Community garden helps out in hard times

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein The Press-Tribune
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Inside a fenced-off area at the North Roseville REC Center, local families are getting back to their roots. Taking a page from a World War II-era staple, the children’s after-school program has started a community garden that aims to help the population it serves feed themselves in the midst of the economic downturn. “There’s so much unemployment in this area,” executive director Machel Miller said of the center’s Roseville Heights neighborhood. “This is a way to really help out. And it’s a family project too.” So Miller has rented out – at no cost – 15 of the center’s 21 planting beds to families whose children are users of the after-school center. The garden program was used as a center-run children’s educational opportunity last year, but Miller figured families would be better served by taking a more central role in the garden in light of the recession. The garden lessees are responsible for taking care of whatever they decide to plant – from carrots to cucumbers – and get to harvest the fruit of their labor. Planting has only just begun in recent days. “Food is just a big issue here for these families,” she said. And they’re not alone. News reports are documenting an uptick in what’s being called “recession gardens” – an update of the victory gardens that provided a third of all vegetables consumed in the U.S. 65 years ago. The attraction is simple. According to the National Gardening Association, a well-maintained vegetable garden will provide about a $500 return per year. Seed manufacturer Burpee says $50 in gardening supplies can equal $1,250 in produce each year. Local families aren’t the only ones who will benefit. Miller has also reached out to Placer ARC, the special-needs advocacy organization, by offering up three planting beds for its clients. For them, the garden is more an opportunity to encounter new experiences than an economic imperative. “Our goal is to give them as many natural experiences as possible,” said Patti Felland of Placer ARC’s On-The-Go program. One day last week, ARC client Heather Foxx got down and dirty as she prepared the soil for a slew of vegetable seeds. They included green beans, corn, jalapeños, cilantro and squash – the latter is her favorite. And even their effort will benefit the neighborhood; a local farmer’s market is the goal, Wicker said. Miller has big plans for the garden. Later this month, the Rotary Club of Roseville is scheduled to help double the garden space when it completes a major work project at the center. – nathand@