Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Requiem For A Community Garden, Pt. 1

posted on 4/7/2015 by the Salt City Sinner

The first time that I saw the future site of Sugar House Community Garden, I'll freely admit that I failed to see the potential. I had headed to Fairmont Park in Sugar House with my mom's little dog Charley to pay a visit to the ducks (Charley loves waterfowl). There, rotting in the spring sunlight right next to the park, was a large, fenced-in sheet of concrete, formerly tennis courts but now little more than a blighted, crumbing weed preserve.

For a while in 2011, I took Charley to Fairmont a few times a week, and so it came to pass that I was ambling past the abandoned courts on the morning that something extraordinary took root.  I recognized at once the skeletal outlines of raised garden beds in the making.

I walked Charley over to the festivities and offered to pitch in, which officially began my involvement with Sugar House Community Garden.

UtahStories.com has a little background on the genesis of the project:
Until recently, the only thing growing in the abandoned tennis courts in Sugar House were weeds of neglect. But thanks to the nurturing care of Aimee Horman, Heidi Spence, Tamerin Smith and Mark Morris, The Sugar House Community Gardens have grown into a positive force for the neighborhoods around 2225 South and 900 East... The city has already started looking at other abandoned lots to do similar projects if this one is a success. The end-of-the-year produce exchange will give the community a chance to share in the fruits and vegetables of their labor.

For the next two years, I had a plot at SHCG, which I tended to with a fierce love, as it was the first garden I've ever worked on that was completely mine and mine alone, to do with as I pleased. It was an indescribably proud and happy feeling.

I watched as my little plot exploded into vibrant life, as did the beds of my fellow gardeners. What had been a nasty, cracked piece of derelict property was transformed into a lush mini-Eden (minus the angry deity and naked sinners).

Of course, there were minor issues with the garden from the start, primarily a debate over whether or not to lock the entrances when gardeners weren't present, and, more importantly, water.

You see, the sole source of water for SHCG, since we were attempting to avoid a city water hook-up and thus operate relatively under the radar (more on that next post), was the small creek that runs through Fairmont Park to the west, right alongside the re-purposed tennis courts where we built the beds. The first year at SHCG, we ran a pump-and-filter device into the creek to supply the hose system that fed our plots. The second year, a more elaborate mechanism was set up that included a water storage tower.

Negotiations with our downstream neighbors resulted in a compromise that restricted watering hours while allowing us to divert enough water to feed the garden. During the two years that Sugar House Community Garden thrived at Fairmont, gardeners got to know each other, traded gardening tips and tricks, and set up a process by which surplus produce was donated to St. Mark's Millcreek, (a federally subsidized apartment building for low-income seniors).

People grew tomatoes, sunflowers, squash, herbs, you name it – our little slice of paradise, born of the revitalization of what had previously been a nasty bit of urban blight, flourished. That is, until our self-governing autonomous collective caught the eye of the city. After years of success, SHCG finally met the one obstacle we could not overcome – namely, the “intervention” of Wasatch Community Gardens.

(Continued in Part 2)

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