Volunteers join partnership between school and hospital
After work on a windy spring evening, people slowly gather for a volunteer project that is drawing from three very different groups. This summer, the garden space behind the Mercy Clinic will be shared by clinic employees, Cooper Elementary School and a new group of volunteers who live in the community.
The garden was installed in 2014, thanks to a grant from General Mills. It was always a joint project with the school, Mercy representative Rhonda Dixon said. She was the first to arrive for Thursday’s work day. She came straight from her job in the clinic.
“The kids love to come out here,” she said, but summers have been a problem. During the summer months, the raised beds planted by Cooper students were ignored.
The garden consists of seven raised beds of different sizes. Dixon and other Mercy employees care for three beds. Last year, she gathered the produce as it ripened and left it at the coffee shop inside the Mercy building with a sign asking for donations. She kept the donations to spend on seeds and soil additions this year.
The topsoil that fills the raised beds was donated and there are bags left over for more beds.
Meanwhile, the POA Joint Advisory Committee on Recreation was talking about a community garden for POA members. Judy Griffin, a member of the committee, was assigned to talk to Mercy about the existing garden.
She was at the work day along with 10 or 12 volunteers who brought a collection of seeds and tiny plants.
As soon as Griffin started posting on Facebook about a possible community garden, people started contacting her, she said. She had a list of 30 interested residents almost immediately. Because its all new to Griffin, as well as her 30 volunteers, they agreed to start off slowly. They took over one long raised bed in the garden and plan to build at least a couple more where there’s some empty space, so each of the three groups will have three beds.
Everyone will work together on the beds, she said, and share the produce. If they have enough to sell, they may get a booth at the Farmers Market and keep the profits for future crops. She’s also planning to help with the only in-ground bed, which is a herb garden.
Some of the volunteers are interested in working their own beds, but the Mercy site isn’t big enough to split up, she explained. Her long-term goal is to form a nonprofit that will find locations all over Bella Vista for community gardens so each volunteer can have their own bed.
Griffin’s volunteers will also help put together a new garden shed on the site. There was enough money left over from the original grant to buy the shed, Dixon said. It will be used to store tools and gloves donated to the project.
School representative Katie Anderson was there for the work day as well, but the students probably won’t be out to the garden until after spring break, she said.
Anderson teaches a class called ESTEAM — Economics, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. Her students explore all kinds of things, including nature, she said. She plans to assign the three Cooper beds according to grade level for second, third and fourth grade. Her kindergarten and first-grade classes will also have a gardening project, but they won’t be walking over to the Mercy campus. They will probably grow small plants in the classroom.
Anderson is hoping her students’ families will volunteer to take care of the beds over the summer. She plans to give each family a week to take care of the garden.
The garden is surrounded by a chain-link fence, which is usually locked, Dixon said. But the key is available at the hospital’s emergency room desk so the volunteers can come and go whenever they want.
Like any garden, the community garden is always changing and growing.
Denise Cockrell brought her daughters, Molly and Claire, to volunteer on a work day at the Community Garden behind Mercy Clinic.
Volunteers Dot Charlan, Susan Carman and Dawn Roach transfer tiny radish plants into the raised bed at the back of the community garden behind Mercy Clinic.