A rainbow of fruits and vegetables are blooming under the September sun in gardens all over Johnson County, including the one outside the Johnson County Adult Residential Center for adult offenders.
The garden’s bounty doesn’t just serve the adults housed at the 24-hour facility — it’s also going to help women and children at Safehome, Johnson County’s battered women’s shelter.
Tom Tysver, shift supervisor at the county center, estimates they’ve given about 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to Safehome this year.
“With budget cuts, it’s hard for any organization to have excess for fresh fruits and vegetables,” Tysver said. “Teaming up with (Safehome) seemed like a win-win.”
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An equal amount has gone to supplement the food they serve residents at the county center.
Growing in the plot of land are tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, sunflowers, zucchini, watermelons and more. This is the fifth year for the garden, and Tysver said it’s gotten bigger each year since he started it.
Tysver has had a garden at his home for about 10 years, but he doesn’t have any formal training in gardening.
“Some residents come in, and they know more about gardening than I do,” he said.
He likes that the garden is a constructive way for residents to spend their time.
“A lot of them like to come out here and get fresh air. They can be out here for hours at a time, as long as they’re working,” Tysver said. “Our purpose is to get people integrated (into the community.)”
Ashlee Huber is in the Johnson County’s adult residential program and has been helping in the garden.
“Having fresh tomatoes is the icing on the cake — and I don’t even eat cake. I’d rather have tomatoes,” she said.
Although Huber hadn’t done much gardening since her childhood, she likes having an activity outside to occupy her time and finds the smells of the plants irresistible.
“It’s good to help out a community of people who are starting fresh like we are,” she said.
Maggie Haghirian, who supervises Safehome’s hotline, said the women at the shelter are excited to have the produce. One woman even said she had a tough time getting her child to eat canned vegetables again after the child had enjoyed the fresh ones.
“It was a big warm fuzzy for everyone,” she said. “The clients we work with know where it comes from, and it’s a positive thing.”
Many times, Haghirian said, women in the shelter feel like people on the outside forget about them, and the garden helps them know that other people care about them.
Another bright spot is that it jazzes up the cuisine.
Steve Russell, a volunteer who helps pick up donations for Safehome, said the chef at the shelter enjoys cooking from scratch and including as many healthy choices as possible.
“When this comes in, he gets all excited, because he can start preparing different meals,” Russell said.
In October, the shelter will receive more pumpkins from the garden so the children can decorate for Halloween. Last year, the garden had more than 100 of them.
Also coming up for the garden is a more permanent group of plants. The county is partnering with The Giving Grove to plant fruit trees to increase the fresh offerings.