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Garden grows in former NIMBY battle zone

ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald

Tamsen Wiltshire points out her tomatoes at the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden. The garden opened June 1, and each garden member must volunteer for two hours monthly. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of new people,” Wiltshire said.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

The tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers growing in the new Ohana Kuleana Community Garden would make for a refreshing summer salad, but not so long ago, this oddball property used to get people into a stew.

The acre plot is down the hill from Riverview Elementary School and awkwardly positioned behind a residential neighborhood, a spot ripe for “Not in my backyard” squabbles whenever someone suggested developing the property for homes or condos.

When developer Bob Lieb proposed a community garden, neighbors raised fears of rampant weeds and grazing wildlife, but they eventually warmed to the idea as a compromise alternative to new housing.

Since the garden sprouted a month ago with a fence to keep out the bears and deer, organizers have been mindful of residents’ concerns, such as the loss of privacy because accidental voyeurs can peer into neighbors’ bathrooms from the elevation of the garden berms. Pesky kids from the garden also have asked to jump on backyard trampolines.

Nonetheless, the consensus seems to be that the garden is more good than evil. The garden club has won over the fight club.

Morgan Crawford, who lives in a log cabin-style house at the corner entrance to the garden on 30th Street, was initially skeptical, but has since become a supporter.

“We’ve only had a few problems with people driving too fast back there, but really it’s been no big deal,” Crawford said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people walk and bike to the garden. It’s been great, it’s been really fun.”

While neighbors would like to see more landscaping, “overall most people are pretty happy,” Crawford said.

Robin Brodsky, who is tilling a 150-square-foot plot as a project for St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, believes solutions for seemingly intractable conflicts should come from the ground up like blooming plants.

Speaking for herself and not representing the views of St. Mark’s, Brodsky said, “We see some big systemic problems in the world today: poverty, violence, hunger. I don’t know if we’re ever going to find political solutions. I don’t think that’s the answer. More so than ever, it’s going to be a grass-roots effort.”

“I don’t think we’re going to change the system. I think we need to create whole new systems.”

The garden, whose Hawaiian name roughly translates to “community responsibility,” fills a niche by providing a place where people can come and till for a seasonal membership fee of $60.

In hilly Durango, flat, arable land is hard to come by. Brodsky, whose backyard is a slope, said, “I personally don’t have space for a garden.”

Mia Carrasco-Songer, the garden manager who is employed with the Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, said 25 plots the size of 150 square feet are currently in root. The garden has 35 members in all, including families, friends sharing a plot, church groups such as St. Mark’s and Riverview Elementary School, which is tending three plots as a school project.

A believer in small miracles, Charles Love, the Riverview science teacher for grades kindergarten through third, said the garden has the potential to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables.

“I think a kid picking a tomato off a vine might be more interested in tasting it,” Love said.

Love and fellow teacher Laura Hand have the responsibility of tending the garden this summer, but in future years, they hope to get kids invested in planting seeds, tending to the crops during the summer and harvesting in the fall.

The volume of vegetables and fruits grown in the garden expose kids to the wide world of produce, such as carrots, tubers and leafy greens.

Love, who also is raising money for a greenhouse for Riverview to extend the growing season, foresees future science projects such as simply constructed solar ovens of tinfoil and glass to bake potatoes from the garden.

Carrasco-Songer has big visions for Ohana Kuleana, too, such as a garden greenhouse, a play area for kids and vegetation to attract beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees.

“We’ll get vines growing on the fence so the neighbors will have more privacy,” she said.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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