(from the journal of Esther Marie Ham, a.k.a. ďKittyĒ)
When we were still on the farm, we offered free plowed, fertilized and watered garden plots for the Seniors -- and as much as they wanted. A busload of Seniors were brought out from the city. The river bottom land we had would raise anything.
After we came to town, I noticed so much empty land around the city. I thought it would be so easy to get donated land near where the Seniors were, I was wrong! Finally someone told me to check with the school. They told me they owned a piece adjoining the Parks and Recreation Department and the Seniors could use that free. Since the Parks and Recreation was so close and since they were always looking for good projects, I went to them for help. One of the main people said my project would not get off the ground. I thought if there was any possible way to get this off the ground, I would do it!
I didnít know anyone in town and I needed Seniors to fill up those garden plots, so I put an ad in the newspaper, and filled them in as their names and phone numbers came in. Next I went to Portland to the Gill Brothers Seed Company, told them my plan ant they gave me every kind of seed and lots of it!
I heard about a Senior who was a professional sign painter, and he did the lettering on our signs. My Mother drew the most beautiful picture of a basket on its side with vegetables spilling out of the basket. This sign was large enough to be seen from a distance. My Mother won the senior citizen painting contest in the State of Washington, so now I had two professionals on our project. My spirits always got a lift when I looked at that sign.
We brought our smaller irrigation system in from the farm. A farm friend brought in liquid fertilizer, another farm friend brought equipment to get the garden ready for planting. The County Agent came and helped me measure out the plots and pathways.
I planted trays of seed in our bathroom, and turned up the heat make them grow fast, then transplanted the seedlings into small pots. Before the weather was ready for gardening, I took the pots to one side of the garden and planted them in the ground two inches apart, labeling them so the Seniors would know what to get -- cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes, pepper, cukes. I put wires, then plastic over the plants, and they were kept warm until the weather was suitable for the Seniors to plant them out in the garden plots.
Now we were ready for the Seniors. I. had lots of cheese boxes for their seed. Then I called the numbers I had on file and told them we were ready. What a bunch of happy people!
One couple were grandparents to The Brush Prairie quintuplets. Years later I took care of him so his wife could go shopping. I saw quite a lot of the quints at that time.
I had a friend, Cathy, who was very funny, but had never planted a seed before. She was worried until I told her Iíd plant her garden for her. Most everything I do is fast, and thatís the way I planted her garden. I hoed out the rows and dropped in the seeds and walked on the rows, and in no time at all, it was done! Afterward I heard that she told a friend, "Iím going to have the worst plot in the whole garden! Did you see how she raced through my garden, stepping on my seeds, and didnít pick up a clod?"
Soon the entire garden was sprouting green. The liquid fertilizer was doing its job. You could look across and see Cathyís garden just a little taller than the rest. I had put in so many gardens, I knew how deep to plant, and how much pressure to put on the seed. The clods didnít matter.
The Oregonian and the Columbian got word of the garden and came out to take pictures for their papers. Then the Oregonian called me to get some of the Seniors for TV. I called the ones I thought would do the best, being very careful not to call the Parks and Recreation. But as soon as the TV crew arrived, they came hurrying down to the garden. A second TV station called, and we went through the process again with the Parks and Recreation hurrying down again!
The second year, I had a second piece of ground by Parks and Recreation. The Grange wanted me to start a garden at their place. They had wonderful land. We had a busload of mentally handicapped kids and a family of twelve Vietnamese.
I started a small garden at Mrs. Ahnerís place for the handicapped kids. Most of them did very well, but one boy who got tired halfway through his row. He planted half a cheese box full of corn in one spot and he was done.
There was so much surplus produce that we decided to sell some, and get our own irrigation system. We had some pipes donated to us.
There was a fourth of July stand near our garden, so every evening as people came home from work, we opened up our store and sold the surplus pretty cheap. Someone turned us in for selling without a license. The Mayor came by, about a half a block away, watched for a while, smiled and left. We heard no more of that!
About this time, the Parks and Recreation Department got a change of heart. Public relations is important for them, and this was a lot of PR! They wanted the project, even though it wasnít their land and they had done zero to help. To make things right with me, they put me on one of their committees. The only good I did, was to fight to keep the price of the plots down for the Seniors. The price of the plots keeps going up Ė if the farmers got that much for their land, they would all be rich!
The Parks and Recreation wanted to put seven garden spots around the city and I think they did. Very much later, I got a plaque from the City of Vancouver for my volunteer innovations and hard work as originator of the Community Gardens.