Wasatch Community Gardens: Building Community from the Ground Up
After a pretty white winter, spring is finally edging its way into the Salt Lake valley. Gentle rains replace the several feet of snow that blanketed our valley from December through much of March. Sunny jonquils dot the landscape and tulips are about to burst forth.
For me, it’s past time to plant lettuce, kale, chard, carrots, beets and spinach. I dug up my beds last weekend. Long before my plots were ready for new seeds, I visited Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG). By the end of March they already had bumper crop of kale growing in their greenhouse at the Grateful Tomato Garden, close to downtown Salt Lake. Now, their many and diverse community programs are in full swing.
Wasatch Community Gardens was founded in the mid-1980s. Originally a fish co-op, the organization grew out of a program initiated by the Crossroads Urban Center that provided fish for Salt Lake’s mostly Southeast Asian refugee communities. Soon, Crossroads recognized the opportunity to make use of some of the vacant lots around the valley to provide fresh vegetables for the community. In 1987, Wasatch Fish and Gardens was born.
By 1993, demand for the fish decreased to the point that the organization discontinued that program. The good news is that the gardening program was going strong—expanding yearly. The renamed the organization and since then, have focused on providing garden space for urban farming, youth programs and community education. According to executive director Ashley Patterson, WCG are leaders in fostering organic gardening in the Salt Lake area.
Now there are more than 30 community gardens around the valley, either owned by or supported by WCG, and farmed by members of the community. A 4 x 20-foot plot costs $40 to cultivate for the year. Here’s a list of network gardens in the Salt Lake area and information on what’s involved.
Growing the Gardening Bug
Also in 1993, the director initiated a Youth Program, reasoning that teens could benefit from growing and sharing produce. Thanks to partnerships with 25 organizations such as Salt Lake Neighborhood Housing’s Youth Works, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Central City Community Center, the youth programs now serve more than 1,700 people. Last year they produced 3,500 pounds of produce that went to the students, their families and local food pantries. From February through November, Wasatch Community Gardens sponsors after-school educational programs, called City Roots, in partnership with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, United Way and Americorp.
In addition to its youth programs and community gardens, WCG sponsors 60 community workshops each year on subjects ranging from soil science to canning. Workshops take place throughout the spring, summer and fall at various locations around the Salt Lake valley. Here’s a calendar of events.
After seven years of backyard chicken fun, the “Tour de Coop,” a citywide tour of backyard chicken coops, has expanded this year to be a full Urban Garden and Farm Week. The tour will feature urban homesteads, rainwater catchment, intensive gardening techniques, backyard livestock, bee keeping, season extending, unique garden spaces, permaculture and more. Check out this page if you’d like to participate, either by showing off your digs or to tour others’ gardens to sprout new ideas.
Growing Your Own
WCG’s most popular event may be their annual plant sale, an event I’ve attended every year since the mid-1990s. Featuring waterwise perennials and organic vegetables and herbs, the plant sale draws hundreds of gardeners, many of whom line up rock concert style, early in the morning, to pick from scores of varieties of unique heirloom tomato plants, among other things.
A board member for WCG from 2003 to 2009, Ashley, who became executive director in 2012—and has been a yogini for more than a decade—is happy to be at the helm of an organization she loves and believes in. As she showed me around the Grateful Tomato Garden, one of the organization’s original plots, her enthusiasm is palpable. And why not? I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than providing a community with the means to get their hands dirty on a balmy spring day to cultivate new, nourishing life that will give dividends throughout the summer and fall.
Hugger Mugger Yoga Products is happy to support Wasatch Community Gardens through a donation of a percentage of our net profits from April through June this year. When you support us, you support healthy eating in our community.