Sundance Meadows residents launch community garden

From left, Steve Groth, Ann Walker and Gordon Wagner stand in the community garden Tuesday at Sundance Meadows adult community. They are among the volunteers who started the garden on an empty lot in the half-built subdivision. (Jesse Tinsley)
From left, Steve Groth, Ann Walker and Gordon Wagner stand in the community garden Tuesday at Sundance Meadows adult community. They are among the volunteers who started the garden on an empty lot in the half-built subdivision. (Jesse Tinsley)

Weeds and rocks and more rocks. Not the view Steve Groth wanted to see when he looked out over the 55-plus retirement community where he lives near Nine Mile, just north of the Sun Dance Golf Course. So the farmer did what farmers do: He tilled it up and got to work.

For weeks, Groth and about a dozen residents from the Sundance Meadows Gated Community have toiled in the rocky, sandy soil to create a community garden that will provide vegetables and fruit for everyone in the neighborhood including those not able to work in the 50-by-90-foot plot. If the harvest reaps extra food, the community will donate the excess to Second Harvest.

“I just couldn’t see this land going to waste,” said Groth, 65, a retired Washington State Patrol officer whose family farmed south of Spokane.

The land was open, next to the clubhouse parking lot. The owner agreed to allow the community to use the land and the water.

Community gardens are growing in popularity, getting a huge boost when the recession hit and people were trying to save money on everything, including grocery bills. Today people are embracing sustainability and want to know where their food comes from, said Pat Munts, the small acreage program coordinator for both the Spokane Conservation District and WSU Spokane County Extension.

Spokane has about 25 publicly available and active community gardens, Munts said. That’s up from two gardens in 2008.

“The (gardens) really become a center point in a community,” said Munts, who helps facilitate groups wanting to start a garden.

She added that community gardens are also a good way for people to teach their children about growing food and being active in their community.

On an unusually hot day earlier this month, the garden crew turned out to start planting. The group had planted a few things earlier in the month, but it all froze. The gardeners – all with varying backgrounds, health conditions and gardening experience – agree that this community garden is a work in progress.

Boxes and boxes of plant starts – peppers, zucchinis, rhubarb roots, raspberries – littered the ground while a few women prepared the rows by dragging hoes through the dirt, often kicking up yet another rock.

A huge pile of rocks in the corner of the plot reveals the poor soil condition even to the most untrained gardening eye.

“This is hard work,” said Sharon Bishop, 72, leaning on her hoe, sweat beading on her forehead. “But it’s wonderful. We aren’t complaining.”

The month before a load of dirt was trucked in to amend the soil. Groth admits it will take years to get the soil to a higher quality. But at least they have a good start.

Another woman strung red yarn to mark the rows. On the other end of the large plot, Groth’s wife, Sue, put corn seeds in the ground along with a pea seed in the same hole. It’s a trick suggested by retired farmer and McGregor Co. salesman Gordon Wagner, 70. As the corn stalks grow, they will hold up the pea vines.

So far, the group is compatible, especially when they take a break in the clubhouse next door. Some drink water, others beer. There is talk of the book club and a recent homeowners meeting.

“We gave everyone something to do and we hope it works,” said Beverly Hayes, 78, a Master Gardener.

She hobbled around the plot handing out seed packs and chatting, ignoring her foot that’s in a boot cast from a recent surgery.

When Hayes lived in Caldwell, Idaho, she was active in a large community garden.

“It’s such a good thing,” Hayes said.

Munts said it’s important for community gardens to have a good plan on how to divide up the work and responsibilities.

“I tell people it’s 90 percent community and 10 percent garden,” she said. “You have to work together if you’re going to have a really successful garden.”

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