DBG Community Garden
by Kenny Zelov, Assistant Director of Horticulture
“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens.” – Thomas Jefferson
From October 2010 through January 2011, in support of the 2012-2017 Desert Botanical Garden Strategic Plan, the Garden convened a task force of board members, staff, volunteers, and local experts to explore the possibility of implementing a community garden on-site. The task force helped identify the challenges that other community gardens have faced and explored the educational programming possibilities and benefits that such a garden could generate.
The task force determined that the Garden can, and should, play an important role in increasing the visibility of community gardening in the Phoenix metro area. For the program to succeed however, we first needed to develop our institutional knowledge and skills. In other words, before the Garden can become a resource on this topic for the Valley, we must first become experienced community gardeners ourselves. The community garden, therefore, will not be open to the public initially, but may be used as an outdoor classroom as the project progresses.
After applying for and receiving a generous grant from The Steele Foundation, the DBG Community Garden project is now underway. The first phase of the community gardening initiative was the creation of an on-site DBG Community Garden with volunteers and staff, through which we can learn hands-on how to be community gardeners. The purpose of this first phase is to help our institution master the art of community gardening, provide an authentic working demonstration garden, serve as a teaching lab for workshops and classes in gardening best practices, and assess and share the results with the community.
In spring 2012, a steering committee composed of staff and volunteers was formed. To lead the process, Doreen Pollack, executive director of the Valley Permaculture Alliance was contracted. Pollack is a master gardener, a permaculture designer, and an experienced coach and green gardening consultant; she was also a member of the original task force that explored the feasibility of the new community garden. Pollack augmented the project’s level of proficiency by helping staff understand their roles, supporting them in developing the project infrastructure, and guiding the decision-making process.
One of the first steps of the steering committee was to develop a purpose statement to guide the initiative:
The Garden strives to be a leader in promoting community gardening in the Phoenix area by designing and implementing a community garden with staff and volunteer involvement. The community garden will serve as a model that demonstrates vegetable gardening best practices in the desert environment, promotes educational opportunities, and enhances and further develops a sense of community within the Garden. We will share our results with extended communities beyond the Garden.
Other tasks followed, such as the development of the participant application, the recruitment process, and content for the informational sessions; identification and implementation of subcommittees; and other important elements.
In the first few months, the steering committee opened the application process for staff and volunteers and created content and materials for a series of informational sessions. Interested individuals submitted an application which helped to establish their varying degrees of gardening knowledge.
Results from the responses revealed that 24 plots would accommodate the number of potential participants. A design consisting of 18 individual plots measuring 4’x20’ and six communal plots measuring 4’x60’ was created. Three of the communal plots are reserved for groups of 18 gardeners and three for larger groups as follows: 1) Garden educators who lead school field trips, 2) weekend docents, and 3) staff from the Garden’s new restaurant, Gertrude's, opening January 2013. Considering the size of these groups, the total number of participants in this project may exceed 100.
The DBG Community Garden, about ¼ of an acre in size, is located adjacent to the pumpkin patch area used for the fall Great Pumpkin Festival. This area has been used in the past as a research plot for a variety of projects. Last summer the steering committee and a working group designed the space, purchased the tools and equipment to prepare the land, and performed a soil analysis, which confirmed that the soil is safe for growing and eating vegetables. We also learned that we should amend the soil with compost to add the nutrients needed for optimal health of the garden.
Acting on that information, the ground was tilled to loosen the compacted top layer. Subsequently, more than 50 gardeners turned out for a work day to remove the loosened earth, add compost, return the soil to the beds, and dig it all in to create a deep layer of suitable garden soil. Since then, on additional work days, wooden raised beds have been built, an irrigation system added, and soil and compost put into the raised beds. Perimeter fencing has also been installed around the area as a line of defense against desert wildlife, especially rabbits, and bird netting has been added.
Details of the Design
The community garden design will include a shaded communal meeting place with space for congregating and sharing ideas, a utility shed to house garden tools and materials, strategically placed shade trees, and some stainless steel troughs that were repurposed from the Center for Desert Living Trail. In preparation for the upcoming growing season of edible crops, these troughs have been placed throughout the community garden and planted with flowers to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Composting will be done on-site to help maintain a stable supply of organic material that can be added to the beds as the project continues.
To ensure the long term sustainability of the garden, the steering committee identified five subcommittees to address specific project needs. These committees are education, maintenance, best practices, social (for keeping it fun), and communications. These five subcommittees consist of staff and volunteers and will serve to involve the participants in the ongoing duties of the project as the steering committee hands over the leadership role to the working group members. The ongoing success of the community garden will be dependent on continued involvement from all. We are excited with how much we have done to this point and are anxiously monitoring the progress of the first planting. Visit dbg.org/communitygarden for updates and pictures.
The Garden thanks The Steele Foundation for supporting the on-site DBG Community Garden.