South Medford High School senior Vanessa Gorslki, 17, stands in the community garden behind Medford First Christian Church Sunday. The garden was a result of her senior project. - Jim Craven

Senior's project begins to grow

Vanessa Gorski admits she doesn't have much of a green thumb, but she gets two thumbs up for organizing a community garden in east Medford for her senior project.

"When she first approached me about this project, I said, 'Oh my God, do you know what you're getting into?' " said Robin Hawley, Gorski's senior project mentor and teacher at Willow Wind Community Learning Center Ashland.

Hawley said the South Medford High senior excelled at organizing at her Medford First Christian Church on Crater Lake Avenue and went knocking on doors at nearby apartment complexes to get the community behind the project. Hawley took over a similar garden project at Willow Wind, but Gorski started with nothing but a grassy field when she first posed the idea.

On Sunday, 17-year-old Gorski and about 50 onlookers attended the grand opening of the 16 raised beds behind Medford First Christian Church.

The "Come-Unity Garden" is the culmination of a nine-month effort led by Gorski for her senior project.

The church is surrounded by low-income apartments, and Gorski knocked on doors to invite the neighborhood to join in the garden project.

"We created fliers and asked if anyone wanted to be a part of this community garden," she said.

Gorski said two families signed up, and Korean and Latino churches that share the space with her church decided to join.

"We're building a foundation to bring in more people from the community and create a base to work off of," she said.

The 16 raised beds could easily be expanded into additional land available behind the church.

Gorski said she came up with the idea of the garden after attending a hunger-awareness comference through her church.

She's the first to admit that gardening is not her forte. "I don't know a lot about this stuff," she said.

That's the reason she contacted Hawley, who already had experience with a community garden.

Gorski might not know her plants yet, but she did know how to organize people, finding businesses that donated materials or asking for advice from friends.

Volunteers installed a water system, put down weed netting, built the raised beds and packed them with soil.

The weather has proved troublesome this year. "We had to pick and choose the days to work on the garden," Gorski said.

Some of the produce from the garden will be shared with the ACCESS Food Pantry in the church.

Organizing a community garden foreshadows Gorski's career as she gets ready to major in peace studies at Chapman University in Southern California.

Her parents, Paul Smith and Rebecca Gorski, expressed admiration for their daughter's organizational abilities.

"I'm very proud of how she made it her own thing and led a committee of adults," said Rebecca Gorski.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

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