A Bountiful Garden in the Heart of Eastsound

by Antoinette Botsford, Master Gardener Class of 2013.

Several local and county groups on Orcas Island are trying to decide what to do with an empty lot in the heart of Eastsound Village. Antoinette has a community-friendly idea that any gardener can get behind. Her editorial below first appeared in the July 21 edition of Orcas Issues.

The Fern Street “Extension” parcel — ideal for a community garden?

The Fern Street “Extension” parcel — ideal for a community garden?

The Eastsound Planning Review committee (EPRC), County Public Works and the County Council from time to time discuss what is to be done with the lot, 50×100, that is bordered by Prune Alley on one end and North Beach Road on the other — the Fern Street Extension. Since being vacated by the Senior Center in 2003, it has been used in an ad hoc way by various groups interested in gardening, sustainability, and in raising food for the food bank.

People interested in additional parking and using the area as a “transportation hub” have also said their piece, and the current EPRC recommendations (in the Eastsound Sub-Area Plan to go before the Planning Commission and the Council in the next few months), include a proposal to designate it as such, albeit the staff report for the plan says the recommendations are suggestions, not certainties. The lot was purchased by the County Department of Public Works, and there have been EPRC discussions about how “locked in” Public Works is to the design of this “Transportation Hub.”

A few years ago this parcel (bordered by privately-owned lots) was gardened by “FEAST” — or “Farm Education and Sustainability for Teens” a summer program to educate young people in the ways of growing food.

Then another section of this same plot was dug and planted by some enthusiasts who did not have garden space of their own. Enthusiasm dwindled when they realized that the well was no longer usable.

In the meantime, the existing garden is primarily cultivated by Jeanne Morris, who is also stewarding an inherited colony of bees. Jeanne is growing food for the Food Bank and for herself and flowers for the bees. Because of water problems, much of this land is now fallow. A civic-minded person gave 500 gallons of water, which has been very helpful, and the neighbors have also given water from time to time.

Many people refer to this space as the “Community Garden” and hope that it can be developed into something more productive and participatory. Its location — near the Food Coop, Historical Museum, Village Green, etc., seems perfect for this purpose. It is also a sunny and warm spot, good for growing. The dream is to have some kind of water catchment system (perhaps coming from the gutters of nearby buildings). Before that, the beds need to be redesigned for aesthetic layout, good use of water and to provide plenty of forage for the honeybees.

As probably we all know, the population of pollinators is suffering in many parts of the world, honeybees in particular. Anything that supports honeybees will be of great benefit to the need for growing more food to feed a burgeoning population.

This modest bit of land in the heart of Eastsound could become a model garden to educate people in how to raise vegetables, conserve water, and encourage pollinators. Those doing the work could be enthusiasts who do not have their own land. And as the person who is gardening in the adjacent lot, I would be happy to add my own experience with the worm bin situated in the shady corner near the septic lids. Worm bins do much to recycle food waste (other than meat and dairy) while defeating the rodent population. Their waste creates the richest planting material imaginable.

In addition to the vegetable-flower garden, there are a number of old, but still very productive, fruit trees. All of these have, from time to time, been pruned by good-hearted volunteers and their fruit harvested by various people. They would benefit from dormant spraying and more regular pruning.

Many of us want to see this land become a demonstration garden in which all are welcome–a garden with a winding path going from Fern Street to North Beach Road, with a bench or two. Near the gate could be a sign explaining the purpose of the garden with contact information. In the best of worlds there would be a paid employee who would be a volunteer coordinator, tend to the water issues, and schedule the times for planting and bee maintenance.

In my own vision, local garden clubs would be available to consult and to provide at least some of the materials. Water rights would be worked out with adjacent property owners, and perhaps a special rate could be realized. At the same time, some sort of rainwater catchment system might be created.

For this to work out, a lot has to happen. But the first priority is the need to know whether this use of the land would be something the community overall would appreciate (more than for parking and a transportation hub), be proud of and take part in.

Letters to the Council and to the County Manager, public comments at EPRC and Council meetings would enlighten county government and island residents as to islanders’ motivation to reclaim this garden and move the cause forward.

I have not been able to learn whether this county-owned land could be used long-term for such a garden, or if, of necessity, it must used for another purpose. Is this something that Public Works could approve of?

If some resolution or direction were to be determined, interested parties could apply for a grant, maybe arrange something for the water, and re-shape the earth so that the land could be better used and become an aesthetic delight for the benefit of all.

If you are interested, please email redstorybird@gmail.com with “Community Garden” in the subject line.

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