The Garden

Living in an apartment has meant a certain separation from the land. You buy produce at the grocery and leave the grounds to someone else.

DALLAS -- Living in an apartment has meant a certain separation from the land. You buy produce at the grocery and leave the grounds to someone else.

Larry Goff wants to change all that.

Goff, who manages Ashbrook Apartments in Dallas has started a community garden for his tenants. In a large patch along the edge of the property, Goff tilled the soil and divided it into plots for each tenant.

A surprising number took him up: 14 of 26 tenants have planted so far.

To Crystal Vasquez, the garden is a way to reclaim her past and tailor to her cooking style. "I grew up in Valsetz, and we had a garden every year. My husband's family had a garden every year. It brings back memories of home, seeing that Valsetz isn't there anymore."

Since Vasquez likes Mexican food, she has plots of jalepe¤os and cilantro growing. "It's nice to have fresh vegetables out of the garden."

Unemployed since the Blue Garden diner closed down, Vasquez appreciates being able to save on produce. "I'll have plenty of vegetables the whole summer, and I don't have to pay for them," she said.

Goff wants to expand the garden next year to grow potatoes to offer the whole complex for free. To him, the garden represents the notion of community, not just common land. "Everyone has extra stuff and we share it with each other," he said.

Goff tries to bring his tenants together in other ways. He hosts an annual barbecue, Christmas decorating contest and Independence Day celebration.

It's all about respect. "I want to treat the tenants like people, not like numbers," Goff said. "Having a garden gives someone self-pride. It makes people feel like it's their own home."

Tenant Twila Mendoza, a homemaker, has planted all sorts of vegetables. "It only took an hour to plant and we'll be harvesting by the end of summer," she said.

Mendoza appreciates the return of a garden. "You usually can't do anything like that in an apartment."

In addition to the community garden, individual apartments at Ashbrook have small herb, flower and berry gardens that lend the courtyard area a homey feel. "Everyone takes care of things," Goff said, in the garden and with each other.

Ashbrook has one of the few community gardens in Polk County, Goff said proudly, reflecting on his work. "But it takes time.

"We had to take a lot of rock out," he said, surveying the sprouting garden. "For a while, I thought rock was growing."

To learn more about plants, insects, and planting a garden with as little chemicals as possible, call Gail Miles at the Oregon State University Extension office in Dallas at 623-8395.

The Polk Soil and Water Conservation District offers information on soil and how it relates to different plants. It also offers a pamphlet about natural gardening. For more information, call 623-9680, extension 101.

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