Nearly four dozen gardening families in the River Road neighborhood will be looking for new ground to plow next spring. Garden City Harvest, which operates a network of community gardens around Missoula, recently lost its lease on its two-acre River Road property, says program director Jim McGrath.
“We have been informed by the owners that our lease will not be renewed,” says McGrath. “The elderly owner and her family have changed plans for the land. The community garden has until Nov. 15 to move out.”
The River Road gardeners recently completed their fifth season at the site, where 44 families grew a total of 3,400 pounds of food. Last Saturday, volunteers helped move tools, irrigation pipes and other gardening supplies off the land.
“It is particularly sad to lose those 44 plots because we have been seeing more demand for garden plots,” says McGrath. Last season, the River Road community garden grew from 31 to 44 plots. Garden City Harvest program directors are not just looking for land in the River Road area, where the need has already been determined, but are also seeking additional acreage for a new garden south of Missoula.
Most of the displaced gardening families are low income and do not own cars, making it difficult to travel far from their River Road neighborhood. “We’re really keen to replace those 44 plots because there’s no place for [the gardeners] to go. This neighborhood really needs a new garden space,” says McGrath. “We will find one.”
Garden City Harvest coordinates five community gardens in various neighborhoods throughout Missoula. Most are rented to families, who cultivate their own 15-foot by 15-foot plots. At other sites volunteer gardeners grow food for the community. This year, volunteer gardeners grew about 30,000 pounds of food for the Missoula Food Bank, the Poverello Center, the Missoula Indian Center, a new mission called Missoula 3:16, various youth homes and low-income individuals.
“We don’t own a square inch of land in Missoula County,” says McGrath, which is typical of most community gardens nationwide, but he hopes that will change. “It’s been a goal of ours to have some kind of land security.”
Besides giving people without land a chance to grow their own food, the community gardens also provides neighborhoods with open space, not to mention a safe, family-oriented activity. The program’s four-acre farm—currently on university land at Fort Missoula, where food is raised for the local food bank—will move to a 6.5 acre plot in the Rattlesnake next spring. The other half of the 13-acre lot will be leased to the city of Missoula for the Mount Jumbo Little League team.