Over the summer a group of Southern Oregon University students and community members came together to organize a community garden on the outskirts of Ashland in an effort to help homeless and low-income residents and, in the words of one organizer, “engender a sense of community.”
“It was an idea that came from a few different directions,” said Emery Way, an SOU student who helped organize the project. “There was the community coalition on homelessness that was designed to come up with solutions to solve homelessness, and this was one of the things they came up with.”
Way was referring to the Ashland Citizen’s Coalition, a group of Ashland residents who have been brainstorming possible solutions to the alleged homelessness problem.
Way is a member of Phronesis, a student-led community activist organization that had already been toying with the idea of establishing a community garden. Growing tired of waiting for the city act, Way and Phronesis decided to do it themselves. With help from the SOU Civic Engagement Program, Way and other Phronesis members set up the garden on a small section of the Billings Farm on the north side of Ashland.
The garden is set up on a work-share system, with participants either working on a community plot for a certain number of hours per week, or setting up their own private plot to work themselves. Produce on the communal plot is divided up based on the number of hours each participant worked, and private beds can only be set up if you contribute to the community plot as well. Currently the garden has about eight core members, according to Way.
Participation in the community garden is limited to homeless and low-income residents, and each person must sign a contract with the owners of the land, Mary and Larry James, that lays down some ground rules. Included in the agreement is a work-share contract and a health waiver. Agreement forms can be picked up at the Department of Human Services.
The farm supplies the gardening tools, a porta-potty and an outdoor kitchen, and occasionally hosts gardening workshops as well.
Way says the goal for the garden is to build up involvement to the point there will be enough produce to sell at local markets and re-invest in the project.
“Phronesis doesn’t have a whole lot of resources,” he said, explaining that the organization is currently occupied protesting the planned Mt. Ashland Ski Area expansion.
“The hope is that we can re-focus our energy on the Billings Farm,” he said. “It’s a perfect example of how when the community comes together they can come up with positive solutions.”