Plot owners, volunteers join forces to tend plants at Indiana Community Garden

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Volunteers reap more than they sow in their community garden at Indiana's Mack Park, where apple trees, raspberry and blueberry bushes and other fruit and vegetable plants connect people as varied as the crops.

Dozens of volunteers young and old, from school, club and church groups have joined efforts to toil in the soil provide access to fresh food through the Indiana Community Garden.

Marie Olson coordinates the garden project, which began in April 2012.

“The goal was to create a garden for the community,” she noted. “It started slow. “ But, “We have more and more people. More people are active with the garden this season.

“We have five large beds for community use. We want people to come help us in the garden and to help us harvest. We still need people to take ownership. It's a big effort.”

There are 24 individual plot owners, she said. As group and individual participation continues to grow, Olson said the community garden is open for more volunteers — including students who are looking to meet requirements for completing service projects.

“We ask for sponsorship of $100 for one garden bed,” Olson said, adding, “Anyone who has a volunteer project they need to do is welcome to come to the community garden.”

Last year, the group secured a grant and individual financial donations and held a soup fundraiser to purchase wood and supplies to build a pavilion.

“To start with, we decided what kind of wood to use,” said Sandy Petkus, the group's liaison with the Penn State Extension office. “We decided to use 4-by-12-foot treated lumber for the raised beds.

“We couldn't find anyone to design the pavilion, so I designed it myself. Everyone kept saying it would be a couple of beds.”

The group boasts three 80-square-foot community beds that form the letter “I,” for Indiana.

Fourteen semi-dwarf apple trees and sunflowers surround a natural gas well located on the outer area of the garden.

In keeping with project goals of plant, gardening and nutrition education for participants and visitors to special events

A community planting day was held recently — in keeping with project goals of providing garden participants and visitors useful information about plants and nutrition. Those attending the special event planted tomatoes, peppers, squash, peas, garlic, onions, swiss chard, kale and strawberries.

A nutrition demonstration was staged at the pavilion as part of the planting day. Nutrition educators conducted free cooking demonstrations that were open to the public.

Jodie Seybold and Nicole Dann-Payne, both registered dieticians and instructors at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, led the demonstration. Employing samples, they showed how to use ingredients to make lavender cookies and fruit salads. Participants also learned to use various naturally-flavored syrups and lemon- and herb-infused oils.

“We're part of the vision team for this garden” Seybold said. “We decided to do food demonstrations. It does feel good to not be bound by a curriculum. It's important for me that people are provided nutrition education.”

Dann-Payne, IUP liaison for the garden project, said, “I value educating people on how to stretch dollars to use food nutritionally. It's an outlet to do what we love with people who are interested. It is very rewarding.”

The instructors also have helped get IUP students involved in the garden project.

“I really got involved when Marie Olson was getting things going,” Dann-Payne said. “I saw a poster. I saw this as a huge opportunity to help the community with food education. I helped with getting students involved.”

IUP student Lisa McCann, 55, is completing an anthropology internship with the garden project.

“I am photographing and interviewing people about what they do at the garden,” McCann said. “I drove by and saw people working in the garden. I got involved. I'm here with people who have the same interest to improve garden efforts, and I get internship credits.”

The group maintains year-round gardening with such cold-season crops as spinach, swiss chard, kale and garlic.

“We are just all very, very passionate about what we do,” Olson said. “We reach out to kids and families. They see it's not hard. We show people how to plant.

“I want people to be aware and to come and help. We have a schedule for watering and mowing around beds. There are always things to do.”

Debbie Black is a freelance writer.

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