Madison Commons Virtual Garden Show: Taft Street Garden thrives in its first year

This is the seventh in a continuing series of snapshots of some of Madison’s  community gardens, a “virtual garden show.” For more, click here.

Although not much larger than the average home garden, and certainly smaller than most community gardens in Madison, the Taft St. Garden is the perfect size for its intended use: bringing healthier eating choices and educational opportunities to South Madison.

The garden, which opened earlier this year, can be found along the south side of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County’s Taft Street location. It was initially proposed by Slow Food UW,  a student organization interested in food-related issues, as a part of their South Madison project.

Once the two organizations began working together, their idea of a healthy, educational garden quickly became a reality.

“Some of the Slow Food UW interns wrote and received a grant for part of the garden, and a funder from the Boys and Girls Club liked the idea and put up the funds for the rest of the project,” said Genya Erling, founder of Slow Food UW, and Taft St. Garden’s program coordinator.

Administrators at the Boys and Girls Club agreed that a garden boasting healthy produce would complement the goals and ambitions of the club, and would provide children a great tool for learning.

So, in May of this year, a group of children from the Boys and Girls Club and several adult helpers set out to plant the garden. The plot was started with the help of an organization called Growing Power, which provides hands-on training, demonstrations and assistance to help gardeners grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.

“There were surprisingly few challenges with the garden," said Erling. "We used Growing Power’s amazing soil to build the garden beds right on top of the grass with thick mulch around it so there was no digging and hardly any weeding.”

When the garden was complete, it boasted a large variety of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, kale, lettuce, cabbage, watermelon, and squash.

“The garden was used as an educational opportunity for the kids to get some experience gardening and cooking. Small groups cooked and ate food from the garden, and some of the produce was used for special events,” said Erling.

Sarita Thomas, Manager of Community Engagement at the Boys and Girls Club added, “the garden was planted so we could bring fresh produce and healthy eating lifestyles to South Madison. A lot of our kids don’t eat fresh produce and sometimes they don’t even shop at the grocery store."

Although the impending cold weather means that gardening outdoors is on hold until the Spring, plans are already in the works for building a hoop house, a plastic structure similar to a greenhouse, that will allow the Boys and Girls Club to continue growing fresh produce throughout the winter months.

While the garden may be small, the hopes and expectations for it are not. Thanks to the garden's early successes, Thomas is sure they will continue maintaining it in the future.

If you are interested in getting involved with the Taft St. Garden, or the Boys and Girls Club, visit their website at