Two recent college graduates will lead the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Public Lands’ first foray into community gardening.
Liz Prather, 23, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and Elizabeth Schlobohm, also 23, whose alma mater is the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, are spending their year in the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program working for the local department.
They began their work Jan. 25 and will stay at it for a year.
The two women are organizing and, in the coming weeks, opening a 70-plot community garden in the northeast corner of Amend Park, across South Billings Boulevard from Newman Elementary School.
On Friday as a light snow fell, the pair watched a worker level dirt on the one-acre site and talked about what the community garden might accomplish in a neighborhood identified by a previous VISTA study as being hampered by a lack of fresh produce, known as a “food desert.”
“We want this to be used by people without access to garden space,” Schlobohm said.
The community garden, which will feature three plot sizes ranging from 5 feet by 10 feet to 20 feet by 20 feet, will be in an undeveloped portion of the northeast corner of Amend Park.
Prather and Schlobohm say the community garden will feature more than a plot to grow and harvest one’s produce. A fundraising effort aims for constructing a greenhouse this fall, a play area for children while their parents or guardians are tending their plot, and classes throughout the summer designed to teach new gardeners how to plan, manage and harvest their plots.
The emphasis will be on “keeping it organic,” Prather said, and all levels of gardeners are welcome to participate.
Prather and Schlobohm said they will plant and raise a plot of their own this summer. They plan to offer the bounty to area food banks and other agencies in the fall.
In addition to finding gardeners, the two say they hope to locate volunteers to work at the community garden or help mentor new gardeners.
Aspiring community gardeners can apply for a plot online by visiting www.billingsparks.org/community-gardens. The deadline to apply for a community garden plot is April 18.
Applications are also available at the office of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Public Lands, 390 N. 23rd St.
Cost for a plot includes a $15 deposit and a sliding-scale fee based on family income.
Chris Waite, the department’s volunteer coordinator, said a 2009 community needs assessment indicated a need for a community garden sponsored by the city.
Schlobohm and Prather knew about the project when they applied for VISTA positions with the city, he said.
“We were glad they chose us and applied for those positions. They have a lot of ideas and they’ve done a lot of research to make sure it will be successful.
“They’ve already brought a lot to the table.”
Organizers say they plan a community garden kickoff event in May.