Com­mu­nity Gar­den

Vol­un­teers join part­ner­ship be­tween school and hospi­tal

The Weekly Vista - - Front Page - LYNN ATKINS

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.

Lynn Atkins/The Weekly Vista

Denise Cock­rell brought her daugh­ters, Molly and Claire, to vol­un­teer on a work day at the Com­mu­nity Gar­den be­hind Mercy Clinic.

Lynn Atkins/The Weekly Vista

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.

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