Seeds of change: Evergreen Community Garden to open in May – Daily Inter Lake


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April 25, 2021 12: 00 AM

Pastor Craig Nissen takes a moment to relax during a workday at the Evergreen Community Garden Monday, April 12.
Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake

There’s something big growing in Evergreen. In a grassy expanse behind Calvary Lutheran Church, are the beginnings of the Evergreen Community Garden.

The land has been tilled, fertilized, and a fence installed. In the coming weeks, what is now a blank slate of soil will continue its transformation into a community space for growing organic produce and forging connections.

By the end of May, organizers plan to open the gates with 28 plots, along with communal growing areas for things like sunflowers, corn and peas. One plot will be reserved to grow vegetables that will be used in the church’s free Thursday night meal, with any surplus going to local food banks. Picnic tables, a horseshoe pit, bees and birdhouses will be added over the course of the season, adding to the burgeoning new life at the garden.

Getting this far has taken many hands, but it all started with a simple idea from one parishioner who wanted to see her church and community thrive.

“We had a couple of people that we had to bury and it made me think — what could we do to keep the church growing?” said Katie Reiss, of Kalispell.

She looked out behind the church one afternoon last fall and suddenly, it clicked.

“We had all this property behind us, this huge lot, doing nothing,” she recalled. “What better than to start a garden for the people in the area? “There are a lot of people in Evergreen that don’t have everything, so why not create an inexpensive way for them to come and grow their own food?”

She figured that a garden would be a safe place for folks to gather even during a pandemic and it could help generate interest in the church, although Reiss noted that there would be no requirement to join — the garden would be open to all, regardless of religious affiliation.

She got the OK from the church council, which agreed to donate the land and water, and enlisted the help of members Nina Anderson and Yvonne Nelson to get the project off the ground. They got the word out by posting fliers in nearby neighborhoods, speaking to community groups and setting up an online presence. Reiss and Anderson visited other community gardens to get ideas and hashed out plans for the layout of the space and components — like tall crop areas, a community plot and picnic area — that they wanted to include.

With a blueprint in place, the next hurdle they faced was funding.

First on the list was installing a fence on the perimeter of the garden.

Reiss contacted Mild Fence in October 2020 and expected they’d have until March of the following year to raise the funds needed. But it wasn’t long before she received a call — Mild Fence had an opening in their schedule the very next week.

She addressed the congregation that Sunday and informed them that while half of the money had already been donated, the Evergreen Garden was still $2,000 short.

“That same day a parishioner came up to me and said how much do you need? I told them and they said, OK I’ll write you a check,” Reiss recalled. “I went in the bathroom and cried because I couldn’t believe it.”

While she didn’t know it then, that moment was the first of many acts of generosity she’d come to witness.

Dirk Lybeck offered to till the land for free.

Barton Morse volunteered to start plants for gardeners who couldn’t afford their own.

Two Thumbs Up Landscaping agreed to run water pipes from the church to the garden at no charge.

People and businesses were coming out of the woodwork to do what they could to make the Evergreen Community Garden possible. And now, thanks to many helping hands, they’re in the home stretch.

“It’s our way of saying welcome,” Pastor Craig Nissen said. “We’re not saying come [to the garden] so that we can get you in here — if it just stays there and we meet some new friends, I’m good with that.”

About half of the plots have been spoken for, but more than a dozen are still available. Gardners pay $30 per season for the use of their gardening space, however plot scholarships are also available for those who cannot afford the fee. No gardening experience is required to participate — many green-thumb gardeners have volunteered to offer instruction and tips to newcomers. Those who want to get involved, but aren’t ready to sign up for a plot, can assist in other ways such as taking part in a garden work day, donating hand tools or shovels or planting and weeding the donation plot and shared crops.

“On top of a year where we’ve all been cutoff and socially distanced for COVID, the garden is a place where we can encourage community,” Nissen said. “I want to see us engage folks and create spaces and situations where people are looked after and cared for.”

Katie Reiss, Yvonne Nelson and Pastor Craig Nissen spread manure on the soil at the Evergreen Community Garden on Monday, April 12.
Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake

Yvonne Nelson, Pastor Craig Nissen and Lowell Nelson fertilize the soil at the Evergreen Community Garden on Monday, April 12.
Courtesy Dan Hafferman

Yvonne and Lowell Nelson distribute manure on the Evergreen Community Garden while Rick Reiss looks on.
Courtesy Dan Hafferman

Evergreen Community Garden founders Yvonne Nelson, Katie Reiss, Nina Anderson and Pastor Craig Nissen, are pictured at the garden in December 2020.
Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake

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