ST. GEORGE — For more than 10 millennia, mankind has tilled the earth to grow food for their families and community. Not much has changed.
Although not quite 12,000 years old, the Santa Clara Community Garden is teaching homegrown gardeners how to plant various fruits and vegetables, how to care for them and how to respect what comes from the soil.
Patrice Hunt, the manager of the garden, told St. George News the genesis of the garden, which began in 2009, came during a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meeting when leadership asked for ideas of how the church could help people whether they were members of the congregation or not.
After some discussion, a garden was suggested.
The thought was to help people physically by providing food, mentally by learning how to raise a garden, emotionally through the interaction with other people, and spiritually, being reminded that working in the soil we are all “God’s creation,” said Hunt, who originally presented the idea to the church through “direct revelation.”
Bringing the garden to life was a communal effort, she said – from Salt Lake resident Anton Tonc, who owned the lot, to the Santa Clara City Council to volunteers who worked, donated, raked, shoveled, trenched and ran sprinkler lines to the garden at 1726 Clawson Circle.
Typical harvests include many produce options, including sugar snap peas, beets, spinach, lettuce, carrots, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins and a “really cool” crop of heirloom peanuts.
The one caveat from the city when it gave the garden the go-ahead was that any extra produce harvested by the gardeners could not be sold.
When there are excess bumper crops, they are put on the corner of Canyon View and Red Mountain Drive for anyone to take home.
Planting in any one of the 50-foot-long garden beds is free.
The 24 beds are available through adoption requests to Hunt’s email. Although Hunt suggests what will be planted, she is open to a gardener’s wishes. Planting, tending the garden bed and harvesting is done in one-hour scheduled shifts.
“Our garden is a learning place,” she said. “It is really a cool place to be.”
To accommodate coronavirus concerns, Hunt schedules private times to work in the garden along with staggering access to the various planting beds for groups of people.
“There is plenty of distancing for anyone who wants to be careful,” she said.
At the end of the day, the garden offers so much for so many people, Hunt said.
“We’ve been open for 11 years, and that says something,” she said.
St. George City Council member Dannielle Larkin said it is community gardens like Santa Clara and those which dot Washington County that are “vital” to make a dent in neighborhood hunger by watering food deserts – areas where it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.
“I have seen metropolitan communities that regret allowing themselves to become a food desert,” Larkin said. “When that happens, they scramble finding ways to reverse that. It is vital to get creative to come up with ways to encourage growing food. The key is creativity.”
Larkin added that just because Southern Utah is a relatively dry climate, there are creative ways to employ responsible irrigation practices that can reduce food insecurity.
Although Larkin doesn’t think community gardens will solve all local residents’ lack of access to fresh food, she said doing something is better than doing nothing.
“It is a super important discussion that we don’t let community gardens die,” she said. “I know it’s hard to grow here and it’s not something we can learn overnight, and I am not foolish enough to think we can grow enough food for all of our population, but we are giving up a lot as a community if the local gardens disappear. ”
In recent years, there has been a growing movement for farm-to-table meat and produce. This movement, Larkin said, can be seen happening throughout Washington County.
“It really is a learning experience that helps develop a healthy respect for the food that we eat,” Larkin said. “When we look at our general plan there are a lot of small spaces that if we cover them up with homes and we don’t leave arable land, we are really going to regret it in the future.”
In growing numbers, communities across the country are trying to find “creative” ways to encourage community gardens, Larkin said, and Southern Utah shouldn’t be any different.
“Are we shooting ourselves in the foot by viewing building and development as the only thing that propels us forward in a positive way?” Larkin asks. “I think there needs to be some kind of balance when working with our developers.”
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