Presto! Garden appears in 3 hours at Westside Center

       In three hours Oct. 16, more than 100 volunteers transfomed one-time playground into next year's's garden at the Westside Community Center.

Volunteer workers assemble raised beds for the new garden at the Westside Community Center Oct. 16.
Westside Pioneer photo

       They built a total of 66 raised beds (with 4 still to come), laying them out in even rows and filling them with organic soil in preparation for the 2011 growing season.
       Organizing the project was the Woodmen Valley Chapel, which runs the city-owned center, in keeping with plans laid out by Larry Stebbins, owner of the non-profit Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG).
       “This will be a Cadillac of gardens,” Stebbins said during the workday, happily digging his hands into one bed's dirt. “Look at the quality of that soil. If you can't grow food in that, you're not trying.”
       People who want to garden at the site this spring need to call the center at 385-7920 to reserve a plot. Most of the sizes are 4 by 8 feet wide and 2 feet high. Twelve of them are narrower and 2 ˝ feet high to accommodate people in wheelchairs.

Pikes Peak Urban Gardens leader Larry Stebbins (left) and Westside Community Center art teacher Sherry Bennett "high-five" each other in delight during the garden construction project at the center Oct. 16. Bennett was part of a group that had tried unsuccessfully to start a garden at the center for the 2010 growing season. (The table in foreground, being topped with student-created tiles, is part of a class art project.)
Westside Pioneer photo

       Each plot's lease cost for the summer will be $15, which covers the cost of water and insurance. People from one family can have no more than two plots.
       Twelve of the beds will be reserved for people with money issues who will be given “scholarships,” according to Dick Siever, center director. Rentals will be on a first-come, first-served basis.
       This will be PPUG's third community garden on the Westside in the past three years. The other two, off Pikes Peak Avenue and 28th Street (2009) and in Vermijo Park (started this year), both have waiting lists.

Dick Wolf (back to camera) of the center watches organic soil get poured into the first bed that had been built onsite that morning. In background are some of the 100-plus volunteers and the center's main building.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The center had to find last-minute funding from private sources to make the garden happen. Stebbins had unsuccessfully looked for grants. But he was able to work out a heavily discounted price with an eastside gardening business to haul in dirt Oct. 16 and use a front-end loader to fill the beds with it.
       Raised beds are necessary at the site because the current ground is hard-packed gravel from the days when it was Buena Vista Elementary's playground, Stebbins explained.
       Most of the volunteers were from the Woodmen church, with several Westsiders helping out as well, Siever said. A follow-up workday Oct. 23 is planned to finish the project, including putting the last four beds in place, filling them with soil and troubleshooting the Oct. 16 construction for issues with tight screws and properly flattened clamps, he said.
       In addition to giving neighbors a chance to grow their own food, Siever said he thinks the garden will become an “activity hub” for the center over time. “We see this as an opportunity for families to spend time together next summer at the garden,” he said. “We'll have have work projects together and it will be a large educational component for the kids. They'll see that carrots aren't grown at King Soopers.”

Later in the morning, crews continue to lug newly assembled beds into predetermined rows, in position for the loader to fill them with soil. Plots are being leased for the garden through the center: 385-7920.
Westside Pioneer photo

Westside Pioneer article