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Growing their own

By Staff | Oct 2, 2009

Kathy Steffen has been renting a plot at the community garden in Carroll for the last four seasons now. With no space at home the community garden allows for her and her family to grow their own food and is a learning experience for her children.

CARROLL – Community gardens are growing in popularity, not only in larger cities, but in rural communities as well.

Cynthia Hayes, associate professor for the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University, said she has been seeing a resurgence in community gardens in recent years.

Recent economic challenges, Hayes said, such as the rising cost of fuel and food, coupled with the fact not everyone has enough space to grow their own garden, and a community garden can help solve these problems.

Similar to the Victory Gardens during World War I and World War II, Hayes said that some communities have had gardens for many years while others are just beginning to look into a program.

The American Community Garden Association, Hayes said, is a great place to start when considering organizing a community garden. More information on them can be found at www.communitygarden.org.

“They are a national organization that helps with just what to think about before starting a community garden, how to choose a place, and even talks about insurance. Just all of the little things people may not think about,” said Hayes.

Another great source before starting up a community garden, Hayes said, is your county’s ISU Extension office.

“We have a lot of gardening experts,” she said.

Although the ISU Extension does not have a specific program assisting community gardens, Hayes said, many Extension offices have assisted in community gardens, plus many their master gardeners are involved with community gardens.

Community gardens can benefit people and their towns in various ways.

“You’re taking an empty space that is near a residential area and using it,” said Hayes. “They can also be used to educated youth on where food comes from.”

Hayes said some gardens placed in cities with higher crime rates have seen a reduction in crime due to the garden, as people will take more ownership of the area.

And another benefit to community gardens is the networking and community support people get when coming out and working on their own individual plots.

“I hope to see community gardens continue to grow,” said Hayes. “There’s lots of space that can be put into production, which would make us a little less dependent on outside sources.”

The Missouri and Mississippi Divide Resource Conservation and Development, which serves citizens in the counties of Audubon, Carroll, Crawford, Greene, Guthrie and Sac, has partnered with city governments and local municipalities in Carroll, Willey and Denison, providing those towns with community gardens.

Patty Axman, program assistant with the M&M Divide RC&D, said this is the fourth year for the community garden in Carroll, which featured 84, 10-by-20-foot plots this year.

The community garden, Axman said, was originally set up for people that live in apartments or houses with smaller backyards that just don’t have the space for their own garden.

However, Axman said others have rented plots, including youth groups wanting go grow produce to sell as a fundraiser. They are also discovering the gardens are a place for networking.

“It has really become a social thing for the growers to come out and see and visit with other gardeners as well,” said Axman.

The Carroll Community Garden started off four years ago with 18 plots and has grown tremendously, Axman said, to this year’s 84 plots, which is up from 50 plots just last year.

Denison features 24 plots in its community garden, which Axman said is not growing as fast as the garden in Carroll, but is hoping, as word travels, it will begin to expand.

The Willey Community Garden is a newer garden and featured eight plots this year.

Not only do the gardens give people a chance to grow their own fresh produce, but it is to conduct outreach to the growing Hispanic and other minority communities, Axman noted.

They are also part of a larger effort to promote local food systems, she added.

Axman said the produce the people grow is for their own use, however, they do encourage any extra to be donated and they do provide a wagon that allows them to share their extras.

Kathy Steffen, of Carroll, has been renting plots from the Carroll Community Garden since they began four years ago.

This year’s crops consisted of all sorts of vegetables and flowers included beans, potatoes, cabbage, onions, carrots and tomatoes.

“I just don’t have enough space at home and it’s nice to be able to grow our own food and it’s also helping my kids learn the process of where food comes from,” said Steffen. “They’ve come to appreciate the freshness and say it all tastes much better.”

Axman said in addition to M&M Divide RC&D managing the gardens, Alliant Energy, Wal-Mart and Farmland Foods also provide funds that allowed them to expand in 2009. The Carroll Community Parks and Recreation Department has been in charge of tilling, but with expansion, Axman said, they will have to find another source for tilling. Organizers continue to keep the area mowed, as well as providing other assistance.

For the 2010 growing season, the Carroll Community Garden will see additional expansion due in part to a grant that has been awarded.

Contact Kriss Nelson by e-mail at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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