ARLINGTON – Arlington resident Bea Randall’s love of gardening grew at home helping her mother pull weeds and tend flower beds as a little girl, an option more appealing than the mandatory naps that her brothers preferred.
It’s a good thing that Randall shunned naps and honed her gardening skills over the years because between marrying, raising a family, a lengthy teaching career and serving on the City Council, she became a master gardener and, with her husband Chuck, created Arlington’s first community garden near the library.
The Randalls were recognized at the new Third Street Garden Sunday for their contributions bringing community gardening to Arlington.
Garden Club members, gardeners with the Third Street Garden, Mayor and City Council, and friends and family attended the ceremony, which also unveiled a new interpretive sign that shares the story of the Randalls and other volunteers who led the community gardening movement.
The garden located at 505 E. Third Street opened in spring near the school district headquarters and Presidents Elementary, three blocks from the original site on Washington Avenue across from the public library on land that the city sold in the past year. The new garden is a partnership between the city, school district and garden members.
The site features more than 30 raised beds, dedicated space for school gardens and the food bank and another section for larger plants such as berries and fruit. A pergola built as an Eagle Scout project by Isaac Hammond, benches, flower beds, compost containers, a utility shed and fencing round out the amenities.
Participating community members rent raised garden plots for a season and are encouraged to give excess produce to the food bank.
City Community Revitalization Manager Sarah Lopez called the ceremony “special and was the very essence of what a community garden space brings – a place where people connect with each other, bringing people together and forming relationships.”
Lopez has known the Randalls for years – Bea was her health teacher in school, and Chuck was her biology instructor.
Randall said she was “extremely embarrassed,” but humbled by the congratulations and turnout.
She didn’t say much at the ceremony, but thanked the City Council for keeping the community garden concept alive.
There was some concern on her part that once the city sold the land occupied by the previous community garden since 2002, that would be the end of it.
“It actually lasted sixteen years, and that’s pretty impressive,” Randall said. “People valued it more than I thought they did.”
Randall became a master gardener in 2001, agreeing to volunteer 50 hours a year for two years. She spent her time driving once a week to the community food bank garden in Monroe, which over time became a model for other community gardens and master gardener projects in the region.
Randall told Arlington Garden Club members about the garden. Virginia Hatch, who was president of the garden club, said they should build their own.
Randall was also a member of the Friends of the Arlington Library and knew Martin Jacobs, who owned the land across from the library on Washington Street. Then head librarian, Maggie Nathan, looked in on him from time to time. When he died in 1989, he left his land to the city as a thank you for Nathan’s caregiving.
The city bought the land next to his gift and ran a bond to build a newer, larger library, but it failed twice. In 2002, Randall suggested the land be used temporarily for a community garden. The City Council agreed, and the Randalls got to work building, thanks to husband Chuck’s building skills adding a table and benches, donations of tools from the garden club, grants and donations.
Randall managed the garden for 10 years. If all of the beds didn’t fill up she went to the Arlington Food Bank and found people in need who were willing to garden the empty plots.
Some summers, Randall could be found working in the garden from the light of the street lamp late into the night.
Because of the original Arlington garden, more community gardens have taken seed elsewhere, in places such as a senior center in Troy, Montana; the city of Libby; and Rosebud (Sioux) and Pineridge reservations. Pineridge bestowed a traditional gift quilt on Randall as a thanks for saving the lives of the members by coming up with the community garden idea. She still has it.
Randall eventually retired from caring for the garden, and Virginia Hatch stepped in for a few more years.
Beth Countryman helped Hatch, and now manages the Third Street Garden, which has drawn diverse groups tending the beds, ranging from school children to senior citizens.
“It’s not just about growing produce,” Countryman said. “It’s about growing community around the gardens.”
What does Randall think of the new garden?
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” she said.
She added that almost every problem with the last garden has been avoided. The land is flat instead of slightly sloped, which is better for wheelchair access and the space between rows lets park maintenance workers come through with a mower. She hopes produce theft won’t become an issue..
Randall’s hands-on community garden involvement has tapered off, but she still tends a big garden at home.