Up a densely vegetated dirt road near Neal Creek, volunteers have come together to create a garden that will help feed those in need through local food banks.
Part of the Rotary First Harvest project, which has provided more than 135 million of pounds of fresh produce to food banks across Washington and Oregon, the Neal Creek Garden is staffed with volunteer Rotarians and members of the community who work the soil in a section of Ned Shaaf's 7.7-acre property.
Converted from grazing land for sheep and cattle, the garden now grows a wide assortment of produce including potatoes, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, onions, squash and five different varieties of pepper.
"We don't spray chemicals on any of our plants," Shaaf said, squashing a cucumber beetle looking for an easy breakfast. "We've found the bugs don't develop a resistance to crushing the way they would to pesticides."
As an experimental project, the volunteers who staff the garden were unsure whether or not they would be able to make it the success it is growing into.
"We basically just wanted to see if starting and running the garden was a realistic goal with only volunteer labor," Shaaf said.
By 10 a.m. on a recent day at the garden, nine cars lined the driveway with volunteers continuing to filter in throughout the day. Keeping a garden of this size operational is a big job, but the support and interest in the project has proven sufficient to get it off the ground and keep it running.
"Right now we have around 15 or so regulars who come out every Wednesday and Saturday to weed the garden, cut the grass and do anything else that needs done," said Stewart McCullough, a certified master gardener and Rotary member.
Apparently the experiment is turning out to be a success. With the garden flourishing the volunteers are even considering expanding their operation.
Carol Wythe, the president and regional director of Rotary First Harvest said she is grateful for the work of the Ashland Rotary since it is filling a need that was previously not met. As the Ashland Food Bank is not yet part of ACCESS, the organization which the Medford Rotary donates through, it was not eligible for food grown at their garden.
"It's just wonderful to see what they're doing," says Wythe. "We felt so bad about not being able to contribute to the food bank in Ashland."
Shaaf admits that it has certainly been a process of trial and error, but any miscalculations made have been valuable learning opportunities. "This is our first year, so we're making our mistakes this time around."
The garden began as little more than an empty plot of land and an idea, and in less than a year has transformed into a vital asset in the fight against hunger in Ashland, and organizers believe it will grow even larger.
"From little acorns large oak trees grow," Shaaf said.
For more information on the Rotary First Harvest program see www.firstharvest.org.