Community Roots is beginning its 6th year as a program of KEA.  Community Roots began in 2007 with the Local Food Share Program which collects surplus produce from the Farmers Market and backyard gardeners and redistributes it to the many food assistance facilities in our community.  To date Local Food Share has provided  approximately 30,000 lbs of fruits and vegetables to those that would otherwise do without.

Four years ago we expanded the Community Roots program to form Kootenai County’s first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation.  At the beginning of the season Shareholders invested in the planting, farming and harvesting of produce and were rewarded each week with a box of organically grown vegetables.  The charitable component of Local Food Share was incorporated into the CSA in the form of discounted “work” shares that allowed participants to help grow and harvest the food in exchange for their share at a reduced cost.   Our CSA in Dalton Gardens ended last season when the land that was being farmed is no longer available.

What does this mean for Community Roots?  Although the implementation of a CSA is suspended indefinitely, there is a brand new project in the works.

In 2012 Community Roots partnered with North Idaho College to build a garden on an unused section along the education corridor.  Transforming this “brown field” from a neglected vacant lot to a blooming, productive growing spot is a big challenge.  An all-volunteer Steering Committee has been formed and the ideological seeds have been planted to build an urban farming and garden education center.  This new program has been named The Gathering Garden in reference to its original use as a gathering spot for indigenous tribes and later housed one of the many sawmills that signified the economic base of the region.

This year the Community Roots Gathering Garden will be the hands-on classroom for a number of interns participating in the Work Ready Program, a 5-step employment readiness training program for at-risk youth administered by Crosswalk North Idaho (formerly Project Safe Place).  Participants will gain experience in various organic growing practices, water conservation, tool safety, soil remediation, seed selection and planting as well as marketing strategies, customer service and money handling for the food they will be growing to sell.

Plans are in the works to erect a large hoop house, build raised beds, compost bins, develop a pond to teach water ecology, plant berry bushes, augment the soil to increase fertility and generally nurture a long neglected piece of ground back to health and productivity.

The Gathering Garden is an all-volunteer effort and if you would like to join in the fun, make a donation of time or materials or give a monetary contribution, call the KEA office ( 208) 667-9093 and find out how you can be one of the “many hands that make work light.”