Gardeners wanted to make a difference

By Amanda Schwarze
Staff Writer

Growing thousands of pounds of vegetables to deliver to people who otherwise would have difficulty obtaining fresh produce takes a lot of manual labor.

The volunteers who work on the donation garden behind Long Lake Fire Station 1 on Willow Drive are about to embark on their second year of working in the 100-foot by 100-foot garden. April Wysocki volunteers her time in the garden, which has been referred to as the Firehouse Garden, and she said that volunteers are always being sought to help with the gardening.

The garden differs from a community garden. In community gardens, plots are sectioned off from a larger piece of land for individuals to garden as they see fit. In the donation garden, all of the produce grown is donated to organizations such as food shelves and senior living homes.

Wysocki said that last year the garden yielded 1,600 pounds of fresh produce such as watermelon, squash, beans and peppers. The soil in the garden then was "horrible," she said and they had been warned not to expect much to grow in it. For the current growing season, Wysocki said, the group had the soil amended and they are hoping to grow about 6,000 pounds of produce this year.

A core group of about nine people regularly volunteer their time in the garden, Wysocki said. On top of that, a lot of volunteers spend shorter stints, such as a week or two, in the garden and groups such as scouts, church groups and school children also help for short periods of time.

Wysocki said that all volunteers are appreciated, but that people who can commit to a steady schedule of helping throughout the growing season are most in demand. She also said that people who don’t have time to volunteer, but would like to help may donate money for the effort. All of the people who work on the garden are unpaid and the seeds and plants are donated by area stores such as Otten Bros. and Tonkadale, but the group is trying to raise money to install a sprinkler system at the site.

The produce grown this year will be sent to places such as Western Communities Action Network (WeCAN), Meals on Wheels, the Gillespie Center, the Maple Plain Area Food Shelf, Orono Woods and Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP). In addition, Wysocki said, the group is looking to deliver to the Long Lake Assisted Living Facility and if the yield is great enough they could branch out to the Rockford Food Shelf.

Wysocki said that the donation garden volunteers try not to waste any of the produce. She said that they try to cater their deliveries to provide the type of food that people want. That way, she said, they are not delivering peppers to someone who doesn’t eat them and would rather have tomatoes. In addition, the group also drops off baskets of produce and that food is gone before the next delivery to the location.

People who would like to volunteer or donate money to the garden may contact either the Long Lake or Orono city halls. Long Lake City Hall may be reached at (952) 473-6961. Orono City Hall may be reached (952) 249-4600.