RANGELY I If this spring is any indication, Rangely Community Gardens organizers will continue building on a sturdy foundation of gardening and community involvement.
Programs established since the Gardens’ 2009 opening have been honed and expanded with plans evolving for the current growing season.
The Children’s Garden, established last summer, will be in full swing this year, with families invited to grow produce in plots starting at $20 annually and attend free weekly family “Garden Club” activities.
Made possible through a grant, Rio Blanco County Public Health and Environment has reserved 10 children’s plots for mothers and their children aged five and younger to garden together. The experience will give kids ways to see, feel and taste how healthy food is grown.
“Being a mom is a hard thing to do; without other moms and that support, it makes a hard job even more difficult,” said Women, Infants and Children (WIC) educator Mary Dillon, who will learn gardening alongside moms she has met in the past year. “Our goal (sponsoring the plots) is to get moms connected and let the kids have fun. That’s what I care about the most. I still hear of too many people who don’t have any support here.”
Currently, the free group for mothers meets every Wednesday from 3 to 4 p.m. and is open to anyone interested in participating.
A new membership program provides a variety of opportunities to support and participate in garden activities. Membership begins at $15, which gives participants access to the gardens on their own schedules, invites them to activities and gives them the option of volunteering independently.
Besides helping out at the Botanical or Children’s Garden, volunteers can also grow one vegetable in a designated community plot, then share in the harvest come fall.
Prior experience is not necessary.
“You don’t have to be an avid gardener to enjoy the gardens and benefit from them,” Beth Wiley said. “The focus is really on enjoying growing things and serving the community.”
Those who prefer not to get their hands dirty can support the gardens financially by becoming a member at any level. Individuals or businesses wanting to sponsor specific areas like the Pumpkin Patch can choose upper-level memberships to have their names prominently displayed inside or outside the garden. Besides providing crucial operating funds, benefits range from signage to baskets of vegetables at harvest time.
This year’s addition to the Community Gardens will be a fruit orchard, thanks in part to a Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) Reach Your Peak Summer Youth Camp, made possible by an El Pomar Foundation grant. Sixth through 10th-graders will help establish a multi-layered orchard using the concept of permaculture, which mimics conditions found in nature to grow and sustain cover crops (like strawberries, chives and mint), mid-level plants and bushes (elderberry, raspberry, Siberian pea shrub) and canopy fruit trees (apple, pear).
“It’s a great educational tool to learn about perennial gardens and manipulating the land that you have,” said Robyn Wilson, who has studied permaculture for 12 years and, as the youth camp instructor, will help students plant the orchard. “You’re mimicking nature but trying to maximize your yield, so you’re creating a lot of different microclimates and giving nutrients to the soil through plants and different species.”
The orchard will provide additional opportunities for volunteering and donations, Wilson said.
The gardens also recently added three new members to its board who can offer a variety of skill sets. Lori Lazarus, who coordinated Williams Pipeline’s Day of Caring last month, AnnRenee Graham and Kamilee Jorgenson have interests in fundraising/community relations, bookkeeping and hands-on gardening, respectively.
Graham, who is now the garden’s treasurer, initially volunteered to plant and care for the community herb garden. After attending a committee meeting, she discovered she could offer more.
“I was impressed with the … board’s clear focus, intelligent discussion, level of commitment and delegation of duties,” she said. “We have a group of people with great ideas as well as the skills and motivation to carry them through. I am looking so forward to seeing what we will do together!”
Lisa Hatch, who helped establish the gardens six years ago, said she believes the mix of new and old leadership is an asset. Those with experience will bring stability and know-how while new members will offer fresh energy, expertise and connections.
Dozens of hours of work have already gone into preparing the gardens for the growing season. CNCC’s LeaderTrek students, who chose the Rangely Community Gardens as its service focus for 2014-2015, expanded the Children’s Garden along the back fence by clearing and tilling the ground last fall. They also built plot boxes, spread mulch and worked to complete individual projects, including a decorative archway, a Coke bottle greenhouse and a garden shed made entirely from doors.
Earlier this spring, the Rangely Webelos arrived at the gardens to prepare for flower-planting along Main Street, and, late last month, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionaries raked leaves and debris, bagging and stacking it for removal, and staked out garden parcels for eventual walkways. In mid-April, they helped remove lumber from roads and walkways and dug up damaged waterline areas, among other work.
As always, donating garden vegetables seasonally to local schools and organizations, a vital part of the garden’s mission, will continue.
As Wiley watches garden plans begin to flower, she understands every effort must be truly community-oriented.
“A garden is really an ecosystem unto itself, in all its parts,” she said. “From the soil to the soil’s microbes, to the plants and the pollinating insects, the rain, the sun, the manure that fertilizes, and even the wind, weeds and pests, which challenge and make everything hardier. They all work together, each piece doing its part to yield food which nourishes us.
“I think communities are kind of like that,” she added. “It’s exciting to see so many different parts of this community showing up and contributing a part of themselves … Right now, all you see is bare ground. Come back in a few months, and it’s going to be gorgeous!”
To join in the garden’s membership and programs, go to www.rangelygardens.com or call Wiley at 970-274-1239.