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South Valley Journal

Bluffdale Community Garden ends first year with big plans for 2020

Oct 22, 2019 01:43PM ● By Stephanie Yrungaray

At its peak, the Bluffdale Independence Community Garden blooming with produce and flowers. (Photo courtesy of Emily Swanson)

By Stephanie Yrungaray | [email protected]

When Bluffdale resident Emily Swanson looked at the empty, weed-filled plot of land across the street from her house, she saw potential. 

Swanson approached the city manager about taking the unused land owned by the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy and turning it into a community garden. Once she got the green light from Bluffdale officials, Swanson got right to work.

“I have lots of volunteer experience,” she said. “But I don’t have any experience running a community garden.”

Although she had participated in a community garden before, Swanson knew she needed expert advice to manage one, so she turned to the experts at Wasatch Community Gardens. 

“We do a fair amount of consulting with folks thinking about starting community gardens,” said Susan Finlayson, Wasatch Community Garden program director. “A lot of times, running a community garden is 10% garden and 90% community organizing.” 

Swanson created a set of rules and volunteer position rotations and then posted an invitation for the garden on a local Facebook page. She quickly had 18 community members ready to don their gardening gloves. Bluffdale Parks Department members also volunteered time, materials and support.

“We flattened everything out nice and smooth and brought in gravel to make the pad,” said Bluffdale Parks Manager Dave Fenn.  

City leaders provided the lumber. One Saturday morning, parks department employees, along with community garden participants, built 28 4-foot-by-10-foot boxes. Four boxes, designated as community plots, were used to plant flowers. 

Swanson said most of the community gardeners were novices and everyone learned a lot this first season.

The biggest problem during the community garden’s inaugural year was squash bugs, which spread quickly. Swanson said they had to be diligent to save their pumpkins and zucchinis. 

Independence Community Garden participant, Emily Lopez said the infestation was time-consuming. 

“I had to go almost every day for several weeks and pick eggs off leaves and squish giant bugs,” said Lopez. “It was pretty nauseating.” 

The infestation is the reason behind one of the new rules for next year’s community gardeners: “Squash family plants will not be grown by those in their first year.” 

Other garden rules for participants include the requirement to keep their plots and plot exterior free of weeds, use only organic gardening methods, volunteer four hours a year for special projects that benefit the entire community garden, attend two community meetings, have plot planted end-to-end by June 1 and harvest ripe produce immediately. 

Swanson said most of this year’s participants plan to return in 2020. Because there was a waiting list for plots this year, the group plans to almost double the number of plots to 48. Bluffdale Parks Department officials are also installing a fence around the perimeter and preparing the ground for the expansion. Swanson’s 12-year-old son, Henry, plans to build a community board and tool storage bench for his Eagle Scout project.

“We are aiming for increasing the community feel of [the garden],” said Swanson. 

“People would drive past while I was working there and ask how they could get involved,” said Lopez. “The garden is a fun way to bring community involvement but also provide something for homeowners who don't have their own yard to grow a garden.” 

Finlayson said community gardens are multi-faceted. 

“They are a community space for growing food that increase our environmental sustainability and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Finlayson. “We want people to recognize and identify that people having access to gardening space should be a quality of life priority.”

Fenn said the Independence Community Garden had an additional benefit for Bluffdale. 

“It was nice to have the city and the citizens work side by side,” said Fenn. “It really brought our community together.” 

Finlayson said Wasatch Community Gardens is offering a one-time free workshop on “How to Start a Community Garden” on Nov. 23 at the Glendale branch of the Salt Lake County Library System. 

“We all learned a lot,” said Swanson. “But it was a good enough experience that most everyone is coming back.” 

“Growing your own garden can be tricky, and there is a learning curve,” said Lopez. “But once you dive in and figure it out, you'll really enjoy it.”