Catholic Sentinel photo
Marc Boucher-Colbert teaches children in Franciscan Montessori Earth School garden.
Catholic Sentinel photo
Marc Boucher-Colbert teaches children in Franciscan Montessori Earth School garden.
In some gardens, as the seasons go by and the excitement dies down, fewer volunteers sign up to weed and tend plants. That’s a natural part of the community gardening process, but local organizers are finding new ways to maintain enthusiasm.

“Community organizing is the hardest piece,” said Marc Boucher-Colbert, who coordinates a shared garden at the Franciscan Montessori Earth School. “It’s not hard to grow things, but it’s hard to get people together and get them to work together.”

To battle ennui in the school garden, Boucher-Colbert has invited residents from nearby Arbor Glen Apartments in East Portland to be a part of the project. During the summer months, when school is out, it was hard find regular volunteers. The solution was a partnership with neighborhood families. Students’ labor in the spring feeds neighboring families during the summer, and those families’ work during the summer months provides food for the students in the fall.

St. Mary Church in Corvallis runs plots that are part of a collaborative project at Westside Community Church. The garden’s maintenance is divided between members of Iglesia Emanuel, St. Mary’s, and Oregon State University students. St. Mary’s volunteers give their time to help grow fresh produce for the parish’s food pantry and soup kitchen.

“The first year we had so many tomatoes we had no idea what to do with them,” said Peggy George, who organizes the garden project. Unfortunately, participation died down over the next few years, and garden upkeep fell to fewer people.

In 2011, George asked various ministries at the church to “adopt” volunteer shifts at the garden, but even that was a challenge.

“Working with volunteers to make sure nobody has too much to do is always a struggle,” she said. “The garden is not at our church campus, so a lot of people are not aware of it.”

This year St. Mary’s garden coordinators plan to try a new model: They offer 12 plots to individuals or families, who will pay a small fee to cover water and maintenance costs.

In return, the families pledge to donate 10 percent of their bounty to the parish’s food ministries.

The secret to sustainability seems to be a flexibility and willingness to change tactics when one isn’t working.

“There are a lot of different models for community gardens,” said Jenny Holmes, project director of the organization’s Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership. 

Boucher-Colbert issues a reminder that it’s OK if a garden doesn’t get off the ground the first time around.

“We didn’t have success on our first try,” he said. “It was our second or third try that worked because we used viable resources at hand and leveraged community resources.”