New garden sprouts in Holladay thanks to donations, volunteers

Community effort • Students and refugee families will plant, grow and harvest produce.
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HOLLADAY – The bustling in an old farmland patch here just goes to show that to build a garden, it takes a village.

Add to that a county, a school district, a neighboring city, generous donors and hoards of enthusiastic volunteers, and you've got what's being called the Mount Olympus Community Garden.

The wooden garden boxes, filled with rich, crumbly earth, will soon become a resource for public school students and refugees. The grand opening celebration is planned for May 4.

"It's just been a feel-good project," said Jani Iwamoto, a Salt Lake County councilwoman and prime mover behind the new garden. "It never would have been this scope without all the people."

Iwamoto was inspired to start school gardens years ago, after hearing about a similar project in California. Then, last year, things started coming together.

She found out about a weedy three-acre lot on 4500 South and 2700 East, across the street from an LDS ward house. It was owned by Salt Lake City and maintained by the City of Holladay.

Granite School District, which operates Howard R. Driggs Elementary just beyond the ward house and Olympus Junior High down the road, expressed interest in the project.

So did the International Rescue Committee, which collaborates with the Utah Refugee Coalition and Salt Lake County on the New Roots gardening program to help refuges transition into American society. With a new fire station sprouting up in its old garden space, the Mount Olympus garden is coming at a good time, said IRC's Grace Henley.

"We're able to use the site as a training ground," she said, "and to provide access to supplemental food to a large number of families."

New Roots is planning monthly workshops. It also will provide seeds, seedlings, tools and advice, to help the refugee gardeners make the most out of their new plots.

Donations from lumber suppliers, Zwick Construction and Tom Rosenberg's Dry Creek Charity helped secure materials for the plank-lined garden boxes. Iwamoto's son – with help from her husband – built a storage shed for an Eagle Scout project. And, not too long ago, a passer-by rolled in with a tiller to make additional garden space.

A pavilion is being built — with volunteer labor and donated materials — to provide shade.

Now there is ample growing space for the students to tend some of the boxes and for 27 refugee families to cultivate plots to sustain themselves and to grow their futures.

Paul Fetzer, a neighbor of Iwamoto's and an advanced master gardener at Thanksgiving Point, has been perhaps the most devoted volunteer so far.

Bundled against a spring drizzle and chill one recent morning, his wheelbarrow filled with soil boosters, he wore a smile of joyful satisfaction as he stopped to look over the neat rows of planting boxes, piles of soil additives, inherited fruit trees at the site's eastern edge and grand Mount Olympus beyond.

It was as if he already could see the rows filled with gardeners planting and weeding and harvesting "everything from asparagus to zucchini."

Besides elbow grease and expertise, Fetzer has supplied lumber — recycled from the roof of his old cabin — for benches. And donated redwood stumps will make fine seating.

"The garden can only be successful with volunteers," Fetzer said. "And showing up is the biggest qualification for a volunteer."

Twitter: @judyfutah