Garden of delights

Heavy rains may make it harder for farmers to get all their planting done, but for Fort Dodge gardeners things are growing great.

Families, church groups, and some businesses and clubs all have onions, tomatoes and peppers coming up nicely at the Fort Dodge Community Garden.

“At least it’s not a drought this year,” said Jamie Anderson. “I’ve never seen anything out here not grow because of too much water.”

Anderson is an Human Resources and Equal Opportunity specialist with the city of Fort Dodge, director of the Fort Dodge Human Rights Commission, and chair of the Webster County Cultural Diversity Team. The diversity team is running the garden this year.

The garden, near the corner of South Seventh Street and Fourth Avenue South, holds 18 different raised plots of various vegetables, plus several tractor tires filled with flowers.

“It’s a combination of families and some churches,” Anderson said. “First Baptist Church has two plots, Fort Dodge Housing has a couple, the young professionals have one. On this side there’s a father-daughter plot.”

The garden was initially conceived as a way to bring together people of different backgrounds, as well as a way for people in apartments to get their own fresh food.

It’s also a good way to learn about working outdoors.

“The First Baptist plot is run by their youth group. It’s good chance for the kids to learn about gardening,” she said.

The garden was founded in 2010, she said, with help from volunteers in the Americorps Volunteers in Service to America program. Grants and donations from local businesses helped provide a fence, a shed and other start-up needs.

This year, the garden is run locally.

The city mows the lawn around the garden, she said. Boys from the Rabiner Treatment Center came last week and spread mulch between the plots. And when it’s not constantly raining, the Fort Dodge Fire Department helps them have enough water.

“The fire department fills the water tanks when they get empty,” Anderson said. “The water plant helps us with this tank. They bring it out every spring, then take it back to the water plant in the fall so it doesn’t sit out here and freeze.”

She hopes to get running water out to the garden shed in the future, but so far there hasn’t been enough money.

This year, Anderson also hopes to have the gardeners weigh their produce. They keep what they need, but a lot ends up being donated to local charities such as the Lord’s Cupboard, the Beacon of Hope and the YWCA.

“I think the first year we tracked it, about 100 pounds of produce was donated back to the community,” she said.

The group hopes to set up gardening classes through Iowa State University Extension in the future.

The cultural diversity team is aided by the Human Rights Commission, Anderson said, which was created by the state of Iowa in 1995 to counter hate crimes and discrimination.

“The mission of the diversity team is to help promote an inclusive environment. The commission works to eliminate discrimination and enforce the laws of civil rights,” she explained. “The diversity team, on the other hand, is more of an advocacy group, education, outreach.”

The team coordinates a National Night Out to promote police-community partnerships, and neighborhood watches to promote unity among people. They also will hold a free ice cream social in July, where people can learn about Iowa civil rights pioneer Edna Griffin.