Feeding Ourselves, Feeding the County: A Story of the Middletown Community Garden

September 20, 2021

The early spring day feels sunny and warm, easily in the low 70’s.  Sparrow Daydancer and Punkie Lachnit sit on a raised garden bed filled with budding purple and green kale, sharing about their work with the Middletown Community Garden. Started in 2018 as part of North Coast Opportunities (NCO) Gardens Project, it serves as a place for gardeners and aspiring gardeners to work a plot of land.

“We’re almost all novices learning here,” Sparrow says, her long gray-white hair pulled back in a ponytail.  “We’re all learning together.  But you have the freedom to be different and to try out different things.”

“Yes,” Punkie says.  Her pink lipstick accents her pink shoes, pink shirt, pink nails, and pink shoelaces. “You don’t have to be a master gardener to have a garden. You can come and learn with us.” She smiles, her bobbed hair framing her face. “We’ve got people from kids to eighty-year-olds who come and garden.”

Sparrow ticks off a few of the people who have plots.  “We’ve got a master gardener, a church, a chef, the Middletown Senior Center, and families who all come and work plots. You can be anyone from anywhere.”

Bees buzz among the violets and mustard growing in a member’s edible flower garden. Lizards scoot across the wood chips between the different garden beds, hunting insects. Along one side of the fence, separated by pallets, sit several compost bins in different stages of readiness.

Everything a person needs to start a garden is here, from dirt, to water, to seeds.

“We’ve got a whole catalog of seeds in our shed,” Punkie says. “So you can start your garden with them if you choose. The Gardens Project gives those to us.  And we take some of the seeds and donate them to the seed library at The Middletown Library, so the rest of the community can enjoy them as well.  You don’t have to have seeds to start a garden plot.”

Red, orange, and yellow prayer flags dangle from screens built for bean and pea vines, flapping gently in the breeze.   A raised water garden stands next to them, koi poking their heads through the surface, creating small circles in the water.

“We garden not just for food,” Punkie says, walking among the garden beds. “We do it for physical and mental health as well. I like to come and work in the garden for a few hours, and it puts everything in perspective.”

Photo by Sparrow Daydancer

“I love it,” Sparrow adds.  “I can come here and find people to chat with, or I can come here and not find people. Then I can focus on my work in the garden. And we grow far too much food to eat ourselves, so we share our produce.”

“I have an elderly lady that I give cherry tomatoes to once a week,” Punkie says. “She appreciates them so much. We also donate our food to the Middletown Senior Center and the Methodist Church. And we give away gift baskets at the Middletown Farmers’ Market as well.”

Each garden bed has a unique style.  Some gardeners add paths; some have moveable barriers that change with the seasons. Some grow Okra and peppers; others grow kale and parsley. Some are simple; others are complex microclimates. There is as much variety as there are people working plots.

“We learn from each other,” Punkie says.  “And each year we learn something new.”

“Now we have rules,” Sparrow says, and Punkie nods in agreement.  “One is that you can’t touch anything in another person’s garden, not even to remove weeds, or pick a leaf.  That way, it doesn’t cause problems.”

“But everything on the perimeter of the garden is for everyone,” Punkie adds, gesturing to the fence line, where large artichoke plants and other vegetables sit.  “Those plants we all can enjoy together.”

The tour is nearing an end when a young girl walks through the gate, eyes wide with curiosity.

“What are you doing here?” she asks, curiously eyeing the garden beds. Her brother and mother follow close behind her.  Punkie springs into action.

“This is a community garden,” she begins explaining as she slowly ushers them between the garden beds. Anyone can come.”

If you don’t have a garden and would like one, consider joining a community garden.  Currently, Middletown has several plots available at the cost of .60/sf. If you would like one, contact Punkie at (707)-245-5671 or p_lachnit@yahoo.com.  However, if Middletown is too far away, don’t worry.  There are community gardens throughout the county. To find one, visit the Gardens Project website for a list. With over 55 community gardens in Lake and Mendocino Counties, you’re sure to find one that works for you.

If you don’t have the time for your own garden plot, you can always volunteer.  The Middletown Community Garden has had volunteers from the CCC, AmeriCorps, and people performing community service.  It’s a good chance to earn some volunteer hours and spend time in a garden as well.

This article first appeared in The Bloom. To read more like it, visit their website.