Food Based Gardens Taking Back Turf in Eugene

To state the obvious, spring in Eugene is beautiful. It’s even gotten me out on early Saturday mornings to jog in the dewy chill, crisp and brightly blooming flowers greeting me left and right. Even the unkempt yards offer arrays of soft clover, unfurling fiddle heads, and quaint English lawn daises. Before I moved here, it was rumored that you could weave an uprooted plant into a fence and it would continue to grow in the open air. I believe it. Most creatures of the vegetation variety can grow here with ease.

Herein lies the problem.

You’d be hard pressed to find more than a few hoop houses, raised garden beds, or potted tomatoes in any given front yard. If anything can find its footing—or rooting rather—why is there not a cornucopia of veggies and fewer lawns, a profusion of peas and less peonies, an abundance of beets and less blue bells? Although these decorative landscapes are beautiful there is the inherent implication in any plot of Kentucky Bluegrass that an opportunity is lost to nurture a food based garden instead of a lawn space.

Here’s where Climate Justice League steps in. Divided into three parts, CJL attempts to service an array of environmental issues in Eugene including E-waste recycling and the reduction of pesticides used on the UO’s campus. Transition Eugene seeks to aid and educate community members in the Eugene area in hopes of converting unused or otherwise underutilized yard-space. CJL members provide free labor to get a garden started in a collaborative process, using shared knowledge of CJL members and the property owner themselves to get vegetables and fruit growing in an efficient, inexpensive and natural manner.

Junior Environmental Studies student Adair Creech has been an integral member in developing Transition Eugene, the idea evolving from a communal tool library and green business network into the current gardening and education concept. “Eugene has a heightened sense of awareness in comparison to small cities,” Adair told me as a native of the Midwest. “This might not fly in other cities in America.”

Although the mission is constantly evolving, the members of Transition Eugene acknowledge tensions between the University of Oregon and the broader Eugene Community. The club is not designed just to provide for University of Oregon students alone, but is formatted to be a service based organization belonging to the Eugene community as a whole. This concept is especially crucial considering the treatment of gardens. Although students may have the motivation to start their own gardens, landlords and the unpredictable mobility of students often prevent the construction of sustainable garden infrastructure. For the most part transition Eugene tries to aid in building gardens where the student, community member or their family will be living for at least two growing seasons, providing them with a tilled plot ready for growing and assistance in installing composters, an essential element in maintaining a healthy, happy garden.

“People want to do something but still need to be educated,” Adair told me. Furthermore many older community members may need the initial help in just constructing the plot and compost site while others may simply not have the time to build the basic infrastructure and learn how to plant on their own. Transition Eugene makes sure that the process is as personal as possible, sending representatives to meet and collaborate with the community members so not only a relationship is built, but all expectations are made clear for both parties.

So why grow your own food in the first place? After all, Eugene is relatively free of food deserts. Even if you want to take the locavore route Lane County provides year round farmers markets and food services between Eugene and Springfield. Even so, there’s still the fact that most people are putting some level of energy into their property, and this time, water, and sometimes electricity isn’t going towards food production, an essential component of our every-day lives. Even if you buy local (and please do support your local farmer!), someone has to deliver and keep that food fresh until it makes it to the dinner plate, increasing carbon footprints. Although most of the booths at the farmer’s market bear organic or synthetic free fruits and veggies, if you’re buying food from the store you don’t have the advantage of being able to talk to your local farmer and see what exactly is on that almost too perfect pear skin. Growing your own food means you know exactly what your fruits and vegetables have been sprayed with, planted in, and that your oh-so-delicious heirloom tomatoes have been ethically sourced. Besides the environmental benefits of planting your own garden, there is the underlying satisfaction of taking your food scraps, putting them to good used, nourishing and caring for your own seeds, and getting some of the best, freshest produce possible out of it. Personally, one of my favorite snacks in the summer is basil and still-sun-warmed cherry tomatoes right off the vine in my back yard.

Hopefully when I wander the streets of Eugene, I’ll see more gardens popping up in front yards in the next few years. “Know where you’re food comes from—try and find it,” Adair encouraged in the closing of our conversation. This task would certainly be made easy if your food could be found right outside of your front door.

If you or a friend would like to use this FREE resource in the Eugene-Springfield area, by all means contact Transition Eugene at climatejusticeleague@gmail.com, using “Transition Eugene” as the subject line. For further information visit Climate Justice League’s website here: http://www.climatejusticeleague.org/campaigns/transition-eugene/.