Community enjoys fruits (and vegetables) of labor

(Above) Rangely Community Gardens president Lisa Hatch and volunteer Brenda Pennell staff the farmer’s market. The market has sold 160 cucumbers and 15 pounds of green beans in its first couple of weeks. 

RANGELY I After months of cultivating plants, Rangely Community Gardens volunteers are sharing the bounty at the Gardens’ biweekly farmer’s market.
Twice a week a large green picnic table laden with squash, beets, radishes, carrots, cucumbers and peppers greets customers at the garden entrance. On the ground next to the table, zucchini, some of them more than 2 feet long, await inspection. Next week, 12 to 15 pounds of green beans will be picked to add to the market’s current offerings. September and October will bring the potato, tomato, corn and pumpkin harvests.
The market is open Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Volunteers begin gathering the produce around 8 a.m. each morning.
“It’s gone well,” Rangely Community Gardens president Lisa Hatch said. “It’s amazing how last year we thought, ‘We have to plant more cucumbers.’ Now we’re overloaded. We’ve got spots producing three times the amount they did last year.”
The market has sold around 160 cucumbers, 40 zucchini and 15 pounds of green beans, Hatch said. Prices are calculated mostly by numbers; medium-sized peppers and cucumbers are two for $1, while larger items like mid-sized zucchini and eggplants run for $1 each. “Bunches” and “fists” are terms of trade in the market, where a bunch of carrots and a fistful of green beans go for $1 each. All money earned goes toward purchasing next year’s supplies, seeds and fertilizer.
If cost is an issue, volunteers can weed or water in exchange for vegetables, gardens committee member and botanical leader Norma Hood said. Produce is also given to residents at the White River Apartments and Eagle Crest Assisted Living.
“I think it’s important for the community as a whole to be able to serve those who are needy and who might need help obtaining fresh foods,” Hood said.
There’s a social aspect that accompanies the planting and harvesting cycle, as well.
“For me as a senior, I get to interact with the kids,” Hood said. “The gardens are important for the parents who bring the children. They get to watch something grow, to see that the ground produces things that are good for you.”

Norma Hood’s fairy garden.

Hood takes children through the “fairy garden,” her personal plot framed by whimsical archways and miniature United States flags. The space is filled with rhubarb, zucchini, yellow squash, okra, green beans, strawberries, watermelons and peas, but there’s also room for children to wander and play. Those who help weed or water in the gardens earn a selection from Hood’s treasure box.
In the mornings, before it gets too hot, the gardens are also a place for people to “come out and sit at the tables, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and socialize out there,” Hood said.
And the community connections keep coming: Hatch will teach a community member to pickle her extra cucumbers on Friday, while volunteers are gathering recipes to give community members along with the produce.
The gardens, which hosted 26 private plots this year, along with a botanical area and the community section, will be harvested until mid-October or until the frost arrives. Until then, volunteers are invited to help gather produce or they can sign up for jobs to complete when they have time.
“We had more volunteers this year, which was great,” Hatch said. “Our garden committee had 12, which is twice the size of last year.”
Since spring, volunteer coordinator Parlena Covington, Hood and Hatch have donated approximately 20 hours per week to the gardens. Sharon Stewart, who helped start the project two years ago, spent dozens of hours planting early in the summer. Other gardens committee members have donated anywhere from 4-10 hours each week.
Then there are those who have dropped in to help on market days or to weed and water. Community groups also helped to plant and place the town flowers, which the gardens took charge of this year.
“The Boy Scouts and Royal Rangers helped put the dirt in and carry the pots,” Hatch said. “The 4-H girls and the Girl Scouts actually planted the flowers. And we’ve had a few 4-H girls helping with watering. Some of the Boy Scouts have helped with weeding throughout the summer.”
The town paid the committee $3,400 for taking on the Main Street flowers, money it would have paid a seasonal employee to do the job. Gardens volunteers were responsible for watering, fertilizing and dead-heading flowers for at least four hours per day, three days per week.
“We housed those plants in the hothouse, babied them and put in all the soil and nutrients,” Hood said. “The hard work that’s gone into that is really something. The ladies (who have volunteered) have worked their tails off.”
Hatch said that while caring for the flowers took more time than planned, the project was worthwhile.
“Basically, there was a learning process with the flowers,” Hatch said. “Some flowers did well and some didn’t. We plan on doing it again, but we’ll do it a little differently next time. We’ll have meetings with the town and discuss where they want to go with it.”
Next year, gardens volunteers may fertilize more often, which could require less dead-heading. They also experimented with water-saving crystals that could mean flowers need less frequent watering. Long-term plans may include larger displays in three areas that have water readily available – Striegel Park, Town Hall and Hefley Park – and someday, installing water lines down Main Street.
For now, gardens volunteers are looking ahead to next year.
“We’d like to get the garden in a little earlier so that we have an earlier harvest with a little longer harvest time,” Hatch said. “And getting more volunteers is key for next year.”
Norma Hood attributes much of the gardens’ success to one special volunteer.
“Lisa is a dynamo on wheels,” Hood said. “She never turns anyone down, she helps in other people’s personal gardens. While she and Sharon (Stewart) are talking, they’re doing it while pulling weeds.”