Bellingham plan gives growers a hands-on role in community gardens

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 26, 2013 

A new approach for managing Bellingham's three city-run community gardens is falling into place, but several details remain to be worked out.

With the year slipping away, Fairhaven community gardener Brooks Anderson hopes the arrangement will become final soon so people can start renewing their plots and registering for new ones.

"There needs to be more movement, more action," she said. "We'd love to hammer this out with parks staff."

Bellingham has three community gardens. Two are on city property: a year-round organic garden at 10th Street and Wilson Avenue in Fairhaven and a seasonal non-organic garden at Lakeway Drive and Woburn Street. The third, in Happy Valley, is a year-round organic garden on leased property on 32nd Street between Taylor and Donovan avenues.

The city says it spends about $10,000 a year registering gardeners, monitoring use of the 195 plots and handling refunds and complaints.

Early this year, parks director James King said the city wanted to save money by shifting more of the job of running the gardens to other groups. Shifting duties to users also could result in better-run gardens, he said.

A public meeting last spring drew some support for King's idea, but also drew criticism from gardeners who feared that fees would rise, insurance coverage would be dropped, and city would pull back from its commitment to the gardens.

In response, parks officials met with gardeners from the three sites and solicited their ideas.

"The ideas that were brought forth by them were great," said Marvin Harris, parks operations manager.

A follow-up letter from King in August suggested a sharing of tasks by the city and by gardeners. The city would continue its main administrative and maintenance duties, while gardeners would be responsible for garden-level chores, aided by a garden committee from each location.

Gardeners in Fairhaven and Happy Valley have gone along with the plan, but have questions about the handling of compost and garbage and about the makeup of the garden committees, among other issues. There's also uncertainty about whether the city will continue to provide liability insurance for the gardens.

Richard Jehn, a member of the Happy Valley gardening group, remains optimistic that matters will be resolved.

"I'm confident in our relationship with parks," he said. "They are very willing to work with us."

Jehn likes the idea of garden committees at each site, not only to deal with problems but also to help their fellow gardeners. For example, the committee could help a gardener's plot be tended if the person were absent due to illness.

"That's the right kind of community involvement I would like to see," he said.

GARDEN CHORES

Here are proposed tasks for Bellingham's city-run community gardens:

Parks and Recreation Department

- assign plots, handle registration, collect fees, provide scholarship program;

- provide water and payment of water bill;

- continue the Happy Valley garden lease;

- provide updated garden plot map;

- update garden rules, responsibilities and city policy, with input from garden committees;

- maintain contact list of active gardeners;

- maintain garden perimeter areas and large trees;

- maintain sheds;

- place bulletin board at each garden;

- maintain water system up to spigots;

- provide end-of-season trash removal.

Community gardeners

- establish volunteer garden committee at each site;

- maintain contents of bulletin boards;

- garden committees work with gardeners to follow rules and encourage upkeep of plots and common areas;

- communicate with parks staff to update information on plot rentals;

- continue recycling at gardens;

- maintain grounds between plots;

- at year-round gardens, maintain mulch paths between beds, with city supplying mulch;

- organize and monitor content of tool sheds;

- provide and maintain water hoses, sprinklers and nozzles;

- maintain compost and vegetable refuse.

For details about Bellingham's city-run gardens, call the parks department, 360-778-770.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com.

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