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After 7 years, Prescott Community Garden closes

Over the years, the Prescott Community Garden produced successful crops of tomatoes, squash, peas, beans, and other produce. Organizers say 21 gardening spaces were available, and about three-fourths of those were rented this past year by individuals and organizations. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Over the years, the Prescott Community Garden produced successful crops of tomatoes, squash, peas, beans, and other produce. Organizers say 21 gardening spaces were available, and about three-fourths of those were rented this past year by individuals and organizations. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

The time to plant has ended at the Prescott Community Gardens, and not without some heartbreak.

The grassroots garden that began in 2011/2012 on a creekside plot of land in west Granite Creek Park has chosen to pull up stakes and dissolve its organization.

Organizers expressed disappointment this past week as the dismantling was getting underway on the garden’s raised beds, fencing, and toolshed.

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Colleen Sorensen, left, the past president of the Prescott Community Garden, and Catherine Nowlin, current president, discuss plans to dismantle the garden beds, irrigation system, and toolshed. The garden, located in west Granite Creek Park, is shutting down and dissolving. The gardening equipment and tools are being donated to area charter schools. (Catherine Nowlin/Courtesy)

“It’s heartbreaking,” Catherine Nowlin, president of the Community Garden, said Friday, Feb. 8, as she stood among the now-dormant garden beds.

Colleen Sorensen, who spearheaded the effort almost a decade ago as a part of her Northern Arizona University master’s degree, agreed, noting that a group of dedicated volunteers had put in hundreds of hours over the years.

For the past seven years or so, members of the community were able to rent a garden plot for $60 a year. The location offered “perfect sun,” Sorensen said, which helped to produce bumper crops of tomatoes, squash, peas and beans.

The produce went to private kitchens, as well as to local food banks.

SERIES OF OBSTACLES

Sorensen and Nowlin say a combination of difficulties led to the final decision this past fall that 2018’s gardening season would be the last.

Among the reasons for the decision: A steady stream of damage from vandalism; a secluded location that did not lend itself to community marketing; lack of community interest; and finally, the recent news that a new Hilton Garden Inn would soon be built on the adjoining land.

One of the challenges centered on Prescott’s demographics. “It’s a retirement town,” said Sorensen, who served as the original president of the garden and continued to tend to the growing through the years.

Even though a host of community organizations and schools pitched in over the years, she said, the garden never attracted the type of interest from young families that is common to other successful community gardens.

Sorensen and Nowlin say the garden’s location likely contributed to that.

While the quiet site off Granite Street, near the old railroad trestle, was initially seen as an attribute for the garden, the spot remained fairly unknown in the community.

Sorensen and Nowlin say they often heard from people who did not know the garden existed, and were unfamiliar with its location.

The off-the-beaten-path location also made the garden an easy target for vandals. “Slowly, over time, there’s been vandalism,” Sorensen said. “It was really frustrating.”

She and Nowlin added that the homeless population in the Granite Creek Park area “exploded” over the garden’s years of existence, likely contributing to the garden’s demise as well.

Eventually, Nowlin said, the gardeners – many of them female – no longer felt safe in the area, especially after dark.

Even though the organizers say the Prescott Police Department was attentive and sent regular bike patrols to the area, Nowlin said gardeners were ultimately advised that they should not be onsite after dusk.

HOTEL IMPACTS

While Sorensen and Nowlin say the imminent location of a Hilton Garden Inn so nearby was not the deciding factor for the garden’s dissolution, they said the expected construction activity from the hotel and other creekside improvements was one of the factors in the decision.

“I think we’re just done,” Sorensen said.

The garden organizers say city officials never encouraged them to leave the site, and they say the Prescott Recreation Services Department was always supportive.

Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes said he was disappointed to learn that the Community Garden was leaving the Granite Creek Park location.

“We wanted nothing but success for them,” Baynes said. “I’m equally sad they’re leaving.”

In recent action, the Prescott City Council approved a lease/purchase of city-owned land near the intersection of Montezuma and Sheldon streets for the development of a 101-room Hilton Garden Inn.

The project comes with accompanying improvements to the nearby railroad trestle and the Greenway Trails along Granite Creek and Miller Creek. Baynes said some type of garden is still planned to be a part of that.

With the departure of the Community Garden, Baynes said the city will be looking for another gardening effort for the location – possibly a “demonstration of a farm-to-table” growing.

The Prescott Farmers Market could be involved, Baynes said, although the details have yet to be worked out.

Bayne said he hopes another community garden effort will start up at a different Prescott location. “I don’t know if it’s a city function, but I do believe a community garden is an important part of the community,” he said.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.

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