Through Juntos en el Jardin, families come together to grow their own food

LINCOLN CITY, Ore. – The ocean breeze hasn’t been kind to Maricela Diaz’s tomato plants.

She tried to grow them on her apartment balcony in this coastal town, but the wind broke them apart, Diaz said. Now, Diaz is growing tomatoes in a cloche in a new space dedicated to families participating in a community project called Juntos en el Jardin (Together in the Garden).

With her son, she planted tomato, radish and cilantro seeds in mid-May and just days later the vegetable plants were sprouting. Speaking in Spanish to Beatriz Botello Salgado, a nutrition educator with Oregon State University Extension Service, Diaz said she learned about the opportunity to plant vegetables in the garden through Jazmin Aguilar Flores, one of Botello Salgado’s colleagues in the OSU Extension office in Lincoln County.

Surrounded by sand dunes, Juntos en el Jardin cloches have taken their place next to the Extension Master Gardener Demonstration Garden at the Oregon Coast Community College North County Center. A "cloche" – French for a bell jar or dish set over plants to protect them from cold weather – is like a mini greenhouse in that it shelters plants from wind and cold. These cloches have been given names in Spanish to represent pollinators. For example, Diaz gardens in the “abeja” (bee) cloche.

In October 2021, Danone Institute North America announced the five winning teams of its “One Planet. One Health” Initiative – a grant program that promotes resilient and sustainable local food systems. OSU Extension partnered with Northwest Coastal Housing and the Olalla Center to submit a proposal that resulted in a $30,000 grant.

Juntos en el Jardin has rejuvenated existing community gardening locations in and around Lincoln City and created spaces that expand access to growing food to Latino and Mesoamerican Indigenous families in Lincoln County that generally have less access to land for growing their own food.

With the grant, Extension and community partners:

  • Refurbished raised beds at Lincoln City Oceanlake Garden.
  • Refurbished raised beds that were donated by the Rotary Club and added cloches to those beds, and installed new raised beds with an archway trellis at the entrance to welcome families to the new space. Gloves and gardening tools are provided to families gardening at this site and they can share use of a new three-bin composter and topsoil pile.
  • Supplied families who use the Taft Community Garden site with new topsoil, a composting bin, gloves and gardening tools.
  • Supplied five double-tiered, raised garden beds for residents of the Ridge Apartments. These beds allow for better accessibility, and they are guaranteed for 25 years.
  • Helped to re-create Cornucopia, a garden for students attending Career Tech Charter High School in Otis. The grant supplied 10 raised garden beds and the topsoil to fill those beds.
  • Are developing a Google mapping tool to share community gardening locations and resource opportunities that will also be translated in Spanish.
  • Offered a scholarship opportunity for a Spanish-speaking Master Gardener certification to support future garden management and program sustainability.

Expansion of Newport concept

Prior to the Danone grant, Extension worked with the community coalition Juntos de Colaboracion, Lincoln County Public Health, the Olalla Center and volunteers to create an inclusive and culturally responsive community garden for Newport’s Latino and Indigenous Guatemalan families.

The Extension Master Gardener program spearheaded efforts to create a community garden space Lincoln County Commons, also known as the Lincoln County Fairgrounds, for 12 Latino families who grow and harvest vegetables and herbs in 16 raised beds.

“In OSU Extension, it is important for us to continue building the community and supporting families,” said Botello Salgado, who is approaching 20 years as an OSU employee and also serves on the Newport City Council. “Latino and Guatemalan community members shared with us that they didn’t have access to specific foods in Newport like tropical fruit and herbs. They said they were going out of town to shop in Salem and Woodburn.”

The idea behind the “One Planet. One Health” grant proposal was to expand on that concept and take it 25 miles north on U.S. 101 to Lincoln City, where about 13% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.

“When we had an opportunity with the ‘One Planet. One Health” Danone initiative, we went for it,” said Jennifer Pettit, an Extension nutrition educator in Lincoln County.

OSU Extension conducted a community garden needs assessment survey that identified needs, gaps and barriers to accessing community garden resources in Lincoln City, then worked on acquiring the proper permits. Once those were secured, the project partners worked on acquiring the materials and supplies for the gardens.

Bringing families together

On a sunny afternoon in May, the Oceanlake and Taft community gardens, located about four miles apart, were each buzzing with activity. Sitting at picnic tables, residents collected free vegetable seed packets and Extension gardening and nutrition resources.

As she looked at the crowd gathered at the Oceanlake Garden, LoRee LaFon, membership services specialist for Lincoln City, said she’s a strong supporter of Juntos en el Jardin.

“It’s getting people outdoors, away from the container gardening,” LaFon said. “A great deal of our housing here in Lincoln City is apartments and the residents don’t have access to be able to grow their own food. This gives them that ability, and also to bond with the community.”

Botello Salgado said community gardens provide safe outdoor spaces for families, especially children, who “move around and get fresh air.”

At the Taft Garden, which shares a name with the nearby high school, Len Chavez used a shovel to remove weeds from her garden box. Chavez has grown some vegetables in pots in her apartment, but she doesn’t have space for a garden. This is her second summer at Taft, where she grows onions, zucchini and squash.

“I like to come here because I can be with my family,” Chavez told Botello Salgado in Spanish. “I also like it because my husband has to help, too.”

When asked what she thinks of the garden, Chavez smiled.

“Wonderful,” she said. “Wonderful.”

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