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Garden a true community effort

Staff writer

Brock Mitchell was taking a break Thursday as he described how cardboard turned a 11-year-old boy into the newest volunteer for a garden in Florence where relationships flourish as abundantly as produce.

“They were out by the dump getting boxes and I saw them and followed them here,” Mitchell said.

The large six-plot garden on West Third Street reminded Mitchell of a garden he left behind when he moved to Florence six months ago from Parsons with his grandmother.

“It’s cool,” Mitchell said as he prepared to water tomato plants.

Phoebe Janzen said there were skeptics when she and Janice Waner decided in March 2011 to create the garden.

“We had some naysayers who said nobody’s going to help you with that,” Janzen said.

Undeterred, Janzen arranged with the Florence Historical Society for use of the open lot east of the Harvey House Museum. The project literally got off to a rocky start.

“We couldn’t find anybody to come in with a tractor until Jim Padgett said, ‘By golly, I’ll do it,’” Janzen said. “He brought in a huge tractor. There were houses here 120 years ago, and there were all kinds of rocks and junk beneath the ground.”

Once ground was broken, Janzen, Waner, and others had to remove rocks by hand.

“We had Dale Miller, who’s 86, who would come and carry tons of rocks,” Janzen said.

Max Williams was another early volunteer, Janzen said.

“Max helped water, he did all the labor for free for the arbor, he did all the raised bed frames, and he made little stands from palettes,” Janzen said.

Small grants have paid for a water spigot, bed improvements, and purchases of many of the plants in this year’s crop, but the garden is a community effort that operates primarily by donations and volunteers.

Holly and Mike Pereillo moved to Florence a year and a half ago with their three children, and volunteering in the garden has become a regular family activity.

“It’s been a nice way we can be involved in things,” Mike said. “It’s easier to set our time with this. We volunteer the days we can work.”

Holly said doing things together as a family has been more important than getting some of the produce volunteers are entitled to.

“We really haven’t eaten much out of the garden,” Holly said. “It’s just fun to see who you meet up here, and learn a lot about gardening.”

Holly said she enjoys the benefits her children Connor, 14, Gracie, 10, and Mikey, 4, get by volunteering in the garden.

“It’s great for them because they get to help plant it, they water it and they weed it, and now they’re starting to see the results of their work,” Holly said.

She described Mikey as an often picky eater, but tending the garden led him to try something new.

“Because he helped water and weed the onions he said, ‘I want to try one of those, can I try one of those?’” Holly said. “I thought, ‘You poor kid, of all the things to try, an onion.’ But he tried something new, and I think that’s amazing.”

Heather Diemer moved from Wichita to Florence in May when her husband Mitchell became the new pastor at Florence Christian Church. The Diemers have two children — Brighton, 4, and Sterling, 1 — who come with them to volunteer.

“My family comes out here two or three times a week. Sometimes in the evening we just walk down here and water real quick,” Diemer said. “It’s a great idea. I don’t think there’s anything like this in Wichita.”

Diemer said working at the garden has introduced her to people she might not otherwise have met. Holly Pereillo agreed.

“With the garden you bring all ages and all interests in the whole community together,” Holly said. “With work or school, with certain activities you tend to see the same people,” Holly said.

An open section in one of the beds has given Bethany Grimmett, 10, and her sister Heidi, 7, a place to plant and tend their own garden, which includes watermelons, cucumbers, spaghetti squash, and Armenian cucumbers.

“Mommy, I have five Armenian cucumbers!” Heidi called out to Melanie Grimmett.

“They made their own little name tags, their dad helped them make them,” Grimmett said.

Bethany said they work in the garden three days a week.

“It’s fun,” Bethany said.

“It’s hard work,” Heidi said.

Waner is pleased the garden has turned out to be a place for people and families to interact.

“Last year when it was 112, I thought ‘I don’t have any idea why I could have possibly ever thought this was a good idea,” Waner laughed.

Last modified July 3, 2012

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