Vacant Lot Comes Alive With Community Spirit
This week, Patch introduces you to Deb Lavender and some of the gardeners working to grow vegetables and community togetherness in a vacant lot in Meacham Park.
They battled extreme heat, cicadas, squirrels and chipmunks, but the volunteers who organized a new community garden in Meacham Park this summer will miss all that come winter.
“Now I’m not even looking forward to the winter because we won’t have the garden,” said Michele Collier, a first-time gardener who became the project’s unofficial critter control officer after something devoured her strawberries before she ever got a sweet nibble.
“It gave me a hobby. It gave me something to do,” she said. “I’m going to miss it.”
The community garden, in a vacant lot next to Collier's house on New York Street, was the brainchild of Deb Lavender, a Kirkwood physical therapist and community activist who thought it would be a great way to bring people together.
And it did. It brought together neighbors in Meacham Park who had never met. It brought together folks from opposite sides of town. It brought together experienced gardeners and novices. And it brought together senior citizens with young parents.
“I think we were very successful this year,” Lavender said.
Lavender said she came up with the idea after reading about community gardens in other areas. She wasn’t an experienced gardener herself, “but I do OK at organizing,” she said.
So she approached Roy Schwer, who owns the vacant lot, and with his OK, started spreading the word. Soon local businesses donated materials such as lumber for the raised garden boxes, soil and mulch.
Volunteers arrived to build the garden boxes last April. Then over the next few weeks, Lavender and about 20 other novice and veteran gardeners adopted individual plots and got to work, sowing seeds and planting seedlings, weeding, watering and finally, harvesting fresh produce, from tomatoes and zucchinis to beans, cabbage, peppers, butternut squash and herbs.
Along the way, the dedicated gardeners — and volunteers who just dropped by to help — shared advice, chores and recipes, too.
“I think we all learned a lot,” said Patricia Clark, a social worker who lives a couple of streets away from the garden. She said she used to hate to work in her parents’ garden when she was a little girl, but somehow having her own little vegetable patch was different.
“To see those beans when you’re putting them in the pot and know they came out of your garden – mmm, hmmm, I like this,” she said. “They were so delicious and tender.”
Collier agreed. She said she found herself spending hours researching the best ways to handle “critter control” after she discovered chipmunks feasting in the garden. And she often set up her sprinkler when she noticed plants looking parched.
For her, the garden paid off in zucchini. Lots and lots of zucchini.
“I’m surprised I don’t look like a zucchini, I’ve had so many,” she joked. “But I’m a vegetable fanatic. I can’t get enough of them.”
Lavender was pleasantly surprised by the amount of produce the new garden delivered.
“The Botanical Garden told us, ‘If you get anything the first year, you should be happy,’” she said. “We haven’t had a good produce year, but we haven’t had a bad one. For the first year, and for a very, very hot year, we’ve done pretty well.”
But the sweetest reward was seeing people coming together to work together. She’s anxious to continue growing next year.
She said the Rotary Club of Kirkwood already offered to build a small pavilion so that gardeners would have a place to post messages for each other or just get out of the sun. And she’s working on a plan to have rain barrels installed to make watering the garden easier.
But in the meantime, she's checking on the fall crop of beans and radishes and hoping to keep the critters away.