After document finalizations Monday with the city manager, a produce-growing company now leases city property and plans to make the space available to growers around town.
Sorrel Kunath, president of Common Greens Inc., said the municipal garden is located on the northwest side of town at 301 N. Marion St. and will give citizens the chance to grow their own plants in the company of others at an affordable price.
“We are reaching out to all kinds of people, especially the lower incomes,” he said. “They’re the ones who actually need the good food the most because they can’t afford it.”
Kunath said he and a few other Common Greens members approached the city with his idea for the garden in 2011, and they were ecstatic when the City Council approved to share a two-year lease agreement with the company.
The idea of Common Greens, he said, is to create and maintain green space for public purposes that range from personal produce growth to educational opportunities for students in nearby schools.
The property will be a stepping stone for Common Greens, Kunath said, and it will give the city a small taste of something that could be larger.
If the garden maintains steady membership for the first few years, he said, a grower’s market might be installed so plot holders can sell their fruits and vegetables at a Common Greens produce stand.
“Because that’s one of the main issues with gardeners, you know. You have too much — more than you can eat — and then you just usually give away produce, which is great,” Kunath said. “But they may have that opportunity to make some money on the side.”
Besides the opportunity for citizens to grow produce at a fair price, he said the garden would also benefit the city’s image.
Courtney Smith, an organic grower in the area and Belle Blanche Herb and Flower Farm owner, said community gardens not only help bring citizens together but also provide agricultural knowledge she believes is beneficial to anyone.
“I think it’s very important that everyone learns how to grow their own food, or at least know where their food comes from,” she said. “It’s educational, but it also improves food safety. To be able to grow your own food, you’re ensuring you get to eat. If you’ve got extra, then everybody else gets to eat, too.”
Smith said this is especially important because society is shifting toward fresh produce as it learns the dangers of food that is canned and shipped long distances.
Kevin Baity, city manager, said although this is the first city-owned land being used for this purpose, there are a few other establishments like Common Greens in town that benefit the city.
“You’re providing an opportunity for people to not only learn what it takes to raise food but the importance of food and how it’s grown and maintained and how it’s put on the table,” Baity said.
Kunath said although he now leases from the city, he must satisfy the lease terms before the deed is officially sold to Common Greens.
The measures include paying any levied property tax as well as water line and spigot installation for watering and ground preparation for raised bed installation. The company must install at least 15 raised beds and fencing, Kunath said.
Common Greens must recruit at least 10 residents of the surrounding neighborhood per year, he said, and the property will not be sold to the company if the terms are not met.
He said Common Greens is now accepting members for the garden. Applicants can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-0703.
Membership costs $5 per person and seasonal plot fees will cost $25, though people who cannot afford the seasonal expense can speak with Kunath about working off the money by taking on garden duties such as cleaning.
Workdays will start in March, when members can help install spigots for seasonal plot space. Kunath said he expects the garden to be finished in two years.