New campus for Wasatch Community Gardens will take root in 2020, but it needs to collect $200K before Jan. 2

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Grateful Tomato Garden in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019.

It’s one of the first days of winter, and nothing seems to be growing at the Grateful Tomato Garden.

Yellow straw covers the rows where peppers, beets and, of course, tomatoes flourished this summer. The hoop house is covered in plastic, and the chickens and goats are huddled in their respective coops and pens.

Dig a little deeper, though, and something new is taking root.

In 2020, Wasatch Community Gardens’ signature Salt Lake City campus, 615 E. 800 South, will undergo an expansion that includes more gardens, a greenhouse, indoor classrooms, a kitchen, a community center, office space and — in a twist mandated by the city — an eight-unit affordable apartment complex.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Grateful Tomato Garden in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019.

All combined the 1.2-acre project will cost $6.2 million, Executive Director Ashley Patterson said.

The nonprofit is in the homestretch of its fundraising, still needing to collect about $200,000 before Jan. 2. If it reaches that goal, Patterson said, it would qualify for all of a $2 million matching grant available from the Alternative Visions Fund.

Year-end donations can be made on the website: https://wasatchgardens.org/.

The changes will allow for classes and programs to start earlier in the spring and extend later into the fall, Patterson said. It also will help WCG serve a larger, more diverse population and solidify its place as a community hub.

Construction is expected to start in summer.

Seeds for the campus expansion were planted years ago. In 2016, the WCG received a special property easement that permanently protected the land for agricultural use. The next year, it was able to buy three properties — and accompanying homes — directly east of the original garden.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Grateful Tomato Garden in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019.

WCG plans to maintain the historic structures for the expansion, Patterson said. The wooden building, set back from the street, will become an indoor kitchen and workshop, while brick bungalows will serve as on-site office space. Currently, WCG’s offices are blocks away, at ArtSpace, 824 S. 400 West.

“We don’t see it as a challenge,” Patterson said of the building upgrades. "We see it as an opportunity to maintain these historic structures.”

The city approved a zoning change to allow for the mixed use of offices, she said, but in return it asked WCG to replaced with much-needed affordable housing that would be lost, adding to the project’s price tag.

“It’s a little outside of our scope,” Patterson acknowledged. But it "helps the city solve a social problem, and we get a long-term revenue stream that helps bring our vision to fruition.”

The eight rental units will be located on the northeast corner of the project on Green Street. They will be small, about 420 square feet each. They will have a net zero energy-efficient designs and will be priced to meet 60% of the area median income level, Patterson said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Grateful Tomato Garden in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019.

It’s an ideal location, too, close to a TRAX station and near Liberty Park and Salt Lake City’s 9th and 9th neighborhood, which has a grocery store, restaurants and several locally owned shops, Patterson said.

The biggest perk, though, may be having the Grateful Tomato Garden, one of the city’s premier community agriculture sites, as a neighbor. In addition to large gardens, where individuals and families of all income levels can grow food, it’s the primary location for WCG’s youth programs, summer camps, educational workshops and community events.

It is just one of 16 community gardens managed by WCG throughout Salt Lake County.

In 2018, 437 households — 57% of which were low-income per federal standards — grew their food in one of our community gardens, Patterson said. In addition, 82 refugee gardeners participated through a partnership with the International Rescue Committee.

WCG also manages two job-training farms, including the Green Team. The program for women experiencing homelessness and single mothers living in poverty is located near the Rio Grande. Earlier this year, a fire burned the shipping containers the team used to grow seeds.

The expansion project is just the latest change for Wasatch Community Gardens, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2019.

It launched in 1989, as a project of Crossroads Urban Center and was called Wasatch Fish & Gardens, according to a 2014 historical report by Felecia Maxfield-Barrett titled “Roots Down Deep.” The organization worked with state wildlife officials to provide carp to immigrants familiar with the protein.

At the same time, the Fletcher family offered a small urban homestead on 800 South and 600 East — which dates to the 1800s — as a community garden for the neighborhood’s immigrants.

In the mid-1990s, when the Fletcher property went up for sale, the nonprofit raised, mostly through small community donations, $65,000 to buy it, the report notes. With the Grateful Tomato Garden secured, that changed the organization’s focus to youth education and community gardening. The fish ultimately were eliminated and the organization’s name was changed to better reflect its mission.

Since then, the Grateful Tomato Garden has become the center for all activities.

“I think of it as the taproot of the organization," Patterson said. “It helps us start and support new gardens in a rapidly urbanizing city.”

With the upcoming expansion, it is likely to stay that way well into the future.