Look around and you'll see them. Blink and you'll miss them. Small garden plots on unused land, maybe a formerly empty lot next to a house in the North End, perhaps next to the newly moved Synagogue up on the bench. They bring people together, inspiring conversation and sharing. The benefits are far-ranging.
"It's extremely meditative," said Nicole Wind, a virgin community gardener turning her soil in one of the twelve plots in the Northend Community Garden on Harrison Boulevard. A VW van pulls up slowly. "The dirt looks great! You need any soaker hoses? I've some some extra to donate," they shout.
"Sure," one of the people working on the plot replies.
"Great, I'll be by with them later," and the van putters off.
That kind of interaction with neighbors does not happen when working in your backyard garden. It's as if the labor put in to the earth is for some greater purpose.
Wendy Wooding, the coordinator for the two-year-old garden, while struggling with the irrigation system said it's not just for people without earth of their own. "We have a variety of people in different kinds of dwellings," she said.
"We have monthly work days where we all get out here," Wendy said. "We have a community corn plot and cutting garden." With the help of kids from RiverStone School they also donated 452 pounds of food to the Idaho Foodbank last year.
A brand new garden at the corner of 10th and Brumback serves the groups involved in its creation. While small, it is pretty and once filled with plants and flowers will be a sight to behold. Organized as an AmeriCorp community service project, the garden is dedicated to victims of domestic violence.
For at least seven years the two-acre garden owned by the Girl Scouts on Fairview Avenue has been in some use, from plot rentals to individuals to partial donations to the Foodbank. Beth Markley, director of development for the Girls Scouts of Silver Sage said this is the first year the entire garden will be dedicated to reaching underserved populations. Girl Scouts working with groups through the Agency for New Americans, a refugee placement organization, will be donating all food to the groups involved. They aren't the only group dedicated to serving America's newest immigrants.
Sherrill Livingston, coordinator for the Ahavath Beth Isreal Synagogue is also working with the Idaho Office for Refugees. With this year's move of the Synagogue from State Street they hadn't planned on starting their community garden until next year. But with the help of a grant from the Fund for Idaho, donations from the closed Jefferson Street Community Garden and eagerness to begin as soon as they can, this year they opened 15 plots which will be tended by refugee families.
"We have families of Bantu Somalians, Afghans, two Liberian women and possibly a Sudanese family," Sherrill said. "It's interesting to see the different techniques each of them do. The African families build berms around their plots because in their land rains wash away the seeds."
Whether from Africa or Kuna, learning from each other is part of community gardening. A sense of community by shared working of the soil is important.
Discussions of long-term planning by the Boise Parks & Recreation Department have identified the need in the future for planning gardens. They have adapted a community garden policy from the Vancouver Parks & Recreation department which contains guidelines for starting a garden and the limit of the city's involvement, whether on public or private land. Some of the outlined aspects include that BP&R will remove grass, turn the soil and provide compost in preparation of the site but puts limitations on other assistance. (See the garden policy online at www.cityofboise.org/parks/about/Partnerships/).
Unfortunately, a nine-year old garden was shutdown this year—the Jefferson Street Community Garden, on property owned by the Salvation Army. According to Rick Hempsmyer, Director of Development and Community Relations for the Salvation Army, tentative plans this year to build a homeless shelter for veterans on the site forced them to close it.
For more information about the benefits of community gardening and how to start your own visit: www.communitygarden.org.