Laura Anderson isn’t above using a pun or two to get her point across.
At Monday’s meeting of the Clinton School Board’s Committee of the Whole, Anderson distributed produce seeds to board members, hoping to convince them that a community garden would have substantial merit.
“We’re hoping to ‘plant the seeds’ for a new project here in Clinton that we hope will be very productive,” Anderson said.
Anderson, presenting on behalf of the Sisters of St. Francis and Sustainable Clinton, said that she hopes the school board will “lettuce” use school property for a large garden that would be maintained by area residents and community groups.
A few pun-induced groans notwithstanding, the board was receptive to Anderson’s presentation, and agreed to let her group utilize land at the corner of 13th Avenue North and North 14th Street.
This community garden will divide the school-owned lot, currently vacant, into 50 to 100 10-foot-by-10-foot plots that would be rented out to locals with green thumbs. The plots, with a tentative rental rate of $25 per year, can be used to grow produce for personal consumption or donations to local charitable organizations.
There are “a lot of really great things” about the land, according to Anderson. It is in a developing neighborhood, and is close enough to district administration and the Ericksen Community Center, the headquarters of the city’s recreation department, to be closely monitored.
Benefits abound in cities with community gardens, Anderson said. Her group has studied exiting gardeners in other communities across the state, and has consulted with project advisor Kyle Sieck, a Clinton native who has helped start similar gardens across the country.
Sieck said he jumped at the opportunity to bring what he feels is a worthwhile project to his hometown. In addition to educational, aesthetic and nutritional benefits, Sieck said community gardens help foster teamwork skills throughout gardeners, including those from many different backgrounds.
“My hope is to take what I’ve learned from those projects (in other cities), and apply it to my hometown,” Sieck said. “Creating a sense of community is important.”
Through this research, Anderson said her group has learned that community gardens help provide nutritious food to those ambitious enough to grow it, and serves to beautify neighborhoods and preserve green space. The garden could also have educational benefits, as Anderson said she has already been in contact with a district science teacher about using a plot as a lab setting for students.
“We believe this could be a real asset to the community,” Anderson said.
While the threats of vandalism or pilfering by area wildlife are real, Sieck said the potential benefits of a strong community garden override these concerns.
“You’re still going to be growing more food than if you weren’t doing anything at all,” he said.
The Iowa State University Extention is a partner in the project. Kelli Jahn, ISU Extension youth and families educator, said that ideas for several information programs and classes are being considered. With help from the Master Gardeners, Jahn said that her organization would help teach proper techniques, pest management and strategies for organic gardening success. Workshops could also be held on composting, nutrients and proper seed management.
Ensuring that as many people as possible have access to the garden is another priority of the ISU Extension, according to Jahn. Tools for planting and soil manipulation, while relatively inexpensive, can become a significant hurdle to low-income garden participants, Jahn said. Any spare tools, like rakes, shovels or other digging utensils currently laying around unused in area garages could be useful, Jahn said.
“Those are the things they really need,” Jahn said. “A lot of people aren’t going to have the tools. We don’t want them to think it’s going to be a huge investment.”