Like the Liberal Community Garden, Sublette’s site provided free water hook-ups and plenty of space. Gardeners brought their own support items like these trellises and tomato cages, as well as their own tools. Photos courtesy Charity Horinek
Community gardens cultivate more than vegetables
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
As 75-degree days alternate with chilly drizzle, Liberal gardeners might be feeling a bit torn about when to get started on the year’s planting. One deadline is clear, though: sign-up for a plot in the City of Liberal community garden.
“We’ve only got two left,” said Liberal Parks and Recreation secretary Christi Starr. “There are 37, but they’re almost all taken.”
The community garden, located on the northwest corner of Clay and Pine streets, offers participants a helping hand with their gardening endeavors. City employees have already turned the soil on the lot, though gardeners are welcome to bring their own roto-tillers or garden tools to dig and prepare the soil further. Each plot is equipped with a water faucet. Gardeners must provide their own hoses or sprinkler systems, but the water is free.
The cost for a 30-by-30-foot plot is $15 for the entire season, which began in April and continues through October.
Previous years have seen a broad variety of garden endeavors. Asian immigrants sow squash and greens unfamiliar to Midwestern gardeners. Some participants plant mostly one crop — potatoes or watermelons — while other set up a traditional vegetable garden with many varieties. A few gardens are maintained by retired residents of the adjacent housing complex.
Community gardens, popular in large cities where people often don’t have yards, have also begun to spring up in smaller communities around the region.
In Sublette, for example, residents started a community garden a few years ago, and found that even in a small town with spacious individual yards, working together can prove beneficial.
According to participant Charity Horinek, the planning and execution of building a community garden for Sublette was done by a diverse group of people led by Lacey Noterman, Haskell County Extension ag agent.
“The community garden started because a wonderful couple who owned some unused land contacted the Extension Office and volunteered it to 4-H kids in the horticulture project, or as a community garden site,” recalled Horinek. “Through a visionary ag agent and a committee of interested community members of all ages, the Sublette Community Garden was born. I am so grateful for the landowners, Mr. and Mrs. Withers, who made it possible for the garden to exist. They did a wonderful thing for the community.”
The landowners installed individual irrigation access for each plot, put up fences, planted flowers, and placed picnic tables, with the long-term goal of making the location a gathering spot for families. In fact, the Horineks participated for two years running, in spite of the fact that they’d already established multiple gardens at their own house.
“Our lot size is not very large, and we wish to grow much of the food we need to feed our family of eight and become more self-sufficient,” Horinek said. Having extra space to grow more food crops, especially those vegetables that take a lot of space, “was wonderful.”
Horinek speaks in the past tense, because the Sublette site did not work out, and the group is now looking for a new location.
“We’re working on it, and I’m sure we will find another lot soon,” she said.
Until then, the family will cultivate smaller plots by their own house.
In Liberal, the community garden has already begun to see some traffic, with gardeners raking over the dirt and preparing to plant crops. Residents who’d like to participate still have a chance of getting in on the experience, Starr noted.
“Those last two plots are still up for grabs,” she said. “All they have to do is call the Rec Center, or stop by to sign up.”