What is a Community Garden

Morning sunlight breaks on the Gateway community garden, just outside of the Gateway Mall in downtown Salt Lake City. PBS Utah, All Rights Reserved.

Morning sunlight breaks on the Gateway community garden, just outside of the Gateway Mall in downtown Salt Lake City.

By Lizzi Brosseau

We are thrilled to be partnering this year with Wasatch Community Gardens on a virtual version of their Urban Garden and Farm Tour. In this special series of videos, we’ll be showcasing some creative, experimental and downright beautiful urban gardens and farms in the Salt Lake City community. Come with us, as we take a virtual peek over the fence into our neighbors’ backyards!

Building Community With a Community Garden

A community garden is more than a beautiful green space full of fresh food in an urban area. It’s a place where city dwellers can meet their neighbors and learn new gardening techniques. Community gardens also provide food security, making their communities healthier and more connected. 

Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG) empowers people to grow and eat healthy, organic, local food. For more than 30 years, this nonprofit has provided people in Salt Lake County with access to land and education for growing and eating fresh produce, while building community connections through gardening and healthy food. WCG accomplishes its mission through four main programs: Community Education, Youth & School Gardens, Job Training and Community Gardens. We visited one of their 17 gardens in Salt Lake County, the Gateway community garden in downtown Salt Lake City, to see community gardener Stephanie Statnick’s garden plots and learn about what it’s like to be a gardener in a community garden.


VIDEO: GROWING IN A COMMUNITY GARDEN


What is a Community Garden?

You may not be very familiar with community gardens, or maybe you’ve seen one in your neighborhood and wondered more about it. Community gardens are created when a group of community members decide to work together to turn a piece of land into an area where plants can be grown. Often they are started by churches, schools, HOA’s and other community organizations. They can provide varying levels of materials and support, but generally provide community space space, soil and irrigation. Individual community members and families manage and take care of their plot, primarily for growing food to eat. 

Wasatch Community Gardens helps community members garden by providing space, materials and education. Gardeners can get a plot at their local garden by filling out the application on their website. When a plot becomes available in the spring, WCG will call to let you know there is a plot, and after attending the mandatory spring meeting you are ready to get growing!

Stephanie Statnick and Marybeth Janerich, inspecting a plant ID for Isis Candy tomatoes at her Gateway community garden plot.

From a Community Vision to Reality

We met with Van Hoover, Green City Growers Program Manager, and Stephanie Statnick, a garden mentor and Master Gardener, to see her garden plot at the Gateway Community garden, which is about 2 years old. Van told us that the land wasn’t designated to be a garden, “But a community member had a vision for one, and reached out [to WCG] to see if they could help get a community garden there.”

After getting approval to convert the site, community members helped build the boxes, after contractors used their equipment to scrape and level the site. The land was contaminated about 10 feet down, so the space needed to be covered with material to block the contamination, and as an extra precaution the raised garden beds were built fairly deep, so as not to risk root growth into the contaminated soil. It was a true community effort, and as Van says, “Seeing this spot that wasn’t serving any purpose, become a beautiful place with biodiversity has been really satisfying.”

The Gateway community garden from the east side looking west, towards train lines, the freeway and manufacturing district of Salt Lake City.

This garden is close to downtown in an area with high density living, which means that very few people have space to grow their own vegetables. Having a community garden provides so many benefits to urban neighborhoods. Aside from growing your own food, the practice of gardening really brings a lot to quality of life. Benefiting people and place, community gardens help preserve urban green space, strengthen community bonds, promote healthier living and provide access to fresh, healthy food. Last year, more than 500 households participated in a WCG community garden, generating more than 27 tons of organic produce!

It’s all these benefits that keep WCG as an organization growing. They are generally adding a new garden every one or two years. The 17 gardens that WCG currently manages in Salt Lake County are about a quarter acre. WCG only selects sites that the community is interested in, where there is enough population density and where the garden will thrive. “Salt Lake and the county are very open to adding more gardens and providing resources,” Van said, “So it’s really more a matter of the community being interested in having the garden so that the partnership between the community and WCG is strong.”

Stephanie and Marybeth talking near her bean trellis, which is growing in a garden plot she’s maintaining for a Senior food market.

Stephanie’s Plots at the Gateway Community Garden

Stephanie moved to Utah in January last year. She grew up on a farm in Illinois and has tried to have a garden everywhere she has lived, so when she walked past the WCG Popperton community garden her curiosity was piqued. She did some research and was able to get a plot that first year at the Gateway community garden. 

She started taking workshops with WCG, even though she has an extensive background in gardening. But Stephanie said that gardening in Utah presented unfamiliar challenges—in particular with irrigation and very high summer temperatures. But she also wanted to have a way to meet people in her new neighborhood who also had an interest in gardening. 

The Gateway community garden has 92 plots with at least 50 gardeners. Stephanie says that it’s been a great way to meet people and learn different gardening techniques. “It’s fascinating to me,” she says. She says that although most of the Gateway gardeners grow similar vegetable crops, the plots all look so different because some gardeners incorporate flowers or herbs, some use garden structures such as trellises, towers, or shade structures, and each gardener designs their plot layout a bit differently. There are beginner gardeners, and experienced gardeners, and all of them are able to learn from one another. 

Because Stephanie has taken so many classes with WCG she decided to volunteer to be the community garden mentor and share what she’s learned. She said it’s been a lot of fun to have other gardeners use her as a resource. Aside from the 2 beds she personally grows at the Gateway community garden, she manages 4 plots for the “Grow a Row for a Senior” program, and volunteers as the common plot manager, overseeing the 4 common beds at the garden. Let’s take a look at what she’s growing.

Stephanie pulls back her 30% shade cloth that hangs over her tomato cages and cucumber trellis.

Shade Cover in Stephanie's Personal Plots

Stephanie grew a large variety of plants in her personal plots this year. Everything from eggplants to potatoes found space in her garden, as well as garlic, onions and volunteer zinnias in another. She said that it was fun letting the volunteers grow, and that she thinks volunteer plants may be stronger and healthier because they had to survive the winter.

In another plot, Stephanie uses 30% shade cloth to cover her Armenian and Crystal Apple cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes. Stephanie found that shade cover helped increase production because the shade cloth decreases air temperatures by about 15 degrees, which reduces stress on plants.  Her shade cloth is hung off the trellis covering the west side of the plants so that they get shade in the hot late afternoon and evening sun. Stephanie has used concrete reinforcing wire to build her tomato cages, something she learned at a tomato class through Wasatch Community Gardens. This strong reinforcing wire is perfect for holding shade cloth that will hang over plants. 

It also covers her Dwarf Caitydid, and Isis Candy tomato, which helps prevent blossom drop, a big problem that happens at temperatures higher than 85 degrees, a very common issue for gardeners in Utah. 

Stephanie uses shade cloth in this bed to cool the soil, in preparation for fall planting.

Applying shade can also be used to prep a cleared summer bed for cool season fall crops. Shading the soil for at least a week beginning in mid-July days will allow the soil to cool down, creating a better germination environment for many cool season crops, like lettuces, broccoli, kale, chard, and carrots.

Another benefit of shade cover? It can shade the gardener too! Certain garden tasks that can be done at times when the shade cover will protect the gardener are the ones that Stephanie saved for last this year. 

Melons and cucumbers grow over a wire tunnel in one of Stephanie’s “Grow a Row for a Senior” plots.

Trellising and Melon Hammocks in the Grow a Row for a Senior plots

This year Stephanie is growing veggies for a senior market. She’s growing ever bearing strawberries, lettuce and rat-tail radishes, along with vining plants like melons, squash, cucumber and beans. Growing vining plants has given her the opportunity to try out a few garden techniques that she’s seen others try and was curious about. 

One of those techniques is to create a tunnel trellis for her melons, and to keep the melons from breaking off their vines as they hang, she makes a hammock for them. The hammocks are made out of various materials, like panty hose and nets that could be used to hold fruit in a kitchen. So far so good! She hasn’t lost any melons, but they are still growing.

This strawberry from an everbearing variety hangs in the "U-Pick It" plot outside the garden gate, tempting passersby.

Berries and Borage in the Common Plots

Stephanie has a lot of fun managing the common plots, even if sometimes that fun can mean a bit of plant identification. Sometimes a mystery plant appears in the common plot, and while few gardeners would say no to a free plant, it can sometimes mean that a plant was transplanted or sowed in a spot that may not be the best for it. So far most mystery plants have survived, but it’s not a good idea to plant something in an area that you don’t manage or own. 

The other plants in the common plots growing this year are corn, cabbage, squash, lemongrass, strawberries, artichoke, borage and roses! A large variety of plants, even without mentioning the pollinator garden managed by a student gardener. 

If you’d like to become a member of a WCG community garden or learn how WCG can support you in starting a community garden of your own, click here

If you’d like to learn more about growing berries, check out our video and blog post on raspberries: https://www.pbsutah.org/modern-gardener/stories/growing-raspberries-utah-with-ashley-patterson

Finding Inspiration at your local Community Garden

We hope that learning more about Wasatch Community Gardens and their gardeners has inspired you to get growing! If you have the space, try a few of the tricks you’ve learned here from Stephanie. If you don’t have the space, search for your nearest community garden to start your gardening journey! 

Don’t forget to follow Modern Gardener on Instagram and Facebook to see more information about gardening, and chime in with your own tips or stories!

If you live in Utah and have a garden or garden project that you'd like to be featured on Modern Gardener, click here!

Lizzi Brosseau

Lizzi Brosseau, Digital Producer at KUED Channel 7.
Modern Gardener Host and Author

Lizzi works for PBS Utah as a digital producer and host of Modern Gardener. Read more