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Some flowers still bloom in a planter at Billings Park in Superior recently. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

UWS survey focuses on community gardens

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Three paths collided this fall, and the resulting synergy could boost Superior's dose of summer green. University of Wisconsin-Superior students will soon begin surveying residents north of the campus to find out what community gardens are already in the area and whether people would like to see some start up. The students will be going door-to-door in the neighborhood that stretches from Belknap to Winter Street and west to John Avenue.

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Like a raspberry bush, the concept of community gardens has taken root.

"As we work through this, we find more and more people interested," said Dara Fillmore, the UWS senior helming the project.

The college is taking a multi-disciplinary, collaborative look at what Deb Augsburger, assistant professor of anthropology, described as a larger piece of the food movement.

"Each year, I grow more impressed by the amazing gardens that are being developed in the residential yards throughout Superior," said Jane Anklam, horticulture and agriculture educator with UW-Extension. "People are producing healthy local food and spending time outside in the sunshine and the rain talking with their neighbors. That increases quality of life in Superior along with healthy lifestyle."

Community gardens take that idea another step forward as people grow food for each other or individual families. But they cost money and require a long-term commitment. It's not an "if you build it they will come" sort of project, Anklam said. While there are some community gardens in the county, most are relatively small and scattered.

"What would it take to have something dedicated to growing food and community as part of the structure of the county or city or township?" Anklam asked. "This coordinated survey and community garden project will help us to approach the opportunity with eyes wide open."

As part of her anthropology in the community class, Fillmore chose to identify existing community gardens in Superior and find out if there is interest in creating more. Political science professor Haji Dokhanchi was seeking an academic service learning component for his introduction to political science class. And local master gardeners were wondering which Douglas County residents wanted help making their neighborhoods bloom. The paths converged and the project grew. Along with the door-to-door survey, Fillmore has created a survey for churches, businesses and other organizations to gauge their interest in community gardens.

"What we will do will depend on what the answers are," said Fillmore, who is also a master gardener. "I'm just trying to figure out what's there."

The project doesn't have a single focus, such as building a community garden on campus, Dokhanchi said. Instead, it aims for a community-wide view. The results will be given to master gardeners so they can either help build gardens or teach at already established sites.

Fillmore created the surveys, keeping in mind the need for open-ended questions. She also stepped into a teaching role to help prepare the political science students for their hands-on lesson in civic engagement.

"It seems a lot of students don't get out," she said, but the project could encourage them to get more involved with the community.

Political science isn't just about other people in other places, Dokhanchi said. And anthropology isn't merely the study of exotic people on the other side of the world, Augsburger said.

"They can identify local situations," Dokhanchi said, and ask themselves, "What can you do for the community?"

Fillmore will be giving a presentation on the project to the Lake Superior Master Gardeners at 6 p.m. Monday in room 127 of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. The meeting is free and open to the public. Anyone interested is welcome to attend. Dokhanchi said churches and organizations interested in taking the survey can contact him at 715-394-8484 or email kdokhanc@uwsuper.edu.

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