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How “Just a Community Garden” Became So Much More

The concept of a community garden isn’t new – you have a space where people who don’t have their own space come together to grow stuff.  It’s nice to see familiar faces planting or weeding or picking or weeding or watering or weeding.  You talk about aphids, the heat and the weeds together and he gives you a few extra zucchini and you share your peppers.

The Northern Lancaster Hub and the Ephrata Public Library in conjunction with WellSpan Health wanted to bring this communal feeling to Ephrata.  So we enlisted some help from library patrons who happened to also be master gardeners, were lucky enough to know some people who donated to the project, bought some seeds and waited.

And as our tomatoes, peppers and Brussel sprouts grew so did our ideas.  We decided to donate the vegetables to Ephrata Area Social Services (EASS), so that those who needed a hand up could have fresh, organic produce.  As a partner in our Hub, EASS knew that a few zucchini were easy but over 100 pounds of zucchini over the summer could overwhelm people – how much zucchini bread can you make?  So we contacted WellSpan Health who sent nutritionists out to the library and did a series over the summer on creative, inexpensive and delicious things to do with your produce surplus – and so people made zucchini apple slaw and baked zucchini stuffed with meatloaf (my favorite) and a spicy zucchini cheese soup.

And the library’s new Program Manager wanted to include the kids and so WellSpan made a veggie of the month. At the children’s cooking class they made omelets with lots of broccoli and the teens had a blast with Hot Pepper Shakespeare - take a big ole bite of a raw hot pepper then read some Hamlet.  Trust us, it was amazing!

This garden has inspired people in the community to come out several times over the summer to water and weed, insuring those little blossoms would become beans.  People that only grew a pot of tomatoes on their deck have enrolled in the Extension Agency’s Master Gardner program.  Preschoolers realized that the same sunflower seeds they eat also make new sunflowers. There are community members that have found a place for themselves as volunteers for the garden. A new relationship started over the importance of planting marigolds to ward off pests. A job offer even materialized.

So if this dirt gave us food, friendship, jobs, knowledge and fun in just one season, could there be more?  In the warm summer evenings we dreamed – what if we could create a community kitchen?  We could grow more, teach more, share more, empower more.  What if we could use more of the land?  What if we could make a pollinator garden to encourage bees and birds?  What if we could create a “tool library” to lower the barriers for anyone to create their own veggie paradise?  How can we bring more partners together to encourage this growth?

And now the summer is over. In the fall you plan for next year’s garden and so we are. Our summer dreams are composting (that’s a good thing!) and we are excited about the spring and our next season to grow.

Kelly Ernst Warner
Hub Coordinator
Northern Lancaster Hub
560 S. Reading Rd.  Ephrata, PA 17522