Growing your own food can be a great way to save money and improve the health of yourself and your family. If you live in an apartment or your yard doesn't have enough space or light, you might consider starting with a plot in a community garden.
Community gardens are usually located on land owned by the public or a nonprofit organization, such as a city park or public building grounds. The garden area is divided into plots assigned to individual gardeners, typically on a first come, first served basis.
From there, the details of community gardens vary widely. Some have an initial fee, plus annual fees. Others have only annual fees. Some have minimal rules, while others have more involved structure. Some require organic gardening practices; others allow synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
To illustrate some of the benefits and risks of community gardening, I first interviewed Stella Benson, co-coordinator of the Lummi Island community garden. The island garden is on the Curry Preserve, about 50 acres of an old family farm. The garden is at the lower end of the property where the farmhouse and outbuildings used to be. The property is owned and administered by Lummi Island Heritage Trust.
Originally envisioned by the late Bob Fodor, the garden was established in 2009 as a way to continue the historic agricultural tradition of the land while complementing the trust's primary goal of natural land preservation. Bob also saw it as a way to increase sustainability and food security for islanders. All gardeners must be Lummi Island residents.
Twelve plots of 12-by-24 feet are separated by pathways. There is a $100 fee to join, and a $25 annual fee. The gardeners maintain a treasury for group projects, such as replacing the deer fence around the perimeter.
All plots must use organic growing techniques - a rule applied consistently. The new deer fence, for instance, will use plain cedar posts instead of chemically treated posts.
Beginning gardeners often start by sharing a plot with someone else, then later get their own plot. Some experienced gardeners have two plots. All share responsibility for some things, such as composting. Crops raised in the garden belong to the gardener who grew them.
In a separate community gardening project, existing fruit and nut trees nearby were pruned, the orchard grounds weeded, and new trees planted and fenced. Cared for by a group of volunteers, the tree crops are shared by any interested island residents. People pick only what they can personally use, to ensure there is some for everyone.
Stella says she loves how each gardener has his or her own way of gardening. People learn a lot from each other. Stella began gardening there because her own yard has large trees that limit sunlight.
"The community garden is a nice place to just be," she says. "I feel close to nature and the Divine here. It's a beautiful place." She also likes how others are willing to help when someone goes away for vacation.
Water and power are available to the gardeners, and new people come in every year or so.
"We also have the usual gardening problems," Stella says, "including voles, rabbits, soil issues, and weeds."
There are only a few rules, and many are common sense. Each person is responsible for maintaining the paths adjacent to their plots, for example, and no dogs are permitted in the garden. Some rules accommodate nearby neighbors, such as a rule prohibiting the use of reflective materials. Gardeners also agree not to plant tall plants in places that could block the sun on other plots.
If you'd like to see the Lummi Island community gardens and talk with some gardeners, it will be an Edible Garden Tour stop on Saturday, Aug. 10, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The tour starts at the island's Farmers Market next to the Islander grocery, across the road from and slightly south of the ferry dock.
In Bellingham, there are several community garden programs. Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department manages three locations: Happy Valley, Fairhaven and Lakeway Drive. The first two are year-round and organic. The Lakeway location is seasonal and the use of synthetic chemicals is allowed, though minimal use is encouraged. At the Lakeway location only, Parks and Recreation also provides pre- and post-season rototilling.
Marvin Harris, parks operations manager, says the earliest community gardens he knows of were run by a cooperative group of citizens in the 1970s. Responsibility was handed off to Parks and Recreation in the late '70s or early '80s as a city recreation program. The agency is currently working with gardeners to identify ways to improve the gardens and develop a partnering arrangement with gardeners for managing the plots.
Plots are 10-by-20 feet, and parks manages a total of 195 plots. Cost per plot is $30 a year, and households can have up to two to four plots, depending on location. Returning gardeners can have the same plots each year or, if they want a new location, join the waiting list queue again.
WSU's Whatcom County Extension also has a community garden program called the Community First Garden Project, now in its fifth year. On Thursday, July 25, they are hosting a Community Garden Open House and Learning Fair at the Roeder Home (at Broadway and Sunset) from 3 to 6 p.m. If you are interested in starting a community garden in your area, this would be a good event for getting information and tips. For details, contact Beth Chisholm at email@example.com or 676-6736.
RAW BEET SALAD
1 pound beets (Stella Benson's plot in Community Garden, Lummi Island)
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1 teaspoon honey (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked cayenne pepper, finely minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
Peel and grate raw beets. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, adding apple cider vinegar to taste.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.