Gateway Gardens was an unofficial non-profit initiative created by Jerry Frazier and myself in the year 2010. The preceding year Jerry had purchased 80 acres of land outside the small town of Glendale, OR, and I agreed to move to the land as well to lend my ideas and energy to the project. The objective was to establish a permaculture sanctuary and to support the larger initiative of localization.
As we saw it, the solution for many of the world’s geopolitical problems was to become as self sufficient as possible, at a local level. The easiest way to get started down this path is to start growing food. Jerry’s land, being on a forested hillside of red clay, was not suited for large scale food production, but we put in a food forest and vegetable gardens right away, and we got connected with other local growers who had actual farms, with flat bottom land and ample room to grow. We got to be friends with Josh Brown, who lived on his family farm and ran a restaurant in downtown Glendale. Josh knew just about everybody around the valley, and anytime we had some idea that we wanted to pursue, we needed only let him know what we were thinking and he would tell us who we needed to talk to.
One of Josh’s friends, Dan, lived just down the road from us, also on farmland, and with a serious interest in growing food and building localized systems. Between Josh, Dan, and I, we had a decent work team, and we took to the various projects necessary for each property as a group. We often had other guys, like Jared or later Elliot, helping out. One thing that was very impressive about some of the young men I met and worked with around Glendale was that they were very giving of their time, volunteering for some hard work with little to nothing promised in return. Those of us who got into the Glendale Localization scene as it grew found ourselves putting great time and energy into this growing movement, not because it would yield profits by conventional economic measure, but because the value of the process itself was of palpable value, and the security that we were building could and eventually would have value beyond money.
One thing that was cool about the social circle that formed was that we all pretty much shared the assumption that the economy was tanking and things were only going to get worse. We might as well be prepared to take care of ourselves, and to liberate ourselves from the collapsing economy as much as possible, we reasoned. Working together and pooling our resources made this much easier, and the idea caught on quick.
Our team of collaborators went from three to ten within a year, and to twenty in two years. All told, there were over seventy five people involved over the years in the localization organization we created, though most of what went on was created and attended by a core group of about fifteen to twenty of us.
We got into a routine of having regular potlucks, which were often connected to work parties so that things could get done. We’d build fences, install garden beds, set up greenhouses, harvest, and plant. We had lots of canning parties, and after the first year of making applesauce, tomato sauce, pickles, and canned pears in Jerry’s kitchen, we decided to scale up a bit by refitting the tack room of the barn to be used as a canning kitchen. This endeavor was bolstered greatly by Josh’s decision to close the restaurant and focus on farming instead. He had a whole kitchen that needed a new home, and much of it found its way to Jerry’s barn.
Gateway Gardens was the hub of this localization crew that came together, though we often gathered in other places. Gateway was so ideal though, because Jerry was so open to having folks come and go, and his kitchen was great for serving lots of people.
One thing that made Gateway Gardens even more interesting was the fact that Jerry opened his home up to many people, and he knew some fascinating people. Before moving to Glendale, Jerry had lived and worked at Harbin Hot Springs for seven years, so lots of Harbin people came through in the first few years.
We had all sorts of interesting visitors. Jerry and Bill knew the most unique people from all over the place, and it seemed like every month there was somebody stopping through, joining us at the table for profound speculation. It was here that I first met SunRay Kelley, as well as Phil Hawes, the architect of the bio-dome. Sometimes there would be ten people staying over at Jerry’s house, of all ages and from all walks in life.
For most of the first two years, though, it was often just Jerry and I working around the property. We spent lots of time talking and envisioning, and every day we made it a point to do something constructive around the land. We worked on all sorts of things – gardening projects, finishing out the barn so it could be used for events, digging into a hill for a root cellar, adding more trees and herbs to the food forest, and building fences for our expanding gardens.
We had gardens in four separate locations at Gateway, and every year we refined our system. In the latter years, we spent more time working on community projects and organizing events, with many of our Gateway projects lingering unfinished. I suppose this is what happens when the scale of a project grows faster than the organizational body. As things grew, I started to see the need for more organization, but this was largely resisted by others involved in the localization group. Lots of folks in preferred the small, informal, easy going scene that evolved, shying away from the idea of putting together public events and bigger, longer term endeavors. Such is the tragic cost of keeping it real. As soon as things scale up, rules and bureaucracy are soon to follow. I thought we could avoid this by the sheer power of our easy going personalities, but I think our easy going personalities were what stood in the way of tighter, more focused organization.
Instead we remained loosely affiliated, and though we unofficially created a farming cooperative, all its activities and events were organically organized, where schedules and curricula seldom applied, in spite of my tendency to write them out ahead of time.
Still, we grew lots of food, and we did lots of work on the properties of our various members. Our food production efforts really kicked into high gear when Richard, an old friend of Jerry and Bill’s, bought an old farm along Cow Creek and hired Josh to be his farm manager. Although Josh had very nice gardens at his family farm, limited water rights prevented us from doing larger scale farming there. We attempted to use some of Masonobu Fukuoka’s natural farming methods, making seed balls and scattering them over his fields, we had only limited success with that. We ultimately had more weeds than crops, and even drought tolerant foods like corn and beans did not thrive without irrigation.
Richard’s farm, however, did have water rights, and by the second year of Josh’s management, we had a seed starting operation, several plots of vegetables, as well as fields of potatoes, corn, and oats.
At the end of 2013, I decided to take my family to Texas (where my parents and sister live) for the winter, and we ended up staying for nine months, rather than three. When we returned to Gateway in the fall of 2014, we found things were changing at Gateway. The localization group was still gathering for potlucks and work parties, but new dramas had emerged, and the discrepancy between the size of the operation and organizational process to administer it was beginning to take its toll. Several people had broken away from the group with hard feelings, and more would continue to drop out over the next year. We ended up spending the first half of 2015 in Costa Rica, a trip that ultimately got cut short when Jerry fell ill. When I returned to Gateway in the summer of 2015, things were very different. Almost all of the group’s efforts revolved around supporting him in his treatment, and little effort was made to maintain the gardens around his land. Jerry’s diagnosis was not good, and we all knew that after Jerry was gone, things would never be the same.
Jerry died in the fall of 2015, and after many months of his illness, the property was in disarray. I was too sad about Jerry’s passing to lose too much sleep over this, and I was thankful that I was able to nurture the food forest we installed for four years before it was left to its own devices. Weeds had taken over many of the beds and paths I created, but the fruit trees and berry bushes and herbs I planted had mostly survived, having become acclimated to the dry Oregon summers, and I expect they will be there for some time to come.
Many aspects of the Localization group continue to go on, though many folks (including me) have moved away from Glendale. Jerry’s land is still in his family, with his grandson Mahatma currently taking care of the place. I still visit from time to time, and I hope to have another food forest workshop at some point, so we can clear out the weeds and maybe plant some more trees.
My time at Gateway Gardens contributed greatly to my education in permaculture and community building, and I still think of that land as home, a place I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. This article has barely scratched the surface of all the interesting things that transpired over the years of my involvement there, and I will certainly be publishing further accounts of the many adventures we had and projects we undertook at Gateway Gardens.