New garden offers community gathering space

By Published On: August 7th, 2023

Reuben and his wife, Jessica, place garden bed frames at Santana Village Park Garden.

On a Saturday afternoon at a park in the Four Corners area near Salem, a group of neighbors are hard at work installing the infrastructure for a new community garden.

The site is abuzz with activity as volunteers dig hundreds of feet of trench and lay irrigation lines to tie in with a water main, lay cardboard on the ground to kill grass and prevent weed growth, place wood-framed garden beds atop the cardboard and fill the beds with mulch.

At the center of it all is Reuben, who orchestrates the work with abundant energy and infectious enthusiasm. The garden is his brainchild, and he’s excited to see it coming together after months of meticulous planning and legwork.

“My wife says I’m a force of nature and I bring things about through sheer force of will,” Reuben says with a chuckle.

Tim volunteers to install irrigation lines at Santana Village Park Garden in the Four Corners area near east Salem.

Indeed, going from identifying the need for a community garden to installing one on a grassy area at Santana Village Park took a lot of work. Reuben enlisted the support of Marion Polk Food Share, which has added the garden to its network of community gardens and is providing direct support and resources including irrigation supplies, compost, plants, seeds and funding. Reuben also enlisted the support of multiple local businesses and community groups to provide the additional supplies and funding necessary to get the garden off the ground.

The biggest obstacle in establishing the garden was water. With no water supply at the park, an extensive pipeline had to be built and tied into the closest water main, and the area water utility had to be convinced to allow the garden to use its water at no cost.

Then there is the issue of rainwater. Runoff from the park’s large lawn collects near the garden site and soaks it for extended periods after large storms, so volunteers installed three bioswales to filter and store the water. In periods of prolonged rain, water will flow into the first bioswale, and when it becomes full the overflow will continue to the next swale or two. The system will serve to stop the area from completely flooding, allowing the garden to be built in an area that was often unusable due to excess moisture.

Carla lays pieces of cardboard atop grass while volunteering installing beds at Santana Village Park Garden.

Santana Village Park Garden opened earlier this year with 16 raised beds and will eventually expand to have a total of about 30. Neighbors in the area can rent a bed for about 20 dollars per season. In addition to the 4-by-8-foot beds, the garden will have what Reuben terms a “food forest” – a communal space for berries and fruit trees to grow, with informational signage, so that kids using the park can pick fruit and learn how food is grown.

The garden is a much-needed resource in a neighborhood where outdoor space is scant, Reuben says.

“We wanted to create positive use for people to come and use the park. They don’t have a lot of backyards, and we wanted to create access to green space,” he says. “I think it’s really important to build somewhere for people to be together.”

Support from friends like you make community gardens and spaces like this possible. Thank you!