2017 Community Service 3rd Place – The Barn’s CommUnity Garden, Lehigh/Northampton Counties, PA

You might think that a garden program about community gardening would be about how, when and why you should plant particular crops. But, this program involves using gardening as a means to build bridges in our community for the well-being

whole groupof our community. When one contemplates the homeless, our veterans, and food insufficiency in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, it is life changing when those who are able become positive social change agents. My name is Dr. Robert Yoder and I have sought to be socially conscious of my neighbor far and wide serving as a short term missionary dentist in Honduras for six years, building homes on the Gulf coast post Katrina and  in a variety of short term mission trips but I felt this subtle tug that I should be doing more locally. I thought perhaps as a Penn State Master Gardener, I could weave my skill set and invite others to join me in community gardening. So seven years ago, I began to recruit volunteers and found the Christian community “The Barn”, currently worshipping at Swain School, willing to rise to the challenge.

The initiative began with a simple wonderment: “Could we create a community garden that intentionally brought people together to grow food for the hungry in our community?” Even better, “Could recipients of the food grown, participate in the very garden that benefitted them?” We began with 2 plots graciously donated by Lower Macungie Township. Three additional Master Gardeners and 40 volunteers of all experience levels signed up to help and learn. Immediately, friendships developed, fun ensued, and the satisfaction of walking alongside our neighbor, revealed we were onto something bigger than ourselves. The produce from the first year was modest in pounds (around 500 lbs.), but the community that was being built, both in the garden and reaching into center city Allentown was beyond description.

Fast forward six years and we now have 7 garden plots with active material and monetary support from our major donor, Home Depot, and  additional financial support from Tractor Supply, Emmaus Borough, The Muslim Assoc. of the Lehigh Valley, Wal-Mart, The Barn Community, Lower Macungie Township planting with the kidsand the Master Gardeners of the Lehigh Valley. In addition, we now have broader community involvement  including 7 worshipping communities and over 175 volunteers. Leadership is provided by 11 Master gardeners assigned to each of the gardens.

The 2016  initiative  included involving our veterans who too often have lost meaning in life and we find some aiml s and  homeless. Also consider, in 2012 the Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a study which discovered for 10 years running, there was an average of 18-22 veteran suicides per day in the United States. Can we use the community garden to give them a way of engaging community that offers new purpose? Additionally, we were broadening efforts of interfaith cooperation by involving Muslims, Christians and Jews, all working together in the garden to show the world a better way forward. To that end, we now have the Jewish temples Beth El and Kenneseth Israel, the Christian churches “The Barn” and “Life Church” of Nazareth along with two Muslim worshipping communities at “Muslim Assoc. of the Lehigh Valley” and  a young vital Muslim community in Alburtis all working together, building community and growing vegetables.

Last year we raised almost 4500 lbs. of fresh produce which now benefits two Lehigh Conference of Church’s social outreach ministries: DayBreak and the Soup Kitchen at 8twith tthe participantsh and Walnut Street. We hope with continued growth to make a greater impact.

Looking ahead , 2017 has more new initiatives including new involvement of a Sikh community to broaden our community building. Second, we are trying to incorporate the youth of each of these worshipping communities in three exciting ways. In Spring, in a round table sharing format, we plan to have a youth program including a potluck meal of foods of each community’s ethnic background, seedling starting, a time of sharing their favorite religious foods and holidays in their traditions. This in an effort to teach tolerance and appreciation  of the other at a young age. In Summer, we will have a week of youth involvement in direct garden care. Adult mentors will work side by side with the youth to teach gardening skills.  In Fall, in correlation with the Jewish holiday Sukkot, we will initiate a gleaning project at “The Seed Farm” with kids working side by side with folks from the center city, the very people all the garden goods go to help with the food insecurity of the Lehigh Valley.

Logistically, a typical growing season would begin with willing volunteers raising seedlings like tomatoes, peppers and broccoli starting in late February. This group of seedling growers includes folks from the center city to the suburbs. It gives the wonder of spring early to families with young children and the homeless that find shelter at DayBreak. They maintain and grow the seedlings to maturity, then help in the transplanting in one of the seven community gardens when winter finally gives up its grip in mid-May.

Weekly teams of volunteers then tend, harvest, laugh, test out a sugar pea or two and take pictures of the produce being grown. All through the process a more important thing is happening: community is being knit into a beautiful tapestry. We are working side by side to make a positive difference in our community. You know you have struck a beautiful chord when in one hand you have the day’s harvest and in the other you are hugging a new found friend who comes from a completely different life situation than you do. Imagine a Jewish woman with kids working side by side with a Muslim woman’s kids. We have indeed grown CommUnity and the forecast for this year’s growing season is one full of love and care for neighbor. We are showing the world a better way forward.

                                                                                                out in the garden workingthe producegiving instructions

2014 CenUSA Bioenergy Project

Fond du Lac Community Master Gardeners contribute to CenUSA biochar research and teach kids about growing food, too. 

Welcome back for more of our ongoing coverage of how University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners have been helping to support biochar research as part of the CenUSA Bioenergy project. For our last blog post, Extension Master Gardener Meleah Maynard talked with volunteers at Minnesota’s three CenUSA biochar test sites in the Twin Cities metro area: at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus and in Andover at the Extension County and Regional Center, about their experiences working on the project.

This time, you’ll hear what Extension Master Gardener volunteers working on the Fond du Lac tribal community demonstration garden at the Brookston Community Center in Cloquet had to say when Meleah visited last month. To learn more about things like what biochar is and how the test sites were chosen and planted, check out past blog posts written by Extension Master Gardener Lynne Hagen, the project manager for the biochar demonstration gardens in Minnesota. Read on to find out how things are going at the Fond du Lac biochar demonstration garden.

A Community Garden

October 2014

While the Fond du Lac demonstration garden shares the same layout, plants and mission as the three other Minnesota sites, it is different. Instead of being on a campus or other site with ties to the University, it is tucked next to a community center where it can easily be viewed by people of all ages anytime.

Better still, because of its location, children who visit the community center have been able to learn about gardening from Master Gardener volunteers, and find out more about where food comes from in the process. The kids also like eating the vegetables once they’ve been harvested and weighed. Master Gardeners make sure the kids eat only from the control plot that contains no biochar since the soil amendment is still being tested.

Dawn Newman, a Master Gardener and the Fond du Lac site mentor, says the biochar research project has been a positive way to foster a connection between the community and the University. Currently the American Indian Community Vitality Educator for Extension, Newman is an enrolled Ho-Chunk member from Wisconsin and has worked with the Fond du Lac community for years in various roles.

“It takes a long time to build relationships in Indian Country,” she says. “Historically, research has been done on Native Americans without their knowledge and not with true partnership in mind. This project is giving the community a chance to do real research as well as helping to foster healthier eating habits.” Julie Weisenhorn, an associate extension professor in horticulture and Master Gardener who has helped coordinate efforts at the site, agrees.

“Using gardening as a mean of collaboration is a great, fun way to bring the Fond du Lac community and the University together on a project,” she says. “We’ve talked a lot about how to meet community needs while also meeting the needs of Extension education because having a real partnership is so critical.”

Digging In

Newman is one of six Master Gardeners on the Fond du Lac reservation. She started the group four years ago after approaching Weisenhorn, then state program director, with the idea of starting their own community-based group rather than joining the county group. “I explained that we are a sovereign nation so we should be recognized as our own ‘county’,” Newman recalls. Weisenhorn had been looking for the opportunity to pilot a community-based Master Gardener group, so she jumped at the chance to work with Newman on this new way to organize volunteers. Newman and the other five women who wanted to become Master Gardeners took the core course together. Once they completed their volunteer hours, they jumped into projects centered around the Fond du Lac Reservation with Brookston Community Center, one of three centers operated by the Band, being the main volunteer site.

Weisenhorn asked the new Fond du Lac volunteers to become the fourth Minnesota biochar site. Once a sunny site in front of the Center was chosen, the biochar demonstration garden was prepared and planted in 2013, the second year of the research project. At first, the plants seemed to be doing well—or at least as well as expected in the sandy soil the site had to offer. “Plants were small, but the garden looked beautiful,” Master Gardener Danielle Diver remembers. One thing that was obvious, she says, was that the test plot with the most biochar added seemed to be retaining water better than the other two plots.

Soon, though, the deer moved in and started eating the plants to the point where they needed to put up a fence. But as soon as posts started going in, they hit something hard about a foot below the soil. “It was a cement slab,” Newman recalls, “and we found out we were growing a garden where a house used to be.” So Bryan Bosto, the director of the Brookston Community Center, along with Weisenhorn, Newman, Diver and other volunteers, decided to replant in a different location the following spring.

Getting Kids Involved

Planting Day June 10, 2014
Planting Day June 10, 2014

With help from Weisenhorn, who drove up this spring with all the needed plants and supplies to start again, the group tilled and planted a new demonstration garden, this time next to the Center’s playground.

Though the move put them further behind other sites in terms of data collection, the garden was now much more visible to the kids, many of whom were already participating in the Junior Master Gardener program that Newman and the others had started a couple of years earlier. “It’s a great location for a garden, really quite beautiful,” Weisenhorn says. “I’m so proud of these gardeners and their determination to see this project through.”

Diver, who is also the garden program coordinator at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School, enjoys working with the kids in the garden. “They help us weed and water, especially early in the season,” she says. “You think they’re not really paying attention when you talk about the plants, but then they’ll ask a question that lets you know they were listening.”

Inspired by the children’s interest in the ripening vegetables in the demonstration garden, Diver and the other Master Gardeners added Food of the Week to their Junior Master Gardener lineup. Each week, kids work together with the Master Gardeners to prepare a dish using fresh vegetables.

Salsa was a big hit recently, even with those who said they don’t like tomatoes. “The impact we’re having doesn’t always show immediately, but when you see the kids in January and they say, ‘Hey, when is Garden Club (the kids’ name for the Junior Master Gardener program) going to start up again?’ you know they’re missing it and they clearly enjoy it,” Diver says.

Gathering Data

October 2014
October 2014

This will be the first full season of data collection at the Fond du Lac demonstration gardens and as with the other three Minnesota sites, there have been some challenges learning how to measure growth and track observations. But overall, the Fond du Lac Master Gardeners are feeling good about their work on the project and are looking forward to participating again next year.

“Seeing how the plants and soil have responded to biochar has been exciting and it’s nice to see that there is an amendment that might work,” says Nikki Crowe, a Master Gardener who also coordinates the Thirteen Moons Program,

October 2014
October 2014

which helps strengthen connections between Fond du Lac Band members and the surrounding community with Ojibwe culture and natural resources.

While the kids aren’t involved in the data collection process at the garden, they have helped out with planting and harvesting, and they’re also asked for their opinions on how things are doing in each of the three test plots. “We like to have them make their own observations on which plot is doing better or which vegetables they think look healthier or larger, and they really like that,” says Master Gardener Shannon Judd, who is also the environmental education and outreach coordinator for the Fond du Lac reservation.

Like Crowe, Judd is enjoying working on the project because it’s been interesting and exciting to be involved with a research endeavor of this magnitude from the start. In July, Judd and Newman, along with 30 other University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners involved in the research at other sites, attended the annual CenUSA conference held at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The meeting’s focus was on the Extension objective of the grant, and Weisenhorn was glad they were able to attend. “The CenUSA attendees recognized the volunteers at the meeting and applauded their important contribution to the project,” she recalls.

Judd is hopeful that the research results will make a meaningful difference for home gardeners, including those facing tough soil conditions like they have on the reservation. “Seeing all of the things that biochar may be useful for has been really motivating,” she says. “Anything that can be done to help people grow food more easily, especially around here, would be great.”

Note: CenUSA Bioenergy is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Celebrating Food Day Oct. 24th, 2014

It’s Food Day! Visit a farmer’s market today or a community garden or go gleaning in a field for a local food pantry. Today it’s all about food – what we eat, how we grow it, prepare it, preserve it and eat it and how that relates to our overall health  – ours and our children’s.

 Food Day Focus on Children’s Diets

One of the important focuses of Food Day is children’s diets. Many of us volunteer at school gardens and know how important it is to teach children how to make healthy choices and for them to know where their food actually comes from – not from the store but from the dirt! On average, kids get over a quarter of their calories from snacks daily.  That wouldn’t be so bad if the snacks were more healthful, but cookies, cakes, chips, candy, and sugary drinks top the list of popular choices. You can check out an informative infographic to learn more about children’s diets in the US and to how it’s related to illnesses in their lives today.

The American Diet: Prescription for Ill Health

What adults are consuming is important too because they do the shopping and plan the meals for their families and set the stage for a life time of food habits. CSPI, the sponsor of Food Day, prepared a brief analysis of the average American adult diet and its relationship to their health. If you’re volunteering in a community garden teaching people to grow, harvest, cook and preserve food, you’re helping them attain a healthier happier life style. Master Gardeners are changing the world they live in by creating healthier futures for everyone.

Onion Flowering (photo submitted by Connie Schultz)
Onion Flowering (photo submitted by Connie Schultz)

 

To celebrate Food Day today, I thought it might be fun to take a quick food quiz. Just click on the link below and see how you do!

 

14 Questions that Could
Save Your Life and the Planet

 

Submitted by Connie Schultz, Master Gardener/Composter (’95 Cornell Extension) now volunteering in Johnston County, NC