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You say tomayto. I say tomahto. Rachel Medina says heirloom, cherry, beefsteak, oxheart, and plum.
“It might seem like there’s only one variety of each vegetable, but in reality there are so many,” says the five-year Cortez resident and city council member. “I wanted a plot at southside so I can learn from other gardeners and grow enough to share.”
“Southside” is a reference to southside community garden—officially called 3rd Street Garden—a new 11-plot garden at Third and Harrison streets that will allow residents from the surrounding neighborhood to grow healthy food beginning this spring. It’s the second community garden initiated by Cortez Community Gardens, which also manages plots at the rec center on Cortez’ northside. In fact, the rec center garden was a big part of the inspiration for the southside plots.
Established three years ago, the rec center community garden hosts about 20 plots for budding greenthumbs and a demonstration garden that yields fresh produce and seed starts for the Good Samaritan Food Pantry—which saw the need for food assistance triple with the beginning of the pandemic. It also boasts a long wait list.
“This year, when people signed up, we had at least eight people on the waitlist, and several of those people were on the southside of town,” Cortez Community Gardens co-coordinator Kirbi Foster says. “Southside is older; the town has grown north. There already aren’t as many services south of Main Street, so the rec center garden being on the northside does create an equity issue; community gardens really should be inside neighborhoods.”
Having a sense of community—a strong connection—is really important here. The garden lets everyone gather around a shared goal and vision; you get to know your neighbors."
Foster, along with Cortez Community Gardens co-coordinator Read Brugger, met with the city—which already provided water and fencing at the rec center site—and found a solution that would provide greater access to healthy food for more Cortez residents: add another garden in a pocket park on the southside. The site was already near a few people on the waiting list and was nestled in a mixed housing community. Foster and Brugger gathered volunteers and canvassed the neighborhood, and when a couple of residents raised questions, they paused to have deeper conversations.
Around the same time, LOR community officer Nicci Crowley reached out to Foster to see if there was anything LOR could help support. “Food security—and especially access to healthy food—has become even more important during the pandemic,” Crowley says. “This community solution helps provide just one more way Cortez can help meet that need.”
The timing was perfect: Cortez Community Gardens needed funding for a fence to make the park feasible but had been focused on ironing out the details with the city and the neighborhood, not on fundraising. LOR provided a grant to pay for the fence. “LOR’s timeliness gave us the security and ability to engage in the community building part,” Foster says. “It was so nice to have LOR’s flexibility and trust that way.”
Video courtesy Kirbi Foster and Read Brugger
Between July and November, parks and recreation employees cleared the space and installed waterlines, and they worked with Cortez Community Gardens volunteers—who donated nearly 120 hours of their time—to build the plots. It was too late for the 2021 growing season, but the 3rd Street Garden is spade-ready for spring planting.
And the icing on the proverbial cake? Those conversations with the city led to a decision to offer community gardens as an optional amenity—like basketball courts and playgrounds—in any Cortez city park, including new ones that are built. Cortez Community Gardens will facilitate the programs.
“There is something incredibly special about working alongside another person in a garden. You’re doing this physical work, but the conversations are more meaningful. You have very different people coming together to work on something good,” Foster says. “Now, we have a growing number of people who want to be part of that community.”
Medina is chief among them. For her, the pandemic highlighted the importance of access to healthy foods, and she wants to be part of that solution: She plans to donate the excess produce from her plot to community members, and she’s also offered to sponsor two plots for those who find the fee ($7 a year) an obstacle. “Having a sense of community—a strong connection—is really important here,” she says. “The garden lets everyone gather around a shared goal and vision; you get to know your neighbors.”
So this year, alongside all those tomatoes, cucumbers, and greens, the 3rd Street Garden will grow something even more nourishing: community.
Support the 3rd Street Garden
If you'd like to volunteer or provide additional support for the southside community garden—or sign up for a plot yourself—visit commongroundcortez.org.Go To Common Ground Cortez
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Nicci prides herself on being a connector of people and ideas—a trait that’s central to her work as the LOR Foundation’s community officer in Cortez, Colorado. She listens to community members to understand the challenges they collectively face and then… Meet Nicci