Washington Evening Journal
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Washington group plans community garden effort
WASHINGTON — A yet unnamed group of teachers, activists and local officials pitched their plans for a community garden to the Washington City Council last week. Members said the effort would have myriad benefits for residents.
“The mission and vision of our organization is to create community connections,” group member Kerrie Willis said. “Connections in as many ways as you can think of it, from many walks of life.”
Specifics of the plan are still being ironed out. Willis said the range was anywhere from 10-30 trees for an orchard, and 10-30 plots for a garden.
“We need to make sure that we can fund that and have space for it, so right now, that number is still in flux,” she said. “We haven’t gotten to that point yet. We needed to go to the city council first … before we get too far into the planning, we wanted to kind of make sure that we should proceed.”
At the very least, Willis said the project would bring nutritious food to the community. The bigger picture, however, is much more ambitious.
Willis was recognized by the World Food Prize Foundation in 2021 for her vision to link food security with a web of community activities, education efforts and organizations. She said the community garden would be a first step of that broader concept map, which would involve and impact a greater number of people.
“This is the beginning,” she said. “To accomplish what my vision is, is probably more like between now and year 10 … this is the first step of a much bigger vision, and I think our vision’s only limited by how many people could see a connection.”
The education aspect of that plan is on the mind of group member and Washington High School Environmental Science Teacher Lydia Davis.
Davis said she hoped to use the community garden for classroom and extracurricular programming, that would teach students about the food-growing process. Lessons would include anything from responsibility for a plant to the science of planting winter cover crops.
“There’s a lot of opportunities there, I’m not yet sure what it’s going to look like,” she said.
In any case, Davis said the hands-on space of a garden would provide learning experiences hard to replicate in a classroom.
“They’re putting that work in, they’re seeing fruition from their efforts,” she said. “So much of their learning is reading and writing, and having that hands-on bit in science really gets kids excited about the stuff they’re getting involved with.”
The proposed site on Boot Hill — between Washington High School and the Woodlawn Cemetery, at the west end of Van Buren Street — is owned by the city. Group members said it was already hooked up to the water line for easy installation of a spigot, and offered educational benefits thanks to the school’s proximity.
Andy Dahl, another group member, is the University of Iowa’s campus arborist, and an active member of Washington’s own tree committee. He led took part in a similar effort to install a community garden in the area of what is now Washington’s Wellness Park several years ago.
While that plan never materialized, Dahl said this time would be different.
“We just didn’t have all our ducks in a row at the time, there wasn’t a really good spot that we had identified as a possibility,” he said. “We’ve moved along further in the process, did a little bit more research. I think it was actually the parcel of land that was the driving factor, this time.”
The group has not yet given a cost estimate for its project. The upfront costs include a hydrant and length of pipe for the property, labor to till the garden beds, and fruit trees, which the group hopes to acquire through the tree committee.
Dahl said the group was seeking grant opportunities, and were optimistic about the price tag.
“I think it’s going to be surprisingly affordable,” he said. “There really isn’t going to be, at least initially, from what we’ve come up with, much expense. If we start looking at maybe putting in some raised gardens in the future, there will be maybe some expense with that, but right now I think we can get this off the ground in short order.”
The proposed garden’s logistics are also undecided. Users could theoretically have their own plot under annual contracts, or efforts could be more collective. As for fruit trees, the product would likely be first come, first served.
“There are many cities that have had templates, and we’re working on what will become Washington’s,” Dahl said. “There may be a nominal fee to rent a spot, there will be some rules.”
Overall, Dahl said those templates showed a promising future for garden plans.
“We’ve got an orchard here at work, and it’s got about 70 trees in it, and it’s just open to all,” he said. “It’s been really well-received, there’s never any fruit on there … I haven’t heard of any negatives, other than, ‘You should plant some more trees there!’”