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a community garden association sprouts up

Katie Venit |

THE CGI ON THOSE GARDENS IS AMAZING. Association member Joe Maurer’s rendering of how the block-style community gardens would look on the south side of the 13-acre space, with the Chippewa River on the right, Forest Street on the top left, and a bike path extension winding through the middle.

The way Andrew Werthmann sees it, creating an organic community garden is a hands-on way to help save the world, one that nicely complements what the City of Eau Claire is already trying to achieve with green legislation. “You can take votes and do legislation on the city level or state level, but really this community garden is an on-the-ground, action-oriented step. Being a part of this effort is being part of a greater effort of greening our city. In my opinion there’s nothing bigger than that.”

Although he has spent much of his adult life working in politics, city councilman Werthmann grew up working on a CSA farm, so he thinks about the importance of community-based agriculture a lot. Some time ago, he walked by the Forest Street green space in downtown Eau Claire and thought it would be great for a community garden. Dennis Eikenberry approached him a few years later to be part of what they have dubbed the Eau Claire Community Garden Association, an unofficial advisory committee that helps guide the city towards that goal.

Members include experts in agriculture and landscape architecture, and also folks just dedicated to locally grown produce and community development. Eikenberry started bringing together this A-Team of urban agriculture after Phil Fieber, director of Parks and Recreation, asked what he thought of the idea of a community garden on Forest Street. One major first step was for the association to gauge interest among residents of the North River Fronts Neighborhood through meetings and door-to-door canvassing.  Enthusiasm was abundant, and the city decided to go with the idea.

The garden is still in the planning stages. Although the city owns the land and will make the ultimate decisions on how big it will be and what the land will be used for, the association has been drawing on its expertise to pass along detailed suggestions and plans for what could be built now and what could be added in years to come.

    Catherine Emmanuelle is excited about the possibilities. “This is really the time to be dreaming. Not just about what it looks like today, but what the garden is going to look like in five years, and 10 years, and 20 years. And part of this dreaming is that everyone will be included. Everyone is welcome.”

One proposed idea for the community garden is a sample plot where people can go and volunteer their time if they don’t have a plot of their own. The produce from those sample plots would be donated to local organizations that might not otherwise have access to fresh produce. Even before breaking ground, the association has started this tradition of giving with a fall equinox ceremony that was held on the spot of the future garden plots. Attendees brought tons of local food to be donated to community organizations.

Each association member has something they are most fired up about, but the common thread is the belief that this community garden is important and special. “In a microcosmic way, it’s about growing food. In a macrocosmic way, it’s about creating a sustainable world. You could say this is our cultural revolution,” said Werthmann.

    Although it’s not an official group or club, you can contact the association through their website if you’d like to be involved. To apply for a plot, head to The applications should be available in November. Normally community garden applications are due in the spring, but the city needs them for this site in the fall so it can determine how many plots to till before the ground freezes.