Eau Claire community gardens grow food, friends and fun

All types of growth are seen in the Eau Claire community gardens as members join gardening gloves to make the city a better place

More stories from Hillary Smith

A place that grows tomatoes, cucumbers, kale and sunflowers (as well as many more,) and is a positive contribution to the community? Sign me up!

“Come grow with us,” the Eau Claire community gardens website said, an enticing appeal when combined with bright photos of freshly picked vegetables, thriving plants and people working together. The experience matches the caliber of the invitation.

There are five Eau Claire community gardens: Forest Street, Jeffers Road, Lakeshore, Demmler and South Side gardens. A map with the exact locations can be found on the community gardens website. All the gardens boast a colorful array of organic produce grown under the watchful eye and careful care of members from around the community.

“The more folks we can get into gardening the better,” Eau Claire City Council member Andrew Werthmann said.

Werthmann is actively involved with all the gardens. In addition to helping take care of and maintain the various plots, he also uses his position as an elected city official to advocate for continued support of the gardens. He has helped several Eau Claire community gardens get started and aided in re-energizing others.

Werthmann played a major role in co-founding the Forest Street Gardens back in 2009. He also spearheaded the fundraising necessary to build the pavilion and compost area at the same site.

“It was a huge team effort,” Werthmann said on the growth of the Forest Street Gardens.

The fruits of their labor proved to be worth it; Werthmann estimated about 2,000 people were connected to the garden in 2010 and 2011, all on a volunteer basis.

Since then, the number of people involved has wilted somewhat. Werthmann cited the lack of consistent leadership as the main reason for the decline (there is no paid leadership position for the gardens).

Despite this, the gardens are flourishing thanks to those who continue lending their hands and time, working alongside each other to help the land blossom. They hold true to their name; community truly is the root system of these plots.

“People meet each other in the gardens,” Werthmann said, “They meet each other as fellow gardeners, but also as neighbors…When you grow food together, that’s something powerful. It builds respect and camaraderie,” Wethmann said.

Werthmann said around 4-5,000 pounds of food from the gardens is donated to the Campus Harvest Food Pantry every year. Growing food is important to make healthy eating readily available to more people and the gardens do just that, whether it’s via the pantry or people getting food directly from the gardens.

Eau Claire’s community gardens foster positive relationships and healthier living, but they also serve another, deeper purpose: they connect people to their roots.

Wisconsin is largely agricultural, so lots of people have family members were or are farmers. Community gardens gives the opportunity to do meaningful, positive work that engenders growth in individuals and the community overall. In an urban setting, community gardens are oases of prosperity, connecting people with nature and with each other.

“It really grows people’s respect for the Earth and the land,” Werthmann said.

The project is thriving, but Werthmann hopes to see more growth yet. There are approximately 200 people involved in gardens across the city Werthmann said, a number he wants to see double in the next five years.

As the gardening season winds down, consider signing up for a plot of your own, or becoming a member of the gardens. It would only reap good things for you and the community.

Go plant those seeds, folks.

More information can be found at the Eau Claire community garden website.