Community Garden Volunteers, others can help themselves

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Jerry and Chris Muff are pictured next to the sign Chris made to invite people to participate in the Community Garden.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor
Whether you’re harvesting your 30th season of heirloom tomatoes or have never before planted a plot, there’s a place for you in Elkader’s Community Garden. Volunteers of all skill levels are needed to maintain the garden. In return, workers can help themselves to the harvest.
Located adjacent to St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery on the south edge of town, the Community Garden was established two years ago by members of St. Joe’s congregation. This year’s plot is similarly sized and as mid-summer approaches, it’s beginning to show the fruits of the volunteers’ labors: Squash plants are heavy with blooms, the potato patch has been neatly hilled and cabbages are beginning to burst out of their dense-leaf covers.
The garden is surrounded by an electric fence to keep deer out. Access is through an unlocked gate marked by a whimsical, handmade sign that sums up the garden’s purpose in two words: Help yourself.
“Our idea is to help anyone who needs food or wants to learn about gardening but doesn’t have the land, time or possibly the desire to do it on their own,” explains Cassie Panther of the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative. “We really want people to feel free to walk into (the garden) and anything in it is fair game.”
Panther added that community members could also help themselves to produce in a garden located across the street from Central Schools. However, she’d like to see some produce left there for Garden Club and Central families.
The community garden near St. Joe’s has a small but loyal cadre of volunteers like Chris and Jerry Muff. The couple spends most Tuesday afternoons pulling weeds, laying down straw and watering. The Muffs, who moved to Elkader from West Union after Jerry retired, like the idea of a project that helps people help themselves.
“We’re not really ‘garden people,’” Chris admitted, “but we enjoy working here and we know that the food that’s not harvested by volunteers goes to help others in need.”
Last year, excess produce was donated to the Clayton County Food Shelf. Director Utoni Ruff provided recipes for some of the produce she distributed in case folks needed more ideas for using squash, cabbage and other vegetables.
The Muffs advise prospective volunteers to bring garden gloves, bug spray and any tools they think they might need as those items are not kept at the garden. There’s a log on a small table in the garden area where workers can record the tasks they’ve done.
Like many other volunteers, the Muffs hope the Community Garden will be utilized to the extent that next year’s plot will need to be enlarged.
“This could be a big food-producing area, which would be a terrific thing,” Jerry said. “We just need to get the ball rolling and keep it going that way.”
The Muffs expressed gratitude to the Elkader City Council, who earlier this summer agreed to provide liability insurance for anyone working in the garden.
“If it wasn’t for that, we’d already be done,” Jerry said. “We would’ve had no choice but to let the weeds take over.”
Anyone interested in working in the garden and harvesting from it need only show up during daylight hours. The garden isn’t locked so just “Help Yourself.”


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