Dig This: A Unique Garden in our Midst

The folks at the Community Teaching Garden have done it. They transformed the training ground for heavy equipment operators at Shasta College into a beautifully productive garden within two years. From hard packed clay into dark organic soil, it took lots of digging and cover-cropping. There’s more soil building to be done for sure, but it’s a great lesson on how to build productive soil, efficiently and inexpensively, organically and sustainably.

The Community Teaching Garden should get a prize! Sadly, there’s no contest, no prize. Hence a proposal:
Each city, town, community should initiate a yearly garden contest. Wouldn’t it be great to have prizes for the most productive vegetable, fruit garden, the prettiest garden, most improved garden, the best year-round garden, etc.? There could be categories for individual backyard gardens, neighborhood gardens, and commercial ones. I’m sure that the Community Teaching Garden would win several prizes.

I can see all sorts of benefits from having such contests: encouraging people to grow their own food, rewarding experienced gardeners for setting good examples, expanding access to local fresh food, and developing urban farms.

Now, more about the Community Teaching Garden. Just inside the fenced 1 ½-acre site, 20 fruit trees have been planted. I hardly can wait for next year’s figs, peaches, and pears. There are long beds of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, and both summer and winter squashes, all separated by mowed clover pathways. But it’s tricky getting into the melon patch, because it appears to be a viney tangle. Also, you should see the traditional way of growing corn, beans and pumpkins in a symbiotic togetherness.

It’s a volunteer effort, separate from Shasta College Ag Department, but located on campus. It is the brainchild of Shasta College professor Pamela Spoto, put into operation under the experienced management of Dr. Jim Collins. With start-up assistance by the Shasta College Foundation and Economic and Workforce Development Division, the Garden is becoming self-supporting. How? By giving workshops on all sort of topics related to growing and saving garden food, by saving and selling area-adaptive seeds, by selling produce on campus Thursday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. while crops last.

What’s not sold is donated to food banks. Before sales, produce is delivered to the college cafeteria with the help of two Shasta College student interns loaned to the Garden by Shasta College Food Services.

Volunteer labor and time: There’s been a bunch digging this garden into shape. Susanna Sibilsky, Wayne Kessler (that’s me), Ken Hempy, Ann Roach, Doug Bennett, Melita Bena, Scott Thompson, Nancy deHalas and many more who helped us develop the garden. We all have learned a great deal through this cooperative effort. And, speaking of Pamela Spoto, she insisted I put this in or she would: “Wayne has donated beautiful seedlings and starts from his business, Shambani Organics, to the garden. According to Pamela, “Wayne is truly an expert nurseryman.” And, Susanna, with the help of Ann and Ken, has been running our Garden Market on campus. Of course, “Jim Collins produces the best tasting organic heirloom vegetables around,” says Pamela, who is not biased!

You, too, can become a volunteer by joining us on Volunteer Wednesdays, from 9 a.m. until noon. Come and get into the dirt while learning from Jim. Volunteers who want to learn and get their fingernails dirty are needed and will be very appreciated.

As the summer season winds down, fall and winter crops are being planted. Soon, the next cover crop will be sown. So it goes. The cycle continues at the Community Teaching Garden. You should experience it.

Wayne Kessler is a local organic farmer, nurseryman and activist for local food security. He is the owner of Shamanic Organics nursery in Manton with his wife Laurie. Wayne is a technical advisor to the Community Teaching Garden.
Dig This! is a regular biweekly column offering ecological wisdom and garden advice. If you have questions or would like Jim and Wayne to address a particular issue you may contact them at the Teaching Garden by e-mail at teachinggarden@shastacollege.edu.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Wayne Kessler

Following his grandfather's advice, "Grow food. People always need food," has led Wayne to a lifetime of cultivating and processing food. He spends much of his time encouraging people to become more food independent by growing their own.

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