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Blue Heron Park Community Garden restoration

By February 28, 2021Beet 2021 03 March

By Mary Foster 

Master Gardener 2007

and Lynn Kunstman

Master Gardener 2012

The Jackson County Master Gardeners Association is helping restore gardens and landscapes around the valley that were damaged or destroyed in the Almeda Fire. Two of these projects were native plants donated to the Friends of Wagner Creek Watershed and Valleys of the Rogue Watershed Council. 

We are also donating funds to rebuild Blue Heron Park Community Garden in Phoenix, which was completely destroyed in the fire. Here’s a bit of history about that community garden.

Community gardens that JCMGA support provide access to fresh produce and plants as well as an opportunity for satisfying labor, neighborhood improvement, sense of community and connection to the environment. They are publicly functioning in terms of ownership, access and management, as well as typically owned in trust by local governments or nonprofits. Community gardens bring communities closer and are as diverse as their gardeners. While some grow only flowers, others communally share their bounty. Many have individual plots for personal use. Others are equipped with raised beds for disabled gardeners. They promote urban food security, allowing citizens to grow their own food, and provide fresh produce donations to food banks. In creating a social community, these gardens break down social isolation and reduce local crime and vandalism. 

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Mary Foster was the Educational Service District teacher for the teens living in the Jackson County Shelter Home when she began the Blue Heron Park Garden project. Those students, along with special education students from Phoenix High School, planned, mapped the area, and interviewed people living in trailers and apartments surrounding the proposed site at the Blue Heron Park in Phoenix. Nothing but a driveway into the park was there at the time. The City of Phoenix accepted the proposal and plan for the community garden in 2004, and a grant from the Carpenter Foundation for $5,000 got the process rolling. 

Unfortunately, the river bed on which the garden would be built was not soft, silty loam, but rocky, sandy, garden-unfriendly soil. In order to form the 20 planned plots, soil was purchased and trucked in to the tune of $4,700! The kids installed all of the irrigation and built the deer-proof fence using only hand tools and lumber they had harvested through a thinning project with Christoph Buchler, a wonderful artist. 

In about three months, the garden was growing food for 20 families from diverse backgrounds. People were sharing tools and recipes. There were monthly work parties and potlucks, poetry readings, full moon ceremonies, music festivals and gatherings to just visit and enjoy the feeling of being in a lush growing space.  

Some of the original members of that garden are still maintaining a plot there,17 years later. Last September’s Almeda Fire ran through the garden, destroying fencing and the garden shed. Compost bins and wheelbarrows and all tools were lost, as were the two handicapped-accessible beds at the entrance. All of the well-tended perennial borders which attracted beneficials burned. 

The garden has received several grants from Jackson County Master Gardener Association in the past and this year, it will be the sole recipient of the 2021 Community Gardening Grant. 

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The Jackson County Master Gardener Association supports the Community Gardening Network, which is a group of gardeners and garden managers from community gardens throughout the Rogue Valley. This group meets quarterly to share information regarding plots available in their gardens, ideas for improving community gardens, and even consulting on the development of new gardens. Participants include representatives from Southern Oregon University, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, ACCESS Food Share and the Housing Authority.

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