Growing a Community

by Andrew Werthmann

For years scientists and experts have warned about climate change, our dependence on foreign oil, and the damaging effects of conventional food production. “Going Green” is a term used by many to encompass a divergence from these tendencies, but it’s practicality is far from clear.

A newly formed Eau Claire group is helping to make the Green concept a reality. The Eau Claire Community Garden Association is bringing together citizens, private corporations, and public entities to not only provide a space for residents to garden in the city limits, but additionally, to teach, encourage, and provide support for those interested in growing their own food locally. The garden offers up to 40 rental plots, but also features a “Demonstration” plot which will serve to connect those with “food insecurity” to high quality local produce. This project, termed the Phoenix Garden Project, will offer classes taught by UW-Extension experts, provide free food to those who volunteer, encourage people to plant gardens in their own yards, and offer a percentage of the food grown to the Community Table and campus kitchens.

Central to the garden’s mission, is providing food to those of all economic means. A government report recently found that 49 million people in the US have difficulty accessing and/or purchasing healthy food. Catherine Emmanuelle, an Eau Claire resident living close to the garden stated, “As a parent and someone who is continuously looking to stretch my food budget while making healthy choices for my family, I believe a community garden for the Eau Claire area is exciting and we look forward to the possibilities of what we can grow together.”

“More and more now, people are realizing the importance of local food, whether it’s for health reasons, environmental responsibility, or just getting to know your neighbor a little better,” says Andrew Werthmann, coordinator for the Eau Claire Community Garden Association and current City Councilman, “there is something very powerful that takes place when you can plant a seed in the soil and know you are helping to create a more sustainable world.”

The first garden season will begin next spring, and applications are already available to the public. The City of Eau Claire’s Department of Recreation, Parks, and Forestry is providing logistical support for the project, which is located just north of Phoenix Park in the Forest Street Green Space. Veolia Environmental Services has donated compost, derived from food scraps it collects from the UWEC Cafeteria as well as Luther Midelfort Hospital’s cafeteria. A local chapter of Food Not Lawns is also actively involved—encouraging people to start similar gardens in their own lawns.

“This could not happen without massive collaboration,” said Erica Zerr, East Hill resident and local organizer for Food Not Lawns, “because our mission is to teach, build community, create food security, and encourage sustainable gardening, the project requires many hands.”

Joe Mauer, a local landscape architect, helped the group design and lay-out the gardens. All of the garden plots are aligned with old property lines, a testament to the houses that once occupied the area. “It’s important to realize that everything we do is connected to our heritage, to our past.” Joe said. “At one point, this area was farmed, then it was developed into housing, despite the fact that it is dangerously close to a river. As we revitalize downtown responsibly, we need to keep in mind the area’s limitations, but also its immense possibilities.”

With ties to the past, but an emphasis on creating stronger community and a more sustainable future, the Garden Association believes this effort will be a big success. “The Eau Claire City Council has even discussed the possibility of expanding community gardens into various neighborhoods around the city,” said Dennis Eikenberry, a founding member of the Garden Association and Committee member to the City of Eau Claire’s Waterways and Parks Commission. “The outpouring of support from so many people feels very good. I am certain this garden is the right thing for our community right now.”

To request an application for garden plot rental, please call 715-839-5039 or email To donate or volunteer in the Demonstration Garden, please call 715-495-2451.

Harmony Corner Café: A clean operation

There is very little garbage about Harmony Corner Café. Garbage in the trash can that is. With the bakery in full operation and supplying bread twice a week and scones everyday to Just Local Food and Menomonie Market Co-op, it is unlikely to see much waste going into the garbage can. That is because the owners, Kathy and Greg Brice, are very conscientious about buying local and in bulk, so as to not waste packaging materials and conserve in transportation costs. It is also very important to them to buy local, which in turn helps support the community. Here comes to the garbage factor: eggs and milk are bought from a local farmer, and the containers are returned to reuse; flour and sugar come in large paper sacks, which are taken home to start the backyard campfire (nice on these brisk winter nights!); all other recyclables are taken to the recycling center; and all compostable food scraps and coffee grounds are taken to their home nightly for the garden’s composting center. So what is in the garbage can today? A broken light bulb.

Kathy says that once the café, located at 210 S. Barstow, opens this month, recycling and composting the garbage won’t change at all; it will just be on a larger scale. Much research has been done to provide compostable to-go containers for their customers. Made mostly of corn, these containers can break down within 45 days without the help of oxygen and water. The plastic bag used for carry-out food and bread is biodegradable as well. A new additive is used in the production of the plastic bag that allows degrading of the bag within nine months in landfill conditions, and the bags are still completely recyclable. Shelf-life and reliability is not affected.

Harmony Corner Café also supports fair-trade products as well. Coffee, tea, chocolate, and bananas, which are generally imported, are purchased as organic and fair-trade. Fair-trade supports paying the farmers a livable wage and supports sustainable farming practices.

Harmony Corner Café will be open Monday through Saturday, 7am to 10pm. Some breakfast items, tea and coffee drinks, including lattes and cappuccinos, real fruit smoothies, Panini sandwiches, organic salads, many desserts, and more. Free Internet and live music with full bar.