Wasatch Community Gardens Shows Off its Planter Boxes, Chickens

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune

Walter Kortkamp, a handsome man with a toned body and gray ponytail, stands amid throngs of 30-somethings in biker shorts at Salt Lake City's Wasatch Community Gardens, eyeing rows and rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, spinach, and, yes, even marigolds.

Kortkamp, who has lived in Sugar House for decades, came to the half-acre plot on a hot Saturday morning with his wife, Kitty, for the annual Urban Garden and Farm Tour, to get ideas for their own yard.

Kitty wants to pull up their front lawn and turn it into a permaculture, awash in perennials. Walter is not so sure, but he is impressed by Wasatch's neat columns, overflowing with produce and beauty.

"It's one thing to think about doing this," Walter says. "It's another thing to see how others accomplish it."

Kitty is insistent. "It is essential," she says, "that people learn to feed themselves."

If that is the goal, Saturday's tour is certainly a good starting place.

Wasatch Community Gardens has been fostering local food growth since 1989, which is when the non-profit group secured land to maintain several gardens in Salt Lake City.

Its mission, according to the group's website, is "to empower people of all ages and incomes to grow and eat healthy, organic, local food."

After two decades, it has "sprouted into an organization that serves over 9,000 people each year in our Youth Gardening, Community Gardening, and Education programs."

To that end, the non-profit has a number of programs, including Saturday's tour of 16 gardens, to showcase various ways to organize, plant and grow gardens in urban settings.

On the south side of Wasatch's garden at 800 S. 600 East in Salt Lake City, there are 24 planted beds that are maintained by individuals or families who pay about $30 to $40 a year for water (it is all on a timer-triggered drip system) and tools.

"Some grow enough food for the whole year," says Mike Lynch, who oversees the tour. "And we have a long waiting list of people wanting to do it...A coordinator has 'plot check' days. If one isn't being properly maintained, the [caretakers] get a warning and may ultimately be excused."

Children and teens, who are supervised by experts in urban planting, do much of the work on the north side of that garden while learning the basics. Over the winter, seeds and starts are grown in a greenhouse on the site, and when the time is right, the youths establish them in beds that mingle veggies and flowers.

"It's great for complimentary planting, increases the biodiversity, and it's fun for kids," Lynch says. "Plus, it's better to look at. I love garlic but it doesn't always look good. Flowers are more attractive

Chickens raised at this Wasatch garden and other sites on the tour — up until three years ago the event was called the "Tour de Coops" — and are definitely a draw. Salt Lake City has encouraged residents to grow them, and different municipalities allow it.

That's another reason the Kortkamps are here.

"Chickens," Walter says, "make great pets."

Read full article here in The Salt Lake Tribune.