The White House started one in the summer of 2009 and Payson will be reaping the benefits of its own this summer.
After just a few weeks of planning, the groundwork for a community garden is well under way.
Volunteers have plowed several acres east of the First Church of the Nazarene and will soon spread fertilizer and build a fence to enclose hundreds of individual plots.
Organizers of Payson’s Community Garden say May 1 is the anticipated first day of planting, hopefully kicking off many years of gardening to come.
Roger Kreimeyer, who is spearheading the garden, said he hopes residents will sign up to care for a plot, which is designed not only to let people grow their own food, but also help supplement the local food banks with fresh, organic produce.
Community gardens are not a new idea — there are several in the Valley — but they have made a resurgence in recent years as more people look for a way to stretch their budgets.
“As the United States recovered following World War II, community gardens diminished, but made a comeback in the early 1970s when food prices soared and a broadening environmental consciousness arose,” according to the 2010 Journal of Community Practice.
Since 2009, there has been a 19 percent increase in “recession gardens.”
In Payson, the idea for a garden has been thrown around for years, but only took root recently.
During the Payson Area Food Drive (PAFD), which collected more than 65,000 pounds of food and $35,000 for local food banks, Kreimeyer put out the idea for a community garden. A garden, he said, could supplement the food banks with produce, which it rarely receives, and help food banks through the summer months, when donations typically decrease.
PAFD volunteer Pastor Richard Richey offered several acres of land just east of the Nazarene Church. The land had been cleared, but never used. Richey said the church was happy to support a community garden.
Kreimeyer ran with Richey’s offer and in the last month collected volunteers and materials for the project.
Kreimeyer’s plan includes dividing the first 1.5 available acres into 8-foot-by-15-foot plots with walking paths in between. Each plot could be “rented” for the summer for $50 to cover water and construction costs. Residents would supply their own seeds and work their garden plot. Eventually, the community garden would expand onto another 1.5 acres.
Right now, Kreimeyer is working to get the land ready for planting.
So far, Roy Haught has voluntarily plowed the vacant field, at 904 Oxbow Circle, churning down 18 inches. Another volunteer has donated seven trucks of manure.
On Friday, a dozen Payson High School agriculture students picked small rocks out of the dirt. They have volunteered to help with other project tasks, Kreimeyer said.
Fencing is needed for the next phase of the project. Kreimeyer said he will take any kind of fencing, as long as it is high enough to help keep out the elk and other wildlife.
Luckily, securing water is not an issue. A well owned by the town sits just a few feet away from the proposed garden as well as another owned by the church. Kreimeyer is in talks with the town for water.
Kreimeyer said he is amazed how quickly the project has come together. A month ago, the idea was little more than a dream.
“We have had such a tremendous response,” he said.
The goal for the garden is three-fold: supplement the food bank with produce, cultivate community spirit and inspire residents to start their own gardens at home, he said.
While most of the food will go home with gardeners, 20 percent or more will be donated to the local food banks.
Kreimeyer believes some gardeners may choose to donate everything they grow while others will split it between their own needs and the community.
Kreimeyer hopes families that need food from the food banks will sign up for a plot and eventually rely less on the food banks.
“If we can give them the skills to garden, maybe they will start their own garden at home,” he said.
Studies have shown that even a small garden has the potential to yield a lot of produce.
One study in 2004 estimated that an investment of $5 to $10 in plants for a garden plot provides for $500 to $700 worth of fruits and vegetables. Anther study found that a one-acre vegetable garden on an American Indian reservation produced 6,000 pounds of fresh produce in a year, which was distributed primarily amongst tribal elders.
“With high unemployment rates, increasing food insecurity, and the ever-growing prevalence of obese Americans, community gardens have the potential to simultaneously alleviate multiple societal ills, while at the same time highlighting the assets of communities,” according to the Journal of Community Practice.
New and experienced gardeners are encouraged to rent a plot. Every Saturday, Plant Fair Nursery owner Glen McCombs has offered to teach a gardening class on site and several veteran gardeners will oversee the plots. Anyone interested in getting a plot for this summer is asked to call JoAnne Roethlein at (928) 474-3766. Anyone interested in donating supplies for the project can call Kreimeyer at (928) 468-1365.