Downtown Camas is one step closer to having a new community garden, thanks to a partnership between the city and local entrepreneur Jacquie Hill, owner of LiveWell Camas, a downtown Camas movement and wellness studio.
The new garden will be located on a vacant, city-owned lot on Northeast Fifth Avenue, near the Camas Public Library.
Hill has been on a mission to build a community garden in downtown Camas for more than a year. Having worked with local farmers to distribute food during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Hill said she saw food insecurity was becoming a bigger issue in the Camas area.
“Even though the median income in Camas is quite high, there are many, many families that are struggling,” Hill told The Post-Record in May 2021. “I didn’t understand why we didn’t have more community gardens … so I thought, ‘I guess I’ll just make one.'”
Hill applied for the highly competitive Main Street America “At Your Side” grant in late 2020. A national program that helps revitalize historic downtown commercial districts, Main Street America was offering grants between $5,000 and $10,000 to help brick-and-mortar small businesses adapt to the pandemic and prepare for their states’ various reopening phases.
In her grant proposal, Hill earmarked $3,000 for the community garden and highlighted the need for community oriented businesses like LiveWell — a socially conscious business that strives to make its movement and wellness services available to all Camas-area residents regardless of income and ability — to help make their communities whole during and after the pandemic.
In March 2021, Hill found out she was one of just eight small business owners – and the only one in Washington state – to receive an At Your Side grant. Next on her list was finding an appropriate spot. She wanted to keep the garden centrally located in Camas, and reached out to Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam, who mentioned the vacant Fifth Avenue space.
“I would like to have the garden downtown because it would add to the curb appeal of what’s happening downtown, and there are already quite a few people living in downtown — above stores and in the new multi-family (apartments), and they don’t have access to yards for gardening,” Hill told The Post-Record in May.
In a press release issued by the city of Camas on Dec. 1, Lam praised Hill for her work developing the community garden idea, and said the city and Hill would likely finalize a lease for the Fifth Avenue space before the end of the year.
Hill, who has formed a nonprofit, EatWell Camas, to work on the garden, said the site will be about much more than just growing fresh produce.
“(Community gardens) are spaces for education, for neighbors to come together and spark social change at a local level,” Hill said. “They create equitable opportunities to access fresh food, helping to build and restore health, promote healthier eating habits, and stewardship of the land and environment around us. Through the hard work and connection to nature, community garden spaces strengthen communities one plant at a time.”
The garden also will bring back a feature many longtime Camasonians may remember.
“We will be repurposing the famous Crown Park boat as a pollinator/herb planter for the new garden,” Lam said, adding that the Crown Park boat had been removed due to old age, but that community members asked city officials to find a different use for the equipment. The boat will find new life as the community garden’s centerpiece, Lam said.
Hill said she is moving closer to breaking ground on the 50-by-100-foot city plot, but still needs volunteers to help build garden beds and prepare the site.
“There has been a lot happening behind the scenes,” Hill said on her EatWell Camas webpage. “The reality is, we will need folks that want to help us get this off the ground in order to make it happen. In order to make it a community space, we need community to be involved.”
For more information, or to get involved with the community garden project, visit livewellcamas.com/communitygarden or contact Hill via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. LiveWell Camas is located at 417 N.E. Birch St., in downtown Camas.