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Wasatch Community Gardens: cool spaces where people and plants both thrive

Apr 03, 2022 07:27PM ● By Addie Hunsaker

Local gardeners at Liberty Wells Community Garden. (Photo courtesy Wasatch Community Gardens)

By Addie Hunsaker | [email protected]

The Crossroads Urban Center operates as an emergency food pantry in Salt Lake and has many programs, including the Wasatch Community Gardens program, which has been around since before 1989 and has been growing dramatically since.

“We've always had youth programming, but we've started a social services program which employs women that are experiencing homelessness on our farm and give them training that transfers into the job market and into a better situation. We also have an in-school youth program, where we go into local schools and teach in collaboration with teachers and parents in school gardens,” said Van Hoover, program manager at Wasatch Community Gardens.

Hoover’s favorite part about working with Wasatch is seeing gardens develop overtime. “We take these underutilized parcels and vacant lots, build gardens on them and transform them into flourishing spaces where, all of a sudden, birds, bugs and people come around….I really love watching that transformation and seeing when we get the community together, we can create these cool spaces where there is biodiversity and people can grow food.”

Many of their gardeners, renting a plot, reap the functional benefits of growing their own food in the city. This resource is especially necessary for city dwellers, with many apartment spaces not providing a place to garden. There is a social component as well for those who opt into community gardening, as well as being able to learn from fellow gardeners.

“We have folks from all over the world because we partner with the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that does really important work for refugees, so we have lots of gardeners with refugee backgrounds that participate in their New Roots program and come to Utah with agricultural backgrounds. Wasatch has been partners in this program for close to 10 years now. New Roots will provide a lot of traditional seeds from all over the world so refugees can grow different crops and we let them work in our gardens….It's been really amazing to see different methods being used by people to grow things, you'll be walking through the garden and see a very traditional plot from Salt Lake with tomatoes and peppers and you look over and there's, you know, a plot growing completely different things and so there's a lot of knowledge sharing that happens when refugees are growing at the gardens,” Hoover said.

Wasatch’s mission is to empower people to grow their own healthy food and enjoy the experience that comes along with it, learning about the best natural systems to allow seeds to bloom and produce, as well as connecting people to the land and helping them to gain an appreciation for it. Wasatch also encourages those with space in their backyard to plant a garden, and even offers community education workshops year-round which focuses on seasonal gardening needs such as early season planting. Some advice Hoover has for those planting right now is to not disrupt the soil while it’s still wet.

“We have had a really dry spring so far, but a lot of people start planting too early when their soil is a bit too wet and that can actually damage your greens and peas. Instead of tilling just plant seeds directly into the ground and they will be fine,” Hoover said.

Another thing Hoover advises gardeners to do especially toward the beginning and end of the growing season is to create low tunnels. “The amount that temperatures vary season to season is growing and can be very warm and then there can be a snap freeze the next. These ranges of temperatures and frost can stop harvest early,” Hoover said. “What a lot of gardeners have started doing is putting low tunnels, pieces of PVC pipes bent over the top of their garden that is covered with plastic, to form little greenhouses. Low tunnels enable gardeners to get a lot more out of their garden each year.”

Although Wasatch has rented out nearly all their plots they are looking forward to expanding in their partnership with South Salt Lake and building two new gardens this spring, one just south of Liberty Park on the west side of 700 East as well as one near Fitts Park.