Support fades for community garden at Billings Farm

There is plenty of water, dirt, and sunshine for growing the community garden started last year for homeless and low-income people at Billings Farm near Ashland, but hardly enough interest, said the land owner.

Locals' efforts to establish the garden blossomed last August, but just one person from last year's program returned to garden at the farm this spring, said Mary James, whose family has owned Billings Farm since 1858.

"I'm still open to people coming and working in the garden in exchange for produce," she said. "It was a really good idea, it just didn't seem to pan out."

Before entering the site, north of Ashland at 1140 Jackson Road, all participants are required to sign an agreement, said James. The contract includes a health waiver, a work-trade agreement and a mandatory code of conduct. Illegal drugs, alcohol, smoking, fighting and overnight camping are prohibited on the property.

The garden is open only to local homeless individuals and Ashland residents who fall below the federal poverty line.

In the past, participants were asked to work five to six hours per week in the garden or around the farm. In exchange, they would receive two or three small baskets of food per week, depending on the availability of produce.

The garden's personal plot program allows participants to build a 4-foot-by-8-foot raised bed to maintain and harvest on their own. Participants also must work one hour in the community garden for every bed they build.

Emery Way, 25, a Southern Oregon University student who was a lead organizer of the effort, did not return phone messages left Thursday.

James said "the organizers have all ceased to organize."

Ashland Citizens for the Homeless Coalition discussed and promoted the project last summer but have not given the project any attention recently, records show.

"I'm definitely going to make an announcement about it at Uncle Food's Diner, and we'll see what happens," said Ashland City Councilor Carol Voisin, who also sits on the coalition. "I think it's a wonderful idea."

The property's garden area is a third of an acre, and an adjacent quarter-acre plot is ready to be tilled and planted. In its entirety, Billings Farm is 140 acres, she said. Last year about 15 people worked at the garden, and there was room for at least 10 more, organizers said.

"Most of these people want instant reward, and gardening is not an instant-reward type of thing," James said, "It's lots and lots and lots of hard work for a little bit of reward a few months later."

James said she has a long history of extending help to people who are in need. She has housed runaways, traded money and food for work around the farm, and signed up the property to fulfill community service hours for troubled teens, she said.

"If somebody wants to come knock on my door about doing it then that's fine," said James. "I still have lot of space, and there is a lot more that still needs to be planted."

She said she will work people into her existing garden, or let them maintain their own plot.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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