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Feeding the Stomach and Soul through Community Gardening

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Keri Beirdneau

They say sharing is caring, and for Keri Beirdneau, participating in a community garden might just be the epitome of sharing. 

Community Action Services and Food Bank operates four community gardens in Provo, and anyone is welcome to rent a plot.

Beirdneau has done just that over the past several years, growing from a gardening novice to a gardening teacher as she’s shared produce, knowledge, and friendship.

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Five years ago, a member of Beirdneau’s church congregation announced that there was about to be a frost and asked if anyone would like leftover tomatoes from the community garden. 

Community garden? Beirdneau was taken aback. She had been growing a little garden in her neighbor’s yard and had no idea that there were larger-scale options available. 

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So, she looked into it and became a gardener at one of CASFB’s community gardens. That first year was an inspiring launchpad for Beirdneau’s newfound dedication to gardening. 

“At first, I didn’t know the difference between a weed and a crop!” she admited. 

But with experts and novices participating, they learned in the dirt together, elbow to elbow. 

“There were about 20 families participating, and we had a bumper crop,” Beirdneau said. 

“My family ended up with 50 pounds of tomatoes right before the frost! Community gardens have so much potential to provide a lot of food in a small space if there are hands to help.” 

Beirdneau continued gardening with the community garden, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the gardeners could no longer work elbow to elbow—they had to work on individual plots. 

“That forced me to go smaller and focus on aesthetic rather than widespread planting,” she said. “We took on two plots.” 

YouTube has proven a valuable learning resource. Beirdneau has eagerly searched for inspiration and tutorials, and the results have been beautiful. 

She has created spiraling configurations, trellises, and arch trellises among their sunflowers, corn, and other crops. Unfortunately, the number of gardeners had dwindled, and recent participants have only included Beirdneau, her three young sons, and a college student. 

With that original feeling of community dwindling, she wanted to rekindle it through sharing what she was learning. 

“I was homeschooling due to COVID and was a member of a few Facebook homeschooling groups,” she said. “I wanted to put feelers out, so I created an event for a homeschooling gardening class.” All the spots were filled within the first day, and the class was a hit. 

“It was so nice,” she said. “I kept hearing from moms, ‘We needed to get out!’ They told me the garden was like a sanctuary: a secret garden.” 

Beirdneau has found that sharing knowledge is a crucial and enriching part of the gardening experience. 

“When people are new to gardening, I tell them to find a communal garden,” she said. Learning to garden can be like drinking from a firehose, so “if you can have people looking over your shoulder, telling you what to do, . . . you’ll build your passion without fizzling it out.” 

When asked what she has learned from her community gardening experience, Beirdneau immediately answered, “The necessity of community.” When gardening alone this past season, she missed having people to share knowledge with and learn from. 

“Emotionally, it is so vital for all of us to feel like we have a place where we’re contributing and growing,” she said. 

“That’s the biggest thing that I’ve benefited from with the garden.” 

She encourages people to find an activity or group in their community and get involved. 

“The more people that pursue their passions and fill themselves up emotionally, the better off the world will be,” she concluded. 

“Find your thing, love it, and share it with others.” 

For more information on the community gardens at CASFB, visit communityactionprovo.org/food/#community-gardens

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