Although Reno’s new community garden was plowed under, the concept is still trying to bloom
Nine 5-by-10-foot plots coming alive with seedlings of potatoes, lettuce and other vegetables took up a corner portion of a grassy field near Riverside Drive and Booth Street. For about nine months, a group prepared the plots, tested the soil, spread compost and planted in an attempt to start a community garden. About a week ago, the gardeners found that instead of picking spinach leaves, they were picking up an eviction notice.
“We don’t have anywhere else to go,” said Scot Ferguson, a biology student at the University of Nevada, Reno and one of the organizers of the garden.
The group, whose garden was next to the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada headquarters, was warned about two months ago that the landowner wanted to build an apartment complex on the area.
“We were gardening on temporary land, and we knew it,” Ferguson said. “[Community gardens] are transient. They depend on whoever owns the land.”
The idea of the garden was to offer a community space for people without a place to plant. The first community garden program is believed to have started in Detroit in 1893 as a solution to an economic depression. Today, gardens are seen as a way to connect with the earth and build a sense of community—not to mention as a source of fresh vegetables.
Ferguson wanted to start the garden because of his interest in agriculture and a rising desire he saw in the community and among friends.
“I’ve been growing plants for a number of years,” Ferguson said. “It gives people a place to go outside and grow food.”
The location was ideal because of the nutrient-rich soil alongside the Truckee River. The garden also used compost started in August by Food Not Bombs, an organization that provides meals and uses the PLAN kitchen.
But Ferguson is more upset about the development of the land than losing the garden.
“You don’t really want to destroy that area by the river,” he said.
Other people involved, such as Desert Research Institute ecologist Andrew Young, are also disappointed by the loss of the patch. After working in various community gardens in Austin, Texas, he says the garden’s insignificance reflects the community’s attitude.
“It’s kind of a sign of the times,” Young said. “Reno has a small-town mentality.”
But the garden won’t vanish completely. Young has started his own small garden at his home with the leftover compost. He’s also transplanting some of the salvaged seedlings, which are now waiting at UNR’s greenhouse.
Although the city’s newest community garden withered before it really got to blossom, the concept is still sprouting in other ways.
At the end of a dirt road that swerves through a small trailer park in Reno, a garden is sandwiched between doublewides and a truck storage facility. On the plot, three rows of plants are blanketed with a gauze-like covering to keep them warm.
Two doors rest sideways, covering the entrance to a plastic shelter. Inside, the air is heavy with a musty aroma. The inside of the shelter is lined with greens, cacti and leaves. A few small plants are protected from sudden chills by green Walls of Water, reminiscent of Jell-O molds.
This small garden near Fifth Street and Keystone Avenue is part of an agricultural class at Rainshadow Charter High School.
“The point of the class is for the students to understand the relationship with their environment,” said Genevieve Morgan, a UNR political science major and one of the first to get involved with the project.
The class is taught year-round on a small plot of land that was donated by the same people who donated the land to Rainshadow. When the weather is bad, the students are in the classroom learning about composting and planting. The students plant and harvest the crops throughout the semester as they learn about agricultural techniques. They sell the plants and five-gallon buckets of compost at local farmers’ markets. Morgan said the community has been very receptive to the project.
“People want to support us,” she said.
Morgan worked with other folks in the community and teachers at Rainshadow to get the garden started in January 2003. Although she had little gardening or farm experience, she now co-teaches a class of 20 students who help maintain the all- organic garden and a greenhouse. Sales go directly back into the garden or pay for students to take field trips.
“It’s encouraging for students to see they can sell what they grow,” Morgan said.
Bethanee Steenis, a Rainshadow sophomore who’s involved with the garden this semester, appreciates the active learning experience.
“I like it a lot,” Steenis said. “It’s more hands-on learning and more work.”
Tamara Hopkins is also planning to incorporate the gardening business into a school’s curriculum. She is moving from a teaching job in Austin to Reno in hopes of creating a fully functioning and marketable garden at High Desert Montessori School.
The program, known in other parts of the world as “Erdkinder,” allows students to grow enough food to provide lunchtime meals and will eventually help them turn production into a business.
“Food is such a big part of our lives, it just makes sense,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins will begin working with the land in June and hopes to have the garden up a year later. She says the project shows Reno is moving forward.
“Anywhere something like this is going on, it’s progressive,” Hopkins said.
A community garden at Paradise Park is in its seventh year of operation. Park Supervisor Davene Kaplan, who organized the garden, said she started the program because she wanted to share her love of gardening with the public.
“I wanted to work with the community and to work with plants,” Kaplan said. “And I have always wondered why community gardens have never really been established here.”
Portions of the produce from the Paradise garden are donated to local charities, including St. Vincent’s and the Ronald McDonald House Foundation.
The plots are 10 feet by 5 feet, and certain raised spaces are offered to people with disabilities. For the past few years, Bernice Mathews School’s elementary-school students have used a portion of the plots. But this year, because of financial constraints, the plots are going to be used for different projects such as plant sculptures and mosaics.
Kaplan said the garden allows people to understand the process of growing food. She also thinks it promotes community.
“There’s a real camaraderie benefit to the people,” she said.