build a shed here, or get one of the prefab sheds.”

Connor said she stops by the garden almost every day, sometimes to water, sometimes to weed and sometimes just to be there.

“I really like just coming down here,” she said, “it is a great spot.”

This story is part of a weekly summer series profiling 10 community gardens in Spokane County. Find a map of public community gardens online at www.spokesman.com/ community-gardens/. Help us add to the website. Send community garden news, tips and ideas via email to staff writer Pia Hallenberg at piah@spokesman.com.

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