By Rebecca Ragain
For the Hollywood Star News, July, 2010
Kim McDodge leans over a chive plant, showing another gardener which of the long, narrow leaves to snip in order to prolong the plant’s production of flavorful new shoots. A few minutes later, in another area of the garden, McDodge pulls a few leeks out of the ground, shaking the dirt off the plants’ roots. They’re getting too old and tough to be good for eating, she explains.
This is what McDodge and the other volunteers do, here at Ariadne Garden: They help both plants and gardeners grow. “It’s like a living lab,” says Betty Barker, a master gardener who is one of Ariadne Garden’s core members.
Ariadne Garden is a community garden located at 3606 N.E. 11th Ave. McDodge donated the land — two city lots — approximately 20 years ago and now acts as site manager.
The garden operates as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which means that its produce is divided into shares. Four of the shares go to the core volunteers who keep the garden healthy and productive. Two shares go to elderly neighbors. The remaining four shares are sold to walk-in customers; proceeds cover the garden’s bills for water, insurance, taxes, etc.
The garden is open Saturdays and Tuesdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the growing season (April through October). McDodge is almost always there; who else is on site varies from day to day. Today, for example, one of the helpers is a woman who is house-sitting for a friend in the neighborhood. “I needed something to do,” she says.
Evie Erdmann, another regular volunteer, is also here. He recently built a sturdy, rustic farm stand for the garden, with a built-in sink for washing freshly picked produce. Today’s harvest of herbs and leafy greens, neatly labeled, is displayed on the stand’s wood countertop. A dry-erase board attached to the stand shows the prices of the produce, cut flowers, and plant seedlings for sale.
This is Erdmann’s second year working in Ariadne Garden. When he learned about the garden from a friend, he was intrigued by the idea of having a closer connection to the food he consumes. “It’s a great way to show the world another way to eat,” says Erdmann.
Erdmann is especially interested in the garden’s goal of building what is called “the soil food web,” the complex ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and other living creatures whose activities directly or indirectly affect the plants and animals aboveground.
In keeping with its educational focus, Ariadne Garden lends and sells books and CDs. (Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web is a helpful practical guide; Under Ground: How Creatures of Mud and Dirt Shape Our World is a good arm-chair read.)
To strengthen the soil food web at Ariadne Garden, the volunteers apply compost tea brewed by McDodge’s husband, Terence. The tea is also sold to customers for use in their own gardens.
The underground ecosystem of microbes and insects is the less obvious of the communities that Ariadne Garden strengthens. What’s immediately noticeable is how the volunteers work together, learning from one another as they go. Some of the older workers, such as McDodge and Barker, learned how to garden when they were kids. On the other hand, many of the volunteers in their forties and younger knew very little about growing things when they started helping out at Ariadne Garden.
“The volunteers in their twenties and thirties, they want to learn how to make things work; and they’re very willing to work hard,” says Barker.
Even those who have had their hands in the dirt for decades continue to learn.
Barker points out a bed filled with a colorful mix of vegetables. It’s a polyculture bed (thus the mix) planted according to principles outlined in a book called Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Portland author and permaculturist Toby Hemenway. It’s the first time that particular combo has been tried at Ariadne Garden.
“We’re always doing something different,” says Barker.