[Note: I’m going to one of the gardens this week to meet one of the senior gardeners, Flo Rice, to see her schedule and how they work. I’ve also been waiting for SUACG Coordinator Meredith Gray to respond to me, but she looks like a dead end. I’m also getting more story info from CACG director, Sari Albornoz]
Hidden behind trees adjacent to the popular tourist spot, Deep Eddy Pool, is a 34-year old city community garden. Fruit trees along the edges are starting to grow and a communal plot full of herbs varies from basil to mint. The 400 square foot area has a waiting list of people hoping to some day get access to one of the 34 exclusive plots available for their own gardening.
[Interview with Flo Rice, one of the plot’s gardeners]
The Deep Eddy Community Garden is the oldest of 30 public gardens part of the Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Community Garden Program (SUACG) in Austin. The program claims to be “producing an estimated 100,000 pounds of fresh local, organic produce for Austin residents every year.”
These city-endorsed gardens are a small fraction of the community gardens in Austin as others can be on church, school, or private property. Some of these gardens include ones designated for senior citizens while others are farms in the city open to the public.
While the SUACG was formed to help citizens “create community gardens and sustainable urban agriculture on city land,” the process of doing so is lengthy and full of paperwork. One of their resources, the Coalition of Austin Community Gardens (CACG) is aiming to “facilitate the creation of more community gardens in the Greater Austin Metro Area.”
The CACG works on a broader scope, providing information on all city community gardens and offering workshops and panels on topics around gardening. Austin’s Sustainable Food Center’s Grow Local Program Director, Sari Albornoz, leads the coalition. Just last September they held a panel titled “Raising Poultry at Community Gardens,” at the Deep Eddy Community Garden where Flo was one the speakers. The event educated gardeners on the benefits having chickens at the gardens with the poultry guests in attendance.
[Interview with Sari and Flo]
The SUACG gardens such as Deep Eddy’s have a higher attendance and maintenance compared to other community gardens (with the urban farms as an exception). This is due to high-maintenance components such as special plants or chickens. Most other community gardens such as the Cherry Creek Community Garden have simple tools and plants such as peach tree or lettuce. The city-sponsored gardens also required a lot of commitment and work beforehand to be placed on city land, meaning members were more long-term minded. Community gardens placed in neighborhoods or churches may have had the excitement behind a novelty idea but slowly lost interest over time.
Sari lists Urban Patchwork as a resource for people that want to start gardens, but do not have the time or knowledge on working out a way to build one in a public or neighborhood area. The group will come out to help “turn unused yard space into farmland that provides, fresh, organically grown produce.”
Austin’s community gardens can be tucked away or out in plain sight, but are spread out all across the city. They serve to bring together communities and neighborhoods, offering a recreational activity or a way to start eating fresh, local, and sustainable food.