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Ohana Kuleana honors founder before community garden’s closure

Bob Lieb leased the land and allowed gardeners to work it for more than 10 years
Ohana Kuleana Community Garden founder Bob Lieb shares a message to community members as the garden is set to close Sept. 30. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

The Ohana Kuleana Community Garden honored its founder and benefactor Bob Lieb last weekend with an open house. The community garden will close after Sept. 30 as Lieb, who owns the land, will use the property to build affordable housing.

Lieb leased the land from the county for 10 years with an option to purchase the land after the lease ended in 2020. According to Lieb, the option was put in by the county and not requested by Lieb.

“Everybody thinks it was kind of an insider deal because I used to be a county commissioner, but they put in my lease the option to buy it after 10 years,” he said.

Lieb became aware of the half-acre of land during his time as a county commissioner. He started developing the idea for the community garden after his wife died and decided he wanted to make healthier choices. He went to a communal gardening event in Milwaukee where he learned how to grow. That inspired him to take the plot of land and turn it into the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden.

Lieb exercised the option to purchase the land. However, the cost of property taxes created a dilemma for him.

Ohana Kuleana Community Garden members evaluate their crops at Sunday’s open house. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

“I tried very hard to work with the county assessor to reclassify it as ag status because it would be one-sixth of the property taxes,” he said. “Because it’s vacant land, it’s 29% assessed value and so the property taxes are just too high to pay at that level.”

Lieb is in the process of working with the city to develop the lot for tiny homes much like the area he developed at Escalante Village by Walmart.

“I have no more availability ... out at Escalante Village, and the market is there,” he said.

However, this is not the end for the community garden. Plans to move the garden to Riverview Elementary School as the part of the school’s new interactive science program have already started. Riverview Elementary science teacher Charlie Love has been heavily involved with the garden and has used it to teach his students about sustainability for the past 10 years.

“Because of the pandemic, we had to scale back,” Love said. “We used to have workshops here, public workshops, where anybody could come and learn about composting, organic pest management, growing mushrooms or stuff like that.”

The Riverview location will become part of the school’s Seeds Outdoor Inspiration Lab (SOIL). Love said that style of learning keeps children engaged.

“The best way to learn something is by doing it, not just reading about it or hearing about it or seeing it, but being hands on,” he said.

Love hopes to start planting seeds for the new Riverview location next spring as Phase 1 of a five-phase project. Other phases would include building a SOIL Learning Center, an event space, a growing dome and a farm lab.

Local musicians perform while others wander through the garden at Sunday’s Ohana Kuleana Community Garden open house. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

The project is being funded by private investors and the elementary school is partnering with the city and applying for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant. The SOIL project is fundraising for Phase 2, which would build a demonstration garden and event space.

Members of Ohana Kuleana Community Garden will also be coordinating with Christ the King Lutheran Church and La Plata Family Center to provide a garden for the church by its new playground. They have also discussed providing gardens for other churches. Ohana Kuleana Community Garden spokeswoman Chris Paulson said nothing has been finalized and the members are keeping their options open.

Paulson said Ohana Kuleana is looking at multiple locations because they would be more accessible to other members in the community.

“It would be much more feasible if we had several smaller gardens that people could go to that were closer in their neighborhoods,” she said.

For those who have been involved with the garden, saying goodbye is bittersweet.

Ohana Kuleana Communtiy Garden founder Bob Lieb cuts into a zucchini cake at Sunday’s open house. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

Member Leesa Zarinelli said it is hard to see the garden go away because of how many people it has brought together. She is excited about the work Ohana Kuleana will be doing with Christ the King Lutheran Church.

During Sunday’s ceremony, Love and Paulson talked about Lieb’s impact on the garden and how he contributed to the community.

Love awarded him with a card that was made by students from Riverview Elementary School.

“We’ve had over 1,000 Riverview students as well other kids and families put their hands in this soil,” Love said. “I think all of those people are going to carry some very valuable memories from that.”

tbrown@durangoherald.com



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