One of the first things Lois Winter of Florence does when she arrives at the Florence community garden is to take off her shoes.
“I walk barefooted because I like the ground,” the 82-year-old volunteer said. “Everybody should be walking barefooted at least an hour a day in the grass.”
Winter is among a growing number of volunteers who tend the plants and pick the weeds at the garden. One of the garden’s founders, Phoebe Janzen, said they’ve seen a few more each year.
“This is the coolest May I can remember,” Janzen said. “It’s been good for the workers, the rain, and it’s not terribly hot. Several more people have been helping.”
Tuesdays are Winter’s regular volunteer days, as they are for a group of four to five others. Having a group together on the same day each week is different from past years, when volunteers came and went sporadically, Janzen said.
“I told Janice last year if we didn’t get more help, we’d plant more annuals, more flowers, more trees, and turn it into a park,” she said.
There won’t be a new park in Florence this year, at least not while the Tuesday group continues to show up.
“I just started last year, at the end of it,” Winter said. “It is just so much fun, I love it. And the food is so good.”
Winter also keeps coming back for the “good vibrations” she feels in the garden. She said she’s a believer in grounding, a view that says people were meant to be in contact with the earth for optimal health. Hence the bare feet.
“You get all the good vibrations from the dirt and the ground here,” she said. “You’ve got to have good vibrations. That’s what’s wrong with people.”
Vibrations emanate from both people and plants, and Winter said she sometimes feels minor differences depending on where she is in the garden. The ground, though, is her primary source of connection with the garden.
“Laying in the grass is absolutely marvelous,” she said.
Anna Britton of Florence is helping for the first time this year. She said she’s been gardening most of her life.
“I love gardening,” Britton said. “I used to grow my own garden, it didn’t do too well last year, and I didn’t have any place to plant my garden,” she said.
She sees other volunteers there on Tuesdays, but said they’re all there to work.
“We talk when we meet each other when we’re hoeing or watering,” Britton said.
When asked which was better, produce from the community garden, or produce from her own, she deftly sidestepped the question.
“Oh, no, you’re not going to get me on that!” she said. “Everything so far has tasted real good.”
Three-year-old Noah Richmond of Marion could vouch for how good the gooseberries taste. His mother, Erica, said he’d eaten between 10 and 15 since arriving at the garden.
The pair was searching for more as Richmond recalled a family story about the berries.
“My grandma always made gooseberry pie,” she said. “One year we asked why we always had gooseberry pie and she said ‘Because we have a gooseberry pie in the yard.’”
Tuesdays in the garden are a time for Erica and Noah to share some “bonding time,” away from her husband, Jeff, and infant daughter. Noah likes the new sandbox for youngsters, but he likes exploring the garden more, Richmond said.
“He does like the sandbox,” she said. “He lasts a little while over there, but he likes to pick up the rocks. Last year he got to dig potatoes, and he loved it. It was cool for him to see potatoes grown in the ground. He likes to try it all out.”