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Volunteers keep community garden alive

Staff writer

Phoebe Janzen and Janice Waner have had to overcome many obstacles to coax the Florence community garden to produce any vegetables or fruit.

The Florence Historical Society donated the lot across from the Harvey House at Marion and Second streets to the project. Once a spot for a house 100, the lot had been overcome by alfalfa and filled with rocks.

Janzen and Waner began clearing the garden in March. Janzen said about a hundred buckets of rocks have been cleared from the garden. Dale Miller, the oldest Florence resident to help with the project, took many buckets himself in his van and dumped them by the Cottonwood River.

“That was a huge undertaking,” Waner said.

Jim Padgett and Joel Hayes brought in tilling machines to help Steve Janzen till the property in an attempt to remove alfalfa roots.

“One garden’s weeds got three-feet tall,” Waner said.

However, Phoebe Janzen said alfalfa roots are especially deep and have continued to spring up throughout the summer.

“It’s a lot of work staying ahead of the weeds,” Janzen said.

Although many residents volunteered to help at the outset of the garden, Janzen said the participation has waned throughout the summer; Janzen and Waner have largely been performing the weekly upkeep.

Janzen thought there was some confusion about the rights to produce — anyone who worked on the garden could take away fruit and vegetables, she said.

However, she thought many volunteers were scared off because of the extreme heat during July. While onions, turnips, beats, and some corn were harvested this past spring, rows of corn in the middle of the garden burnt up in the 100-plus degree temperatures in July.

During the hottest weeks, Janzen and Waner watered the garden every day, dragging a collection of six hoses across the street from the Harvey House to water different sections of the garden. Max Williams, who lives nearby, also helped water.

“It’d get up to 113 and there would be 40 mph winds,” Waner said. “I’m surprised anything lived.”

“It was the worst year in the world to have a garden,” Janzen said.

Complicating matters was the fact that a grant Janzen applied for, worth about $10,000 from the Kansas Health Foundation, was denied. Janzen planned to use the grant for water and to teach a cooking class on how to use homegrown produce. The historical society has paid for the water.

Despite all of the problems they encountered, Waner said it was Janzen’s vision to keep the garden going. The hard work the two Florence residents put in during the heat of the summer has paid dividends. Pumpkins, watermelon, squash, tomatoes, and okra are popping up within the green foliage of the garden.

Waner said she has eaten tomatoes and okra from the garden and has been impressed. Janzen’s only complaint is that the watermelons have not been sweet because of the drought.

Waner has donated pumpkins and tomatoes to Marion Senior Center.

“We think it’s wonderful,” senior center director Janet Bryant said.

Even though the garden has been successful, Janzen is disappointed in its yield. If the summer had produced as much moisture as 2009, the garden would be overflowing with produce and more volunteers would have helped, she said.

If the community garden idea does not catch on Janzen said she might consider planting fruit trees and flowers instead. She will collect seeds from the garden this year. Next year, she will bring up the garden idea again in a Vision and Improvement Team meeting and try for the same grant in March.

“There’s work from the time you start until you finish,” Janzen said

Last modified Aug. 17, 2011

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