INDEPENDENCE -- Right now, it's merely a 50x100-foot strip of land bordering the east side of First Baptist Church.

As the weather warms and spring transitions into summer, however, the plot will show signs of things to come - namely, onions, corn, potatoes and other fresh produce.

The City of Independence recently teamed with First Baptist to create a community garden that will provide food for low-income families in the area.

Residents are invited to take part in an inaugural planting at the site at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 5.

The garden will be managed by Marion-Polk Food Share in Salem, which supplies about 466,000 pounds of food to needy families each month through its network of 55 charities in the Willamette Valley.

The Ella Curran Food Bank in Independence will distribute the garden produce locally, said Tim Brass, Independence special projects coordinator.

Brass spearheaded the idea late last year. After running into difficulty finding a garden site, First Baptist members stepped forward to donate a plot.

"We want to help all we can," said Pastor Mike Parks. "If we have some land not being used that can be turned into a community garden, we want to do it."

A $1,000 grant from the Polk County Commission on Children and Families will pay for the seeds and supplies for the garden, Brass said. The church will provide the water for irrigation. Central School District students and youngsters from the Polk County 4-H will weed and maintain it.

While the majority of the garden will be dedicated for use by Food Share, some space will also be available for Monmouth and Independence citizens to plant at no cost, Brass said.

More than 67,000 individuals in Marion and Polk counties needed emergency food in 2005. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranked Oregon as the hungriest state in the nation, behind Oklahoma, in 2005.

Marion-Polk distributed almost 40,000 pounds of produce - grown from four community gardens - during the first year of the "Share the Harvest" program in 2006.

Currently, 10 community gardens exist in Salem, and another is slated for groundbreaking soon in Dallas.

For more information: Tim Brass at 503-838-1212, or Jordan Blake at 503-585-3855.

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