Many of you may know that the community garden at English Ranch Park is one of four community gardens that are part of a city pilot program in 2013. Northern Colorado has a long agricultural history, mostly big ag, that is evolving with the ever growing population on the Front Range. Fort Collins has seen some tremendous growth in just the last 10 years that I’ve been here, and shows no real signs of slowing down. Especially with all the nationally recognized top spots the city achieves, like best place to live, etc. You know the best thing about a best kept secret? It stays a secret! But that, my friends, is another story.
This particular garden, the one at English Ranch Park, has experienced opposition since the beginning. Installed in 2013, Fort Collins received no critique prior to the installation. However, criticism that followed from the local community indicated the city’s communications and request for feedback prior were vague and unclear resulting in a lack of input. A small group of residents made complaints that the community garden is an eyesore, it takes away from open space for children to play, and the garden only serves 12 people with plots, one plot being for Linton Elementary.
Supporters of the park contend that the garden takes up only 3700 square feet within the 15 acre park. The gardens have the longest waiting list in the city, and the garden donated over 100 pounds of food to the food bank. Kids from the elementary school also have the opportunity to learn about growing food and farm to table.
In response to the debate, Fort Collins sent out a survey to residents. Out of 236 responses, 94 requested the park be removed. The remaining 142 voted to keep it in one form or another, move it within the park or modify it to make it more attractive for those who voiced aesthetic concerns. Last year the decision was made to keep the park, and to make improvements to it, like painting the shed, lowering the fence, and adding landscaping.
Since that the decision, opposers to the gardens addressed City Council with a petition of approximately 238 signatures, calling for the removal of the gardens. The City continued to meet with those opposed to the garden through a meeting at the gardens and a January 31st meeting at the Council Tree Library. Apparently, these meetings were not opened up to supporters of the gardens. As a result, the city decided to remove the gardens because contenders of the gardens would not agree to any alternate locations within the 15 acre park, and would only agree to total removal. I don’t know about you, I’m going to insert my own opinion in here, but 15 acres is a pretty big area. The above “eyesore” is an insignificant amount of space to allow folks to come together and plant a garden. In a city with a lot of rules and HOA’s governing the property folks own, I can’t fathom where the naysayers are coming from by denying that in a “community” park. Just sayin’. It is one reason why I owned a home in a community without an HOA when I lived in Fort Collins myself. And maybe I’m wrong, but a community is based on compromise for the good of all, not just a few. Again, just sayin’.
Those with plots were given a little over a week to remove their plants and supplies, identifiying February 15, 2015 as the removal date for the gardens. The city indicated to residents with plots thar they would continue to look for an alternate location, outside of English Ranch Park, and gardeners with a plot for the 2015 season would receive priority for available slots in the Gardens on Spring Creek.
Since that time, organizers have been rallying to save the gardens. a rally was held at the gardens, letters were sent to city council and there is a petition that gathered nearly 400 names in a matter of days. The following points are currently being considered by the city:
- There is much public support for community gardens in general in Fort Collins.
- City Council has supported the creation and implementation of community gardens, including plans to install a garden in the new Southeast Community Park.
- Staff are working to find an alternative location for the community garden currently located in English Ranch Park.
- All salvageable materials will be saved from the garden and will be re-used for future community gardens.
- A new application process has been created for additional community gardens, emphasizing a high level of neighborhood support prior to the installation of a community garden, in an effort to identify neighborhood concerns and bring those to reolution prior to future installations.
Last I heard, the city announced that they would delay the removal of the gardens and allow time for supporters to argue their case and to conduct a mediation with representatives on both sides of the issue. So, while more time has been obtained, the garden is still at risk.
To sign the online petition, click here!
For more information check out the city’s webpage, or to voice your concerns or opinion, contact Jeff Mihelich, ICMA-CM, Deputy City Manager, PO Box 580, Fort Collins, CO 80522 or (970) 221-6684.