Gardener Gary Lukens

Gary Lukens is a keen cook who saw community garden produce as an important budget food source when first married, then expanded his interest into helping others learn. He hopes others will embrace his planned garden on an unbuilt corner lot in Ocean Park and believes the concept could spread throughout the Peninsula.

OCEAN PARK — In another era, the slogan was “dig for victory.”

For Gary Lukens, it is “dig for community.”

He is the driving force behind a planned Ocean Park Community Garden.

Helped considerably by Tom Downer of Jack’s Country Store, who has offered a location, Lukens is recruiting help to create the garden.

He and a nonprofit group now being formed would create a community garden, offering residents the opportunity to lease a plot for a season of growing.

Gary Lukens mugshot for use with pullquote

Gary Lukens

“We would set it up with the initial soil, sculpt it all out, with walkways, and we would get water on a meter from the house next door,” he said.

Details are still being discussed, but he believes 12 to 18 people could each have a plot perhaps measuring 7 by 20 feet. Each would pay an annual fee for an April through November growing season.

The site is at the intersection of 260th Place and R Street. One half of the lot is unsuitable for cultivation because it is a drain field. So a storage shed and picnic table are planned.

“This is a small garden — we don’t have much room to work with, but hopefully this idea takes off and we have these all over the Peninsula,” he said.

“People can grow whatever they want, vegetables or flowers. It’s their individual plot,” he said. Cabbage, peas and root vegetables would be the best bet in the region’s climate, he added.

Garden experience

Originally from Port Townsend, Lukens moved to Seattle for work in the late 1970s and retired after a career in lumber and the hardware business, including managing a store’s lawn and garden department.

Lukens, 63, and his wife, Lori, have been full-time residents of the Long Beach Peninsula since 2017, but have been visiting for more than 30 years.

They participated or led community gardens in the greater Seattle area, including one which supplied a regional food bank. One of their two daughters, now grown, was so enthralled that she now has two degrees in horticulture.

Coming together

Two meetings are planned next week to seek donors and gauge interest. The garden will be on the agenda for the Village Club meeting in Ocean Park Feb. 14. Lukens will host a separate meeting for prospective board members and offer more detailed information 2:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Ocean Park Timberland Library.

“We have a partial board, but we need two or three more members,” he said. “There’s a lot that needs to be done in starting a project from scratch.”

Among those working on the project is Tina Elm, a relative newcomer to the area, who is a retired project manager at a community college in California.

“I don’t know much about how to garden on the Peninsula — what grows, what doesn’t,” she said. “I want to find gardeners that I can learn from so they can share their successes and what works for this climate.”

Building community

Lukens envisions school field trips and would arrange classes on gardening techniques, vegetable canning and food preservation.

“There is a feeling of personal accomplishment,” he said, when asked of the benefits of participating in a community garden. “You’re gathering knowledge, too.”

When one community gardener he knew broke his leg, neighbors harvested his produce and delivered it to him. In another instance, a Russian immigrant working toward her American citizenship test benefited from social interactions. “She learned to speak English through that garden,” he recalled.

He said two demographics would especially benefit: parents eager to learn with their children about growing food — while saving money on their monthly bills — and seniors with time on their hands and a desire to meet others.

“This is a great opportunity to socialize, to get out and do something, instead of sitting home growing a butt full of barnacles,” he said.

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