Community gardening seen as a gas saver, neighborhood builder

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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High gas prices could just provide the push to get people back in their backyard gardens. Auburn clinical nutritionist James McAfee believes that once they’re there and growing fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, they’ll not only save on gas but find some joy in the experience as well as dirt under their fingernails. McAfee’s own city lot in Auburn is a veritable garden of eatin’ with fruit trees and vegetable patches covering almost all his yard’s available space. On Saturday, he invited 18 people – many of them neighbors – to share in the bounty and learn more about how they can grow their own. The group sampled home-made ice cream flavored with fruit grown from McAfee’s bountiful crop this spring. McAfee said he’s hoping neighbors will join him in developing a community garden and working together to grow food. And at a time when apples are $1 apiece in some instances, money – in the form of backyard branches laden with apples – really is growing on trees. Gas savings are just part of the equation, McAfee said. “Gardens save trips to the grocery store,” he said. “In the summer, I hardly shop for food because I live in my garden.” In the winter, beans he dried during the summer provide the basis for meals like chili. The garden also stakes him with seeds for the next harvest season. The time was ripe Saturday to tell others about a move toward gardening for food. “There’s been an incredible interest in this tour,” McAfee said, after showing visitors around a yard filled with everything from apricot trees to loquats. “Even in a small area, a person can grow a substantial amount of food they can eat that’s pesticide and herbicide free,” he said. “And it can be like a mini-cooperative as you get to know your neighbors – just like the old days.” Visiting from Arnold, Ruth Mercer said the talk by McAfee was extremely informative but added that the amount of work involved appeared daunting. She added that she came away with some new thoughts on composting and using bamboo stakes as a way to discourage deer from entering the property. Bob Payton, an agricultural engineer from Gold Beach, Ore., was a special guest at the tour. Currently the farm consultant at the Weimar Institute and Wellness Center, Payton said education will be the tipping point in bringing the world’s population around to providing clean soil and water. “It’s a big job but things are starting to grow now,” Payton said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at