Labor of Love

Slow Food’s gardens get ready for growing season

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GROWTH POTENTIAL: Slow Food Lake Tahoe acquired Project Mana’s Truckee Demonstration Garden in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2015 — following a complete overhaul — that the space reopened. In June 2021, it was re-established as the Community Garden. Courtesy photos

Late-season snow covers the raised beds at the Community Garden in Truckee’s Regional Park. Beneath the frosty layer, the earthen soils lay in wait, on the verge of coming to life as volunteers begin to work the land in preparation for the summer growing season. By July, the plots will be bursting with a bounty of freshly grown produce, ranging from beans, lettuce, and squash to potatoes, herbs, and more.

“Usually, mid-May we begin prepping both the Food Bank and Community gardens. We can start things for the [Food Bank Garden] earlier in our new greenhouse, which we built last year,” said Slow Food President Trish Geary. “We don’t typically begin planting in the outside beds until June 15. That’s the general rule of thumb at high desert climate.”

Funded by both the Martis Camp Community Foundation and the Lahontan Community Foundation, the greenhouse is part of the Food Bank Garden. Created last year, the addition of the Food Bank Garden doubled the size of Community Garden as a whole, for a total of approximately 4,800 square feet of gardening space.

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COOL BEAN: Slow Food Lake Tahoe board member McKenna Bean shows off a harvest of squash.

“A hundred percent of the food that’s grown is donated to Sierra Community House and they distribute that food to those in need on their distribution days,” Geary said of the Food Bank portion of the garden. 

Once the winter snows have melted, there is a lot of work to be done just to get the gardens in shape for growing season. All the of the beds need to be uncovered and repairs must be made to any that sustained damage over the winter. The beds are then sealed with linseed oil to protect the wood from the elements. Compost is readied and soil is pre- pared for planting. The entire area must be raked and cleaned while the irrigation system and greenhouse are also prepped for the season.

DIRTY DEEDS: There is 24-hour access to the public composting bins in the Food Bank Garden.

“Slow Food is responsible for taking care of both gardens but has more responsibility in the Food Bank Garden since the [Community Garden] has renters responsible for their individual plots once the season is rolling,” Geary said. “We have a garden committee, which includes a garden director, and a newly hired garden manager who works for the season to manage the space and coordinate all volunteer workdays.” 

Although grants and fundraising have enabled the creation of a full- time garden manager position for this season, the Food Bank Garden remains volunteer driven. “Anybody can go and volunteer in the Food Bank Garden on Mondays or Wednesdays,” Geary said. “Mondays are harvest days once the season gets going. Wednesday is always a workday.” 

It’s not unusual for whole families to show up to volunteer together. There’s even a Kids’ Garden area, complete with a sandbox and play vegetables so even the littlest helpers can learn about gardening and feel included in the volunteer work effort.

CAN YOU DIG IT? Volunteer Mary Fritz spends time working the land in the garden.

Beds in the Community Garden are rented to members of the public who desire to grow fresh produce but don’t have a location to do so. This year, there are a total of 35 beds, five of which are elevated ADA accessible beds. Set to be built at the start of the season, the ADA beds are being added to make it easier for those who can’t get on their knees but still would like to work a garden.

Various bed sizes are available at a sliding scale rate of $25 to $100. Scholarships are available. Funded by donations, this enables those who can’t afford a plot the ability to attain one. Individuals who rent beds maintain them and get to harvest the fruits (and vegetables!) of their labor. The Community Garden gates are locked at night since those beds are rented and designated to specific people. The Food Bank Garden, however, is always open.

This is largely because of the public compost bins inside the garden, and anyone can drop compost there at any time of day. “We are extremely humbled and grateful by the success we realized the past couple years,” Geary said. “Navigating the pandemic was no easy task, but with our dedicated group of volunteers and the strong support from individual donors and community organizations, we exceeded all of our expectations and have been able to cultivate a strong foundation of projects and programs that help increase local food security through education and demonstration.” Volunteer to work at Slow Food Lake Tahoe’s Community and Food Bank gardens by click- ing on the Get Involved tab at slowfoodlaketahoe.org.

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