Finding the dirt in Mammoth


‘Community Garden’ idea blossoms throughout county

Community gardens are sprinkled along the Eastern Sierra, with one conspicuous missing link: Mammoth.

Erin Hamilton, undaunted by a lack of soil, intense sunlight, arid conditions, and a short summer season, is working on connecting the dots by starting a community garden in Mammoth, modeled after those already established in Crowley, Lee Vining, and Bridgeport.

“I want it to be a community-based project,” said Hamilton, of Mammoth, “not about how much money you have.”

But a garden cannot be without land, and that is exactly what Hamilton is working to secure right now, in hopes of having it up and running by this summer.

The most promising option so far, Hamilton said, is on Forest Service land near Sierra Meadows Ranch. She is working with the Forest to figure out if it will work there.

The Town of Mammoth Lakes is supportive of the idea, Hamilton said, and has already offered her land near the Whitmore Pool.

But, Hamilton said, she wants something in town.

Hamilton said she is also considering approaching the school and water districts for land ideas. Ultimately, she said she wants to start a school program, where kids can “get their hands dirty and learn about growing food.”

Having started community gardens in Brooklyn and Seattle, Hamilton said, “I know we can do one here.”

She said she envisions a rich community space, not only for getting dirty in the garden, but also for hanging out, sitting in the sun, and enjoying local artists’ sculptures.

“It’s a movement!” said Ilene Mandelbaum, coordinator of Lee Vining School and Community Garden Project. She said there are also gardens starting in Walker and Benton.

“We’re recognizing the need to localize our food system,” Mandelbaum said, “so that we have better access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables.”

This is also an opportunity, Mandelbaum said, to create jobs to diversity the local economy.

For now, Hamilton is putting her own money into the effort, but she said she is “putting feelers out there for community support,” and may approach Mammoth Mountain as well.

To get started, she said, will take roughly $6,000. That will allow her to purchase topsoil, tools and equipment, and get started building raised beds and stirring up some dirt in Mammoth.