Anderson Park Friends, Inc. has partnered with Dane County Parks and the nonprofit Rooted to kick off a pilot community garden project.

The goal of the project, launching this weekend, is to provide organic produce to low-income and middle-class individuals and families struggling to put food on the table amid the uncertain health and economic crises, AFP president Roe Parker told the Observer.

The 12-acre garden, located at 805 Union Road, has 23 quarter-acre plots available for individuals, churches, nonprofits and businesses to lease for $50. He said anyone interested can apply now to be considered for one of the plots. The application deadline is Saturday, May 9.

Some organizations who apply may use the plot to grow produce for the Oregon Area Food Pantry, Parker said.

“We need people to step forward,” he said. “Two hours a week could be a big help. If we don’t get the people’s support, we can’t grow the food.”

Moving forward despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the pilot garden is part of a larger market garden project that will commence in 2021, Parker said. That garden would be modeled after that of Silverwood County Park, located in the Town Albion, and the Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability in Verona.

Growers or farmers would lease a patch of land and grow produce to sell for a profit – at a larger scale than the pilot. This year’s project is available to individuals and organizations.

The overall project is a concept included in the Anderson Farm County Park Master Plan completed in 2013, Parker said.

He said a primary need exists in Dane County, COVID-19 or not, for more fresh produce. Parker pointed to University of Wisconsin-Extension surveys that report only 23% of Wisconsin adults and 20% of high school students consume the recommended five or more fruits and vegetables per day.

While influences on consumer food choices are increasingly complex, especially as COVID-19 looms, it is clear not everyone has the same opportunities to access healthy foods. Parker said there’s also a trend of increasing consumer demand for organic produce.

The soil is prepared and ready to be used, but plants must be limited to vegetables, herbs or flowers.

Each organization or individual will be required to sign a lease and attend two orientations. He said they will also be screened for their gardening experience and ability to manage a plot of the aforementioned size.

Gardeners are expected to help maintain pathways between each garden plot.

They will also be responsible for all equipment, tools and trash, Parker said, and limited self-help water will be available.

And of course, Parker said all gardeners must follow the regulations of DCP, including park hours, and follow directions of the agricultural director and park rangers.

For information about the project or how to apply for a lease, contact Sheena Tesch, Rooted director of urban agriculture at 240-0409 or sheena@rootedwi.org.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.