By Pat Maurer
Surrey Township Library is sporting a brand new Community Garden behind the building in Farwell.
With the help of Bill Mathews, Associate Professor of Social Sciences at Mid Michigan Community College, Library Director Jean Gaskill and Program Director Gina Hamilton are planning the 635 Project at the Library. 635 is the Dewey Decimal number for gardening.
The program is part of the “Read and Feed” program through the Harrison District Library in partnership with Mid Michigan Community College and H & R Block of Harrison, who donated land for the community garden in that community. The community garden there was established last year and there’s another at MMCC in the old tennis courts, Mathews said.
Other gardens are, or will be located at the Senior Center, across from the Harrison District Library and at Larsen Elementary, all part of the “Read and Feed” program.
So far Mathews has built four of the six raised beds in back of the Surrey Library. When finished, there will be the six raised beds, three to five planters and an herb garden. There are even plans to expand the gardens later.
“We talked about a community garden project as part of our summer reading program, ‘Dig into Reading’,” Hamilton said. Kids, ages from first grade to thirteen will plant and tend two of the raised beds, Library staff will do two of the beds and two will be adoptable by interested community members.
Some of the produce raised by the Library staff will be donated to the Stone Soup Kitchen in Farwell, Gaskill said. She said the soil for the gardens and some products have been donated by Elm Creek Landscaping and Nursery of Farwell and that Filtrexx of Ohio donated 50 feet of “garden sox” for the herb garden. Planting will begin around June 1.
Sign up for the summer reading program is already underway with ten youngsters already enrolled. Sign-up sheets are available at the Library.
Bill said he wanted to establish community gardens in the area and had looked at purchasing property, but the insurance regulations prohibited that, so with the help of MMCC President Carol Churchill and the Harrison Library, it began and has been growing since. “The Larson site will have 12 fruit trees,” Mathews said. S.P.A.R.K.S. students will sponsor that site. At MMCC, Students of Promise will plant some of the beds and other student groups will also be adopting beds there.
Community gardens are not a new idea, Mathews continued. He said the concept started in Roxberry, Massachusetts when the first “school gardens” were established there at the turn of the century. “At their height, school children produced 49 percent of the vegetables consumed by Americans,” he said.
Many rolled into Victory Gardens during World War II, but the trend died out during the 1950s.
Now with so many families across the country in need, the gardens are making a comeback and there are many across the state and country now. Community gardens donate thousands of pounds of fresh produce to food pantries and involve people in processes that provide food security and alleviate hunger.
One unique crop for the children this year will be Monarch Butterfly Popcorn, a gourmet brand along with other gourmet popcorn types, and of course, basic vegetables, as the youngsters in the area learn about growing things this summer.
A handout from Gaskill said, “Community gardening is a healthy, inexpensive activity for youth that can bring them closer to nature and allow them to interact with each other in a socially meaningful and physically productive way.”