Garden effort continues to grow

WORTHINGTON -- As the threat of frost looms, harvest season is beginning to wind down in area gardens. Such is the case at the community garden, located on a lot donated by Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership behind the Viking Terrace Apartme...

Submitted Photo About 1,400 pounds of fresh vegetables have been harvested so far this year and donated to the two local food pantries.

WORTHINGTON -- As the threat of frost looms, harvest season is beginning to wind down in area gardens.

Such is the case at the community garden, located on a lot donated by Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership behind the Viking Terrace Apartments on North Burlington Avenue. This is the second year for the garden, which was initiated as a service project by youths from Worthington's First Lutheran Church. They recruited other churches and organizations to help tend the plot of ground.

"We've had a good second year with it," said Amy Loker, youth and family minister at First Lutheran. "We've harvested 1,400 pounds so far this year; last year when we were done we had 1,600 pounds. This is the last week we're harvesting, and Westminster Presbyterian will be doing that."

This year, more churches joined the effort, with 10 congregations involved during different phases of the growing season on a rotating basis. Additionally, summer school students from Prairie Elementary and Worthington Middle School contributed some manpower during June.

"Having that extra help this year was very important," Loker explained. "Water was a challenge with the dry summer. We pumped water with firehoses into kind of a pond, but the hoses wouldn't reach, so we had to haul it with buckets."


Starter plants, grown by District 518's EDGE after-school program and also donated by Grandpa's Fun Farm, helped get the garden off to a good start this year, Loker credited, with additional resources provided by Guidepoint Pharmacy, Pizza Ranch, Avera Worthington Specialty Clinics and Lampert Yards.

"It's great when we don't have to spend money upfront, then everything can go to the community," she said.

Vegetables grown in the garden included Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, melons, squash and peppers. Due to the dry weather, the onions that were planted were not a success. All items harvested from the garden were donated to the two local food pantries -- Manna Food Pantry at Westminster Presbyterian and the Worthington Christian Church pantry. One last veggie drop-off will be made to the pantries this week, and then the garden will be opened up to the public.

"During the last week of September and first week of October, people can come and pick whatever is left," said Loker.

"There should still be tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, tomatillos, peppers possibly. We want to make sure that people who are in need of food can get it. Also, it's a biblical thing: There's a passage in the Bible that says when you harvest a crop, you should leave something for people in need to glean from the field. People can pick as much as they need, and we want them to tell other people about it." Loker said.

People who come to harvest from the garden are asked to park on the road, not in the Viking Terrace parking lots, Loker emphasized.

The end of this gardening season is especially bittersweet for Loker, who is preparing to leave Worthington after ministering at First Lutheran for six years. She has accepted a similar call to a congregation in Menominee, Wis., her home territory, and hopes the Worthington garden project will continue for years to come.

"We have two champions who will be taking it over," Loker said. "Doug White at Worthington Christian Church has agreed to take it on, and Pat Demuth (a member of First Lutheran) has been a very big part of getting this going and keeping it going."


While the project leadership is in place, the location of next year's garden is a bit more uncertain. The SWMHP lot is still available, but the organizers hope to find a new location that might lessen the work load.

"Right now we're looking for a new spot to have the garden," explained Loker, adding her gratitude for SWMHP's donation of the land for two years. "We'd like to find one where we would have access to water and people would have an easier time finding the garden."

Anyone who might be willing to donate land for the garden should contact White at Worthington Christian Church, 376-3418.

Loker is confident that the community garden will continue in her absence and feels good about what has been accomplished in the community in just two years.

"It will keep going, keep on feeding the community," she said. "People will be able to have access to good, healthy food that they know where it came from, and there's pride in that.

"Where I'm going in Wisconsin, one of my former pastors called and said, 'I hear you have a community garden project,' and asked me about how we got it going here," she added. "Next year will be their first year of having a community garden. It's amazing how one idea that kids came up with is now being used in other towns."

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.

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