With the proper type of nurturing, gardens can grow a lot more than just vegetables. That's the gist of a proposed effort by Horizons -- a statewide program administered by Washington State University Extension -- to site community gardens in Bingen and White Salmon.
Citing social, community, nutritional, and environmental benefits, leaders of the Horizons program want to organize public gardens in the area that would allow local residents to plant and tend their own centrally located garden plots.
The Horizons program is designed to help promote prosperity in rural communities, and the Bingen-White Salmon area is one of 23 communities around the state taking part.
Horizons leaders recently met with the Bingen City Council and the White Salmon City Council, and proposed having at least one community garden in each city.
Bruce Bolme, who serves on the Horizon steering committee, said the group is looking for potential sites to set up the gardens.
"We want to develop accessible lots for citizens to use on a first come, first served basis, with a nominal fee to use the lot," Bolme explained. "The gardens will use only organic, non-growth hormone seeds. Columbia High School has offered to provide the seed starts."
In recent months, citizens participating in the Horizons sessions have discussed ways to enhance the local community.
"In Horizons sessions, community gardens came up as something we wanted to have as an early action item," Bolme explained.
Bolme said there were many possible benefits to the project.
"It supports the community's self sufficiency, it's a new opportunity for family activities, and there is the satisfaction of growing our own foods," Bolme explained. "This would build community spirit."
He added that another vital benefit of local gardens is that they would produce more nutritional foods.
"It's hard to grow junk food in an organic garden," Bolme said.
Horizons received a $1,500 grant from the Northwest Area Foundation to help launch the community garden project. The money will go to pay for gardening necessities, including items such as a deer fence, wheelbarrow, gardening tools, hoses, and a storage shed.
White Salmon officials expressed support.
"It's a great project and something the community sorely needs," said White Salmon council member Timi Keene, who chairs the city's "parks & recreation" committee.
"It sounds like a really nice program," said Brad Roberts. "I'm really impressed with how little land you require."
According to Bolme, the garden plots could be as small as four feet by 20 feet. He also pointed out that all that was needed to get the project started was a piece of property to set up the gardens.
"It's a great idea," council member John Mayo added.
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel said Bingen's council members also liked the idea of the gardens.
"The council indicated support for the concept," Prigel said. "We haven't really seen a plan yet, but if the sites are maintained, I think it would be a good thing."
Gardeners would be charged a "sliding fee" to get a spot in the gardens, but Bolme said the cost would be minimal.
"It won't be much, but we want to charge something to separate the lookers from the gardeners," Bolme said.
At the White Salmon council meeting, Bolme was asked whether there might be a problem with vandalism.
"The only vandalism I've had is from deer," Bolme responded. "And we do have a budget for deer fence."
Bolme said the Horizons proposal is modeled after La Clinica's community gardens in Hood River.
"We are looking for land big enough to have more than half a dozen plots, but more than a dozen would be better," Bolme said. "And it would be a wonderful luxury if I had several sites to choose from."
Four potential sites are currently under review as follows: One is next to the Heritage Museum in Bingen; on a parcel south of Daubenspeck Park in Bingen; on a parcel near the Rhine Village apartments in White Salmon; and on a site next to Bethel Congregational Church in White Salmon.
"The goal is to have the gardens ready to go by next year's growing season, which I'm saying is March," Bolme said.
Anyone wanting to donate the use of property that is accessible, centrally located, and has a source of water, can call Bolme at 493-8202.
The next Horizons "community project of visionary planning" for Bingen and White Salmon will be held this Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Pioneer Center in White Salmon. The session will run from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.