I converted an in-ground garden to ADA accessible raised beds, decreasing labor time while increasing yield, growing season, sustainability, and aesthetics - in less than a year.
I first fell in love with gardening while in college in Florida, spending most of my hours outside of the lab at the student garden. Afterward, I spent a year serving with AmeriCorps inspired by thinking globally and acting locally. I was placed in Colorado, as the only full-time employee overseeing a giving garden that donated all of its produce to the surrounding community. Suddenly, all of my hot, humid subtropical knowledge felt nearly inapplicable in the dry, high desert.
I learned a lot: the importance of community and educational outreach, the value of volunteering, the strategy of collaborating with niche professionals, and the extremely vulnerable and short growing season of a strict outdoor production in a polarized climate.
The latter is exactly what inspired me to make two big changes to the garden during my service term. Operating on a shoestring budget, I kept asking: How might we lengthen the growing season and thus produce output for this community? How might we reduce labor long-term? How might we reduce environmental contaminants? Underlying these questions was an ultimately larger question:
How might we create a more sustainable ecosystem?
1) I researched, applied for, and received a grant to build a greenhouse, enabling the growing season to begin 1-2mo earlier than it had previously. I bought materials at wholesale price through a working relationship I developed with Lowe’s, and I erected the structure by creating a recurring VTO opportunity with OtterBox employees nearby.
2) I designed and converted the garden from in-ground beds to raised beds. By doing so, I minimized future time/labor spent maintaining the garden all the while making it possible to extend the outdoor growing season 1.5mo with the use of individual hoop houses fitted to the raised beds. I removed hundreds of pounds of carpet that had been used as weed barrier, leeching neurotoxins into a supposed organic garden. This was a massive task: from creating the ADA compliant blueprint, to sourcing all raw materials and labor, to scheduling the bed conversion workdays so as not to interfere with production time. Below I have included pictures of the garden before, during, and after the raised bed conversion. Please feel free to reach out with any further questions!