Friday, August 7, 2009

Accessible Gardens

Planting seeds: Accessible gardens available for people with disabilities
Ron Hornsby demonstartes the tools and beds used at the Cache Community Garden in Hyde Park on Monday. (Meegan M. Reid/Herald Journal)
Wednesday, August 5, 2009 3:12 AM CDT
Arie Kirk Community gardens are places where locals can grow food and harvest friendships but Kate Stephens said often times, those gardens are not easily accessible to people with physical disabilities. For local residents that have physical limitations, members of the Utah Conservation Corps have changed that by constructing table top gardens, raised gardens and adaptive gardening tools available for use at the Cache Valley Community Garden.“This garden was designed with accessibility in mind so that people with disabilities, who represent about 20 percent of the population, can come out and be a part of the community garden so it’s truly representative of everyone in the community,” said Stephens, assistant director of Utah Conservation Corps. Located on about two acres of land west of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Hyde Park, the community garden features accessible gardens that were completed and ready for use this spring, Stephens said.

Designed to look like a native Utah orchid from an aerial view, the accessible gardens feature nine raised beds, two table top gardens, five transfer sit-down beds and hardened pathways, said Utah Conservation Corps member Luke Leclair-Marzolf. As Ron Hornsby worked in a raised garden Monday, he said, “I’m able to weed the garden, plant the garden, harvest the garden from my wheelchair. And down on the ground like that, that’s a little difficult, can do it but it’s uncomfortable and hard.” “And for some people, it’s impossible,” Stephens added.“Exactly,” Hornsby said. “And I’m very fortunate that I can get out of my chair. Some people cannot so they have a very difficult time trying to do their gardening. Gardening is work and, often times, hard work and for people in a wheelchair; they’re a little bit restricted.” Hornsby then began working on a bed that has tiled seating. Transferring from his wheelchair to a seat, he inspected the tomatoes, rhubarb, peas and cabbage that are growing in the plot.Cache Valley Community Garden opened two years ago. In respect to the accessible gardens, Stephens said they spent the first summer developing tools and some raised gardens. There are now 25-30 accessible plots. To have a plot, Stephens said there is a nominal fee.Over time, Stephens said about 40 people, including Conservation Corps members and community volunteers, have helped develop the area. The Utah Conservation Corps inclusive crew, which currently has eight members, was the driving force behind the adaptive gardens. Stephens said half of the group have physical disabilities which makes the group one of the first, if not the first, to have an inclusive crew.“The neat thing I guess about all of this is it’s an accessible garden that was designed by people with disabilities for people with disabilities so people with disabilities have been a part of the process from start to finish,” she said. The gardens may be ready for planting or already growing, but the crew still has plans to broaden its accessibility. Crew leader Quintin Williams said they are considering putting Braille signs in the garden. In addition to the basic gardening hand tools, Leclair-Marzolf said they also offer an adaptive wheelchair that works well in rough terrain. To raise awareness and encourage public use of the accessible gardens, Utah Conservation Corps is hosting a workshop Friday, Aug. 7 at the garden. Williams said they are hoping the workshop will be educational and also get people to the Cache Valley Community Garden.From 9 to 10 a.m. there will be a class about accessible gardening and the available tools. Afterward, from 10 a.m. to noon, attendees will be able to work in the gardens.Stephens said they will plant fall crops Friday. Hornsby said these could include lettuce or broccoli but will depend on who comes and what they’d like to plant. Hornsby will be one of the instructors at the workshop. Williams said the garden “gives community members an opportunity to serve and get involved and kind of see what they are capable of.” Members of the inclusive crew agreed the project has proved to be a learning experience for all who participated. “Even I, who have lived in the community of people with disabilities for a long time, had no idea what it was like for a wheelchair user or someone with limited mobility so it’s definitely been a learning experience for everybody involved, not just those with disabilities ... everybody comes to the table with something to offer and that’s sort of the whole joy of the project,” Williams said. Crew member Zak Young said working on the gardens has made him realize how much people take for granted every day. Having a crew that included people with physical disabilities also offered a much-needed perspective in the creation of the gardens and tools, he said. “It’s not just people with disabilities that we have. We’ve included people of diverse abilities in this crew and so I think those of us who are not disabled have learned so much,” he said. Even for new crew members, the accessible gardens have made an impression. Dan Varela, whose first day in the gardens was Monday, said, “I think it’s an amazing idea.”

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