How does an urban farm grow a community?
Wasatch Community Gardens
Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG) holds an annual Spring Plant Sale as a fundraiser for its hands-on garden-based programming. WCG’s Green Phoenix Farm plays a critical role in the Sale, growing approximately 40,000 organic vegetable seedlings to be made available to WCG’s Salt Lake community. Given persisting COVID restrictions, this was WCG’s second year to figure out how to minimize exposure and fulfill its mission, “to empower people to grow and eat local, organic, healthy food.” As a first-hand, first-year participant as an Americorp Utah Conservation Corp employee, I was allowed a unique perspective to answer the question, “How does an urban farm grow a community?” I witnessed a community come together, not just for five days in the first week in May, but for the months leading up to this event.
Plant Sale Scope
Around Valentine's Day, we started making our first soil blocks out of compost, peat, and other soil amendments to seed the “death peppers” and the other slow growers. By mid-April, we had planted the last of our seeds- tomatoes, cucurbits, and basil. With a robust community volunteer online recruiting system in place, we were able to schedule groups of volunteers for the focused tasks on the days that they needed to happen.
What did it take to pull off this plant sale? These tasks included building a new greenhouse (64’ x 28’), seeding, transplanting over 40,000 plants, and executing the delivery to over 1800 customer orders for farm site pick-up. To pick, pack and check each order was a colossal amount of work. We really lamented not being able to open the sale up to our entire community this year, due to limitations of our commerce website. “The Sale, which is typically held in-person, was moved to an online storefront, where WCG offered 33 vegetables consisting of 195 varieties which we planted ourselves. While the seeding started with the assistance of a few volunteers, by the week of the sale, we had two shifts of a dozen volunteers each assisting the staff and WCGs Green Phoenix Farm crew to accomplish this task. And yes, it was hot!
Consider the impact! Noted here are the people brought together through the work of this urban farm: 17 full-time Wasatch Community Gardens staff along with 182 volunteers who filled 220 6-hour shifts totaling 1320 hours. These resources assisted our farm crew of eight to make it all happen. What about those 1,800 customers and their children who will be caring for and enjoying delicious, home-grown vegetables? They may even strengthen friendships with neighbors with gifts of the vegetables they can’t plant themselves. After fulfilling all the sale orders, we ended up with extras made into 44 shares of plants (5 boxes of various vegetables) which were purchased at a reduced cost by 16? different nonprofit, community organizations. The plants continue to give beauty, health, and experience well beyond the end of the sale.
These past few months have been an experience I shall never forget. To those moms with their young children who helped tape boxes and the grandpa’s who were assisting, to those farm neighbors who got to handle and admire the plants as they performed their quality control checks, to the farm crew members who experienced the birth of a plant to placing it in a welcoming home, thank you for making a difference and working with us as a unified community! It was a great (and exhausting) team experience. The many smiling faces on the giving and receiving end of this sale are proof of the urban farm’s community-uniting influence.
Fulfilling WCGs Green Phoenix Farm's Mission
The Wasatch Community Gardens Green Phoenix Farm, in addition to hosting the Spring Plant Sale, fulfills its primary mission - to support those seeking to relaunch their lives – through WCG’s Job Training Program. Serving women facing homelessness, the program provides them an opportunity to work a paid position at Green Phoenix Farm while working towards stable housing and employment. Each recipient has access to program consultants who give personal support to each participant to help them succeed in all areas of life. The healing power of the garden and a connection with food, nature, and other people makes a significant positive impact in their lives.