The rousing success of the Harvel Community Garden’s first year (in 2020) set a high bar for this season, yet the garden continues to provide the community with fresh vegetables and chances to work together. Pastor Joe Nehring, of Trinity Lutheran Church anticipates that the garden’s fall crops will produce well into October.
The lush greens of the plants and their vividly colored “fruits” quickly draw the eye of anyone driving past 426 North Monroe in Harvel. Only a year ago the well-tended rows of plants were an empty space in the village.
When a member of Trinity Lutheran donated the property to the church, Pastor Nehring quickly realized that it would be the perfect place to start a community garden - both to feed the community and give them a place to come together in a common endeavour.
As a child, Nehring often helped his grandmother, Rena Tatum, with her garden. The benefits of a community garden were planted in his head later, during his seminary training, when he discovered Gateway Green, a community garden organization in St. Louis, MO.
Community members from throughout the Panhandle area volunteer their time and expertise to maintain the garden, which has already seen several expansions in its second year.
“We are learning as we go. This year we enlarged the garden so that we could spread out the tomato plants in the hope that we can walk between them this year,” said Pastor Nehring, with a warm-hearted grin. “We also have more people helping this year, so we are making new friends and the work is going much quicker.”
Pastor Nehring added that each year brings its own challenges and blessings. This summer’s heavy rains were a mixed blessing for the volunteers as they reduced the need to water plants but have given the weeds a better chance to grow.
“The hotter weather meant the produce giveaways started a week earlier this year, however it has taken its toll on the plants,” said Nehring. “But in all things, God continues to bless the Harvel Area Community Garden. The bounty has been amazing and we have never had to dump the produce we harvest. It has always found a home.”
The vegetable selection changes from week to week, though typically includes tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, purple hull peas, cucumbers and a limited amount of peppers.
The team anticipates having a second crop of green beans and okra to give away in coming weeks. Fall crop planting began on August 18.
All of the produce grown in the community garden is free of chemicals and pesticides. Next year they plan to plant flowers among the vegetables to help control pests.
Volunteers meet at 6 p.m. on Wednesday nights to harvest the vegetables. Community members are invited to pick up the fresh produce from 4 to 6 p.m., on Thursday afternoons at 124 Main Street in Harvel, across from the Harvel Post Office.
Those that need vegetables during the week are invited to come and carefully pick for themselves from the garden. Leftover produce is donated to the Morrisonville-Palmer Food Pantry and the Panhandle Food Pantry in Raymond.
Nehring emphasized that use of the garden is not limited to Harvel residents.
“There are a few misunderstandings out there. For example, we heard that folks outside of Harvel think the garden is just for Harvel and it isn’t. So, we changed the name slightly to the Harvel Area Community Garden,” Nehring explained. “We want everyone to enjoy the produce that we grow, regardless of where they live. The only thing better than a fresh tomato on a BLT or a hamburger is a free fresh tomato.”
Nehring stated that another misunderstanding is that the produce is only available for people who can’t afford fresh vegetables. He explained that while they donate produce to the local food banks, the produce is for anyone that wants to enjoy it. While monetary donations are accepted, produce from the Harvel Community garden is free to everyone.
“With 2021 well underway, it is hard to tell whether this year will be better than 2020,” said Nehring. “Whatever happens, God continues to bless the garden with fruitfulness, and the team enjoys working together and providing free fresh vegetables to those in Harvel and the surrounding area.”