Community garden free to hobby gardeners

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Shelly Birkelo
Saturday, August 3, 2013

JANESVILLE—Sheri Thomsen and her children picked fresh garden produce Saturday morning that they tossed into a basket to take home.

Nearby, Diane Runde and her two teenagers weeded and harvested vegetables and flowers.

Further up the garden plot, Judy Latka uncovered potatoes from beneath the straw.

These Janesville residents are among around 25 local people who tend to a variety of gardens in the half-acre section on the Nienhuis family century Good Acres farm on South La Prairie Town Hall Road.

It all got started 25 years ago after the combine couldn't get under some trees to plant more corn and "somebody asked if they could plant a few potatoes," said Nancy Nienhuis, who manages the farm.

Since then a variety of people have asked if they could have a garden at the farm, she said.

The group includes a retired couple, a high school agriculture teacher, 4-H club members, a group of girlfriends, and local professionals.

"It's sort of a conglomerate of people interested in gardening, who are all very nice and willing to help each other," she said.

Nienhuis said the gardens are similar to other community gardens, except she doesn't charge her hobby gardeners to use her land. Alex Krueger, who works on the farm, plows and fertilizes the land with manure so it's ready for planting each spring.

Nienhuis does all this because of the joy gardening brings to her and the others.

"I have a love of gardening and some of these people just don't have a place to garden," Nienhuis said.

But there are other benefits for her, the gardeners and others.

"If they produce too much food, it goes to ECHO and the Salvation Army" food pantries, she said.

The extras also go to neighbors, friends, high school home economics classes, and local nursing homes, the gardeners said.

Nienhuis also is pleased to know that the parents who garden on her land also bring their young children to learn.

Providing the land also provides opportunities for gardeners to experiment with new gardening techniques. For example, Latka, who is a master gardener, does trench and straw gardening, she said.

"This allows them to try all sort of different types of gardens," Nienhuis said.

Latka agreed: “I've got lots of space and do a lot of vine crops, too.”

The farm has no available garden plots at this time.

"We're pretty well filled," she said, and taking on new gardeners could only happen if any current gardener would leave.

Meanwhile, those who garden at the farm east of the city are thankful for the opportunity and experience.

“I do it because I love it and do it with friends once a week. It's social and we love to cook and plant,” Thomsen said.

Together they have salsa-making parties. They also make herb butter and pesto, she said.

“Between the (garden) rows, we talk about life and it's challenges,” Thomsen said.

 “We all also love to eat healthy,” she said, “and cook with fresh food."

The gardens allow them to do just that.

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