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Food for those in need Print E-mail
Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer   
August 15, 2014 08:38 pm

A volunteer waters a variety of vegetables.

Lynette McPherson is in a grocery store rebellion.

She’s not angry at anyone, or upset that her favorite brand of organic yogurt is no longer on the shelf.

“I’m not stepping in a grocery store until November first,” she stated. “And it’s been three weeks.”

Her rationale is multi-fold.

“There are varying levels of this idea,” she said with a laugh. “It’s one thing to just see if you can say you’re prepared for the ‘Big One,’ but what’s it like to actually live and eat that way and provide yourself with that food? You think the one tomato plant will last you for the year, but it won’t. I wanted to see.”

The endeavor has prompted her to live off her land east of Whaleshead Beach, forced her to cook from scratch, eat seasonally, and obtain additional food grown within only a 100-mile radius of her home.

“We’ve had meals where everything we’re eating has come from this property,” she said. “Right now, I don’t have any lettuce in the greenhouse; what am I going to eat? I have to look at what I’ve got.”

McPherson has the knowledge, having been in charge of 12 school gardens in the Del Norte area before moving here, taken seminars on eating locally and sustainably, and recently completed her Square-Foot Gardening certification this summer, a three-week class that’s as intense as the gardening it espouses.

She is also a board member on the Wild Rivers Local Food Collaborative, which encourages community members to get involved in the local food movement. 

With that in hand, she is working with volunteers at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church to grow  vegetables for the Community Kitchens in town and the Community Helpers Food Bank.

That 1,800-square-foot garden is one of many that have cropped up this year, both to meet the needs of low-income families and the desire to grow food locally and without chemicals.

Square-foot veggies

Square-foot gardening debuted in the early 1990s, when a New York man became frustrated with his new hobby, as it seemed to invite weeds and waste space and water.

Instead of planting vegetables in rows — a method designed for the ease in using machinery — he planted seeds in small, well-defined areas.

“It changes the home-gardening paradigm from one of labor-intensive pseudo-farming to something more akin to growing houseplants,” she said. “It opens the possibility of gardening to people with very little space — it can even be done on a deck or patio. And because the physical effort required is so greatly reduced, it opens up gardening for the very old, the very young and the physically impaired.”

The practice combines concepts from other organic gardening methods, including a strong focus on compost, densely planted raised beds and biointensive attention to a small area, she said. This method is particularly well-suited for areas with poor soil, beginner gardeners or as way to engage those with disabilities.

Densely-planted seeds can prevent weeds from taking hold, and non-compacted soil helps retain water.

The Gardenshare at St. Timothy’s was spearheaded by Scott Clapson, who envisioned it on a nearby hillside that was overrun with tall weeds and brambles. The garden is now terraced, with each level growing an array of vegetable and some flowers.

The uppermost level utilizes square-foot gardening practices, and McPherson, Clapson and small-farm enthusiast Candice Michel hope to convert the entire hillside next year to the compact way of farming.

Those three — and they need more help — are growing vegetables for a large community. Others, McPherson said, can grow intense, compact gardens using a fraction of the land by constructing raised beds delineated into smaller boxes for different types of vegetables.

One, 4-foot-square, 6-inch-deep raised bed can produce the same amount of food as that of an 8-by-10-foot single-row garden. It even enables people to grow veggies in small areas like apartment balconies or windowsills.

McPherson’s greenhouse grows more than enough to feed her family, she said. In a 24-by-60 foot greenhouse, she also grows her plants vertically, taking advantage of even more space.

“In most gardens, you have such limited space,” she said, “Why do we have a row and a walkway, a row and a walkway? Just block it into four-foot squares — this light bulb just went off.” 

It’s hard to get out of the ‘garden-in-rows’ mentality, she said, as people have worked that way for so long.

“Look at the San Joaquin Valley — it makes sense that they grow in rows,” she said. “But when you think in a 4-foot square, you can get 32 carrots, a tomato and potato plant, four broccolis, nine onions and 16 radishes — and you still have two squares left.”

McPherson plans to offer presentations and a free introductory class at the Gardenshare next spring. She particularly wants to get the word out to low-income gardeners, those with limited space in which to grow, or those with disabilities, for whom this form of farming is ideal.

The biggest challenge most gardeners face is that they get overwhelmed — right off the bat — when seed catalogues arrive months before the ground can be turned.

“You get going all gangbusters, and everything gets growing and then you get to a slump where it’s just watering, watering, watering,” she said.

That’s the point at which she is now.

“Now I’m planning for winter. I’m pulling stuff out and putting winter stuff in. Pretty soon it’ll be September. My husband can’t deal without his soda and Rock Star (energy drink), but to get me to November (without entering a grocery store), I’ve got to have something.”

The group at St. Timothy’s is seeking additional volunteers and hopes to obtain funding to fence the property against local deer. Work days are Tuesdays at 3:30 p.m. McPherson can be reached through her Facebook Page “RillGardens” or at 541-661-2321. 

 

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