Most gardeners know it takes plenty of water and sunshine to grow the best vegetables. But in Gardner, it also takes a whole lot of help from the community.
Last week, members of the Gardner Community Garden gathered to celebrate a successful first season with a harvest party. The garden, located on five acres of land just south of Divine Mercy Parish, 555 W. Main St., is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council 10407.
Father Joe Cramer, the pastor of Divine Mercy, approached the Knights of Columbus with a request: find a way to distribute fresh vegetables to the senior citizens of the community. The community garden began sowing its first seeds in the spring and began delivering fresh corn and tomatoes to the Gardner Senior Center and residents of the Medicalodges Gardner nursing home this summer.
“It’s really been a delight to see the response we have gotten from those two facilities,” said Knights of Columbus Grand Knight Bill East. “People love fresh veggies. Some of the seniors even want to help work in the garden.”
Help has been as abundant as the fresh tomatoes, since the garden took root this past spring. Members of the community, as well as local Boy Scout troops and 4-H clubs, have rolled up their sleeves and gotten their hands dirty. Volunteers in the communal garden earn $5 an hour in “veggie bucks” that they can redeem for vegetables for their families.
The Gardner Community Garden received a $5,000 grant from Kansas State University for startup costs and a $3,500 donation from a local carpenters union for a shed. People from all over have donated tillers, hoses and even a tractor.
“Every time we turned around and had a need, someone volunteered and donated and said ‘I can do that,’ ” volunteer Brian Boutte said.
That was especially true when it came to the land, which is leased for a nominal fee from the family of the late Dale and Marcelle Baker, who were local farmers. The community garden is a tribute to them. Their daughters wanted the garden to help members of the community while teaching young people how food is grown.
“They would love this,” daughter Shirley Harley said. “They always had a garden and they were very community-minded. They were always giving back.”
While the majority of the five acres is dedicated to the communal garden, one acre is devoted to 80 individual 10- by 20-foot plots, which are rented by community members for $40 to garden.
Boutte, who is an organic farmer himself, said for many families, this was their first attempt at gardening.
“I think a lot of people came out and they wanted to know what they were putting on their tables,” Boutte said. “Families wanted their kids to know how food was made and how much work it takes.”
That was the case for the Barber family, who didn’t have room for a garden at home. Sheri Barber worked in her garden plot with her 19-year-old daughter.
“I think she got the most out of the experience, watching it grow from the seed to the point where she was able to eat it,” Barber said.
Wes Massaro enjoyed caring for his garden with his two young sons.
“I tried to get the kids involved in the process and show them how much work it takes,” Massaro said.
Once the harvested vegetables from the communal garden are donated locally to those in need, the rest are offered for sale on-site and at the Gardner Price Chopper. The money raised will go toward costs for next year’s garden.