The End of a Community Garden

Garden season is here and the funny thing about gardens is that they are usually not the picture- perfect rows of glistening plants and bounteous vegetables found in gardening magazines. They are a working space, leaning into the angle of the sun with insects buzzing and crawling among the plants. Funny thing. You can’t legislate a garden.
For years now, the Parks community has enjoyed a lovely community garden at the crossroads of Old Route 66 and Spring Valley Road, right across from the little market where residents can pick up a few items they forgot while in town. At first the site was a vacant, weed filled patch of dirt that Jane D thought would draw the community together. They could grow and sell vegetables to feed and benefit the people of Parks. She roto-tilled the soil, added manure and settled tomato starts in the raw dirt. She planted rows of beans and squash, lettuce and greens, broccoli, the usual items one finds in a garden.

When the garden began to produce, volunteers set up a small table to sell the produce. Friends, neighbors and complete strangers stopped by to ask what was happening. They bought the produce. Jane D soon added homemade pies, jams and jellies. With the proceeds, the volunteers were able to add an electric fence to deter four-legged night-time visitors. They set up a shed for the tools. At the end of each year, proceeds from the sales were divided between local community organizations including the cancer foundation, the food bank, the dog rescue, local teachers and field trips at the school.

Water is scarce in northern Arizona. Over the years, the fire department stepped up and donated water when the rains were minimal. All seemed to be going well except the volunteers needed to keep the garden going just didn’t come. Jane D had her own garden. The two gardens along with her baking were consuming many hours of the day.
In the couple of years, rumors began to drift through the community. New residents had moved into the community from the state west of Arizona. Some ran for the local school board, seeking to bring improvements to this rural community. Rumor reported that some of thenew residents were unhappy that the garden was a bit unsightly. It was not the picture-perfect garden of glossy magazines. No one talked to Jane D directly. These were just rumors.

Before she started the garden, Jane D had sought the permission of the Maine School District to use the property as it was part of the allotment for the local school. She talked with the County Board of Supervisors and the US Forest Service all of whom have an active interest in the community. She even checked with the local market to ensure there would be no competition with their small business. Each welcomed the garden as a means of drawing the community together.

Now, rumors surfaced that the garden was unsightly – this is what gardens do. No one talked to Jane D in person and that was the last straw. She was tired of working so hard or seeking volunteers. There will not be a community garden in Parks this year. Jane is calling it quits. She will return the lot to its original condition with wild grasses, a plastic bag or two, maybe a receipt from the local market all drifting with the wind. I will miss the Parks Community Garden and wish the new arrivals had taken more time to adjust to this little community before seeking changes that left the community a little poorer.