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A student organization will develop a community garden in College Place this Spring

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Future community garden from an aerial view

This is an aeral location of the community garden that wiill be developed in the Spring by 20 students from Walla Walla University's Enactus organization.

This story has been modified since its initial publication to reflect a correction.

COLLEGE PLACE — Seeds for a community garden were planted last week in the city.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved the lease of 0.22 acres of property for $1 to Walla Walla University. A student organization, Enactus, will build a community garden and make plots available to the community. The garden will be adjacent to the city Fire Department on the northeast corner of the building in an area previously known as Veterans Park.

WWU Assistant professor of management and marketing George Perez approached the city about establishing a community garden in this space for an Enactus project.

Enactus is an international student organization made up of 72,000 students, according to its website.

“Guided by educators and supported by business leaders, teams of students conduct needs assessments in their community, identify potential solutions to complex issues and implement community impact projects,” according to the site. Communities benefit from their collaboration and students gain experience.

The Walla Walla chapter of Enactus, made up of 20 students, uses students’ entrepreneurial passion and drive and applies it to social enterprise concepts. These concepts develop into projects that allow the students to use their business knowledge for practical purpose, Perez said.

The group will build a community garden from the plot of land. They will divide the land into planting beds, develop a watering system and distribute the planting beds to the community, Perez said.

“I believe it will be a good thing for our community,” the City Administrator Mike Rizzitello said.

The site already has water infrastructure and the University will pay for supplying the labor and supplies to construct the garden and planting beds, he said.

“They would have to pay the water bill for what is used out there, they would be responsible for maintaining it in an orderly fashion, making sure they abide by the set of nuisance and weed codes,” Rizzitello said.

Charges will be applied to rent garden beds by the University, in order to cover the cost of water and necessary development and maintenance.

“The funds that are derived from it have to be used on it,” Rizzitello said.

The group also hopes to apply for two more plots of land to implement a new concept they have been working on, Perez said.

One concept discussed was a salsa garden where the group creates a business that is self-sustaining for people of low-income or single-income backgrounds and language and job market barriers, Perez said.

Enactus uses entrepreneurial action to address problems, which is how the idea of a community garden developed. The students identified that language barriers create isolation and lack of opportunities, and they want to empower people to become self employed in their community, Perez said.

As a group they conducted a needs assessment for College Place, where they identified that one of the needs of a community is a space to connect with other people. This led to the idea of creating an opportunity for people to interact and grow their own vegetables. This addresses problems the community faces like mental illness and obesity, he said.

The group wants people to be held accountable for their lots so they will charge something symbolic for the person to use the garden plot, like an annual or monthly fee. They would also like to create a series of events around the garden to connect and engage gardeners, he said.

“The students would create a system where they will provide training and tools through the city and retailers,” Perez said. “They would have partners come teach people using the plots how to farm onions, peppers, jalapeños, and cilantro.”

Tomatoes would be collected from farmers who have excess tomatoes, the Perez said.

The vegetables will be used to create salsa, spaghetti sauce and salad that can then be sold to retailers. Profits would go back to the farmers using the community garden, he said.

“Students will apply everything they learn in school like budgeting, calculating costs, accounting … and will produce a package for individuals (farmers) to run the business independently,” Perez said.

The community garden project will start up in the spring when students come back to school to start a new quarter.

Chloe LeValley can be reached at chloelevalley@wwub.com or 509-526-8326.