By 8 a.m., most kids are crunching a spoonful of cereal. But Tuesday morning, 10-year-old Grace Hutton was crunching a fistful of green beans.
“Grace, don’t eat them all,” her dad Christopher Hutton called across the garden bed he was watering.
“Aww,” Grace said, surrendering the beans to a plastic bag collecting the family’s produce.
The Hutton family has two plots at the Umpqua Dairy Community Garden in southeast Roseburg. One is for themselves. They donate produce from the other to the food pantry of Roseburg Dream Center.
In April, the garden was a mere patch of green grass. But with grant money, wheelbarrows of dirt, and the leadership of NeighborWorks Umpqua and Southeast Roseburg Voices in Community Enhancement, the land has been transformed into a 20-plot neighborhood garden.
“There’s a lot of fresh vegetables going into the community,” Hutton said. “There are people coming together that otherwise would never have met.”
The Feldkamp family, owners of Umpqua Dairy, donated the dairy’s neighboring plot of land on Southeast Mill Street and Burke Avenue for the garden. Donations totaling $11,000 from NeighborWorks America and Safeway help fund garden maintenance.
The plots are 14 feet by 14 feet. Four of them are accessible for people with disabilities. Gardeners pay a yearly $30 lease and agree to grow their food organically. Water is included in the lease, but gardeners bring their own seeds and plants.
“There’s already a waiting list for next year,” said Rebecca McGillicuddy, community building and engagement coordinator at NeighborWorks Umpqua. “There’s a great need for this, a great want.”
The idea for a garden sprouted from a survey last summer, when southeast Roseburg residents said they wanted a downtown grocery store. Residents said the Mill-Pine district has been a food desert since Safeway left Rose Street eight years ago. The nearest full-service grocery store, Grocery Outlet, is 1.3 miles from the garden; Safeway on Southeast Stephens Street is 2.1 miles away.
“It may help with the food desert problem,” said neighbor Charlie Hawks, who now eats more fresh vegetables than before the garden went in. “But it would still be nice to see a decent grocery store.”
Hawks set up his garden with a grid of sunflowers, which he grows for the sprouts. He said the sprouts have a radish-like flavor and are extremely nutritious. He enjoys eating them with a bit of vinaigrette.
Interspersed within the sunflowers are tomatoes, peppers, squash, bush beans and corn.
While Hawks hasn’t seen much change in the neighborhood since the garden’s start two months ago, he does appreciate seeing more of his sister, who has a plot next to his.
Ed Hartley said he didn’t eat a lot of vegetables before the garden because it was easier to buy canned food. But the availability of fresh produce has changed that.
“I like not relying on supermarkets,” Hartley said. “You never know what prices are going to be.” Now Hartley picks vegetables at his leisure and blends them with frozen fruit in his high-speed blender.
But the garden’s main appeal, Hartley said, is how it has turned into a relaxing hobby.
“I’ve always been the person wanting to be the farmer but living in the city,” Hartley said.
Hartley estimates he spends about 30 minutes per day in the garden, watering and picking vegetables.
Hutton works longer in the garden with his two plots, watering twice a day for about 45 minutes. He’s harvested 36.5 pounds of food so far from the plot he donates to the Roseburg Dream Center, and he estimates he’s harvested a similar amount from his own.
Hutton grew up gardening in Yoncalla, and wanted his kids to have a similar experience.
“Now kids are plugged into video games and don’t know where their food comes from, so it’s nice to experience growing it themselves,” Hutton said.
Pulling beets may have a greater appeal with Hutton’s kids than a round of Mario Kart.
“Whoa, Dad, look at this guy!” said Tyler, age 12, pulling out a red beet.
“No, look at him!” Grace said, unearthing her own.
Hutton rinses the beets and shakes them, flinging water from the shiny red bulbs.
“That’s dinner,” he said.
•You can reach reporter Kate Stringer at 541-957-4208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.