Bruce Spining was a complete gardening novice. Kristi Streiffert had dabbled but wanted to do more.
Both are harvesting generous amounts of produce from their plots at the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden and enjoying the camaraderie that comes from working together to achieve a common goal. Ohana Kuleana is a program of The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado.
The meaning of the Hawaiian name, suggested by Bob Lieb, the former county commissioner who leased the land from La Plata County to foster the project, is perfect, said Mia Carrasco-Songer, Ohana Kuleana manager.
“Ohana means family, but in an all-inclusive, more than just blood-relations way,” she said. “Kuleana means community, in that we’re all responsible for one another’s actions. So, it’s essentially community responsibility.”
‘Better chance of success’
But what if you have a brown thumb?
Spining, who was one of the first gardeners to sign up, said the number of master gardeners involved has made his initial foray into growing his own food a success.
“As far as I know, people haven’t had anything that didn’t (grow) with that support,” he said. “There is so much mentoring and coaching on how to do it right.”
Streiffert has gardened on and off but was never a big-time gardener, she said.
“I was daydreaming over garden catalogues when a whole herd of deer walked through our yard,” she said. “I didn’t have the time or the energy to build a deer-proof fence and do what it would take to garden here. I figured I would have a better chance of success in the community garden.”
She’s growing arugula, cilantro, spinach and lettuce in her garden.
“And, of course, what everyone wants: tomatoes,” she said.
How does it work?
People can lease a 150-square-foot plot for $75 for the season, plus two hours per month of volunteer time for the overall project. Scholarships and options to volunteer in lieu of membership dues are available because they want the garden to be accessible to everyone.
“Last summer, with donations from Home Depot, we put in pavers and raised garden beds so people in wheelchairs could also garden,” said Spining.
Working through the Southwest Center for Independence, about 10 gardeners dealing with physical handicaps are also participating this year.
Anyone in La Plata County can be a member. This year, about 40 groups, including families, groups of friends and a church group are digging in the dirt, Carrasco-Songer said. The project provides deer-proof fencing, irrigation water, amendments to prepare the soil in the spring to help start the garden and monthly seminars on a variety of topics, including this year, how to grow tomatoes and mushrooms.
Last summer, the gardeners pulled out about 1,500 pounds of produce from their plots, and the gardens are flourishing this year with all the rain.
“We have a little system,” Spining said. “When I have more than I can eat, I can raise a little flag, and everyone knows they can come over and pick what they want.”
Spining is growing radishes, onions, broccoli, peas, beans, squash, tomatoes and peppers. Others, he said, are growing corn, kale and beets.
“It’s pretty much what you’d expect a vegetable garden to produce,” he said.
‘A pizza garden’
Riverview Elementary School science teacher Charlie Love oversees the 900-square-foot lot set aside for the school, which sits just uphill from Ohana Kuleana.
“He’s tied all his gardening activities to the science curriculum,” Carrasco-Songer said. “He even created a pizza garden, shaped like a pizza with slices, and every slice is growing something you would put on a pizza, like basil, tomatoes and mushrooms. When school starts in the fall, they’re going to make pizzas with what they grew.”
Love also created a Three Sisters garden featuring the ancestral Puebloan staples such as corn, squash and beans.
“That teaches the students how plants can work together, and they also use it to teach the cultural history of this area,” Carrasco-Songer said.
For nongardening readers, the corn provides a stalk for the beans to grow on, the beans provide nitrogen to the soil for the other two plants, and the squash leaves prevent the establishment of weeds and retain the moisture in the soil.
Garden plots are available on a first-come, first-served basis, Carrasco-Songer said, and anyone who’s interested can email her to get their name on the list at firstname.lastname@example.org.