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Community plots take gardeners back to childhood days

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Community Garden members brought out their finest scarecrows for the July 10 open house. Pictured in the background, grant-funded raised beds are available for those who can’t garden on hands and knees. Staff photo by Joni Hubred
Joni Hubred, News Editor

Barry Crotty got his first plot in the Community Garden at Riverland Community College six or seven years ago.

“I’ve gardened all my life, I started as a kid,” the Owatonna resident said.

Friends introduced him to the space on Alexander Drive, created in 2011 as a partnership between Riverland and the Steele County Master Gardener program. City Parks and Recreation staff till plots in the spring and keep the grass trimmed.

Master Gardeners held a July 11 open house to show off the 21 plots and raised beds that allow those who can’t work on hands and knees to enjoy the experience as well.

Lorrie Rugg. Steele and Rice County Master Gardener coordinator, said the gardens started out with 27 plots, but pulled back a bit as some were in an area that is always wet. The Community Garden is popular; she had a waiting list this year but found a spot for everyone.

A grant from the Owatonna Foundation helped with the purchase of a garden shed, lawn mower, and weed whip, and a SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Partnership) grant funded the raised beds. Master Gardeners hope to add more of those.

Most gardeners–including Crotty–donate lots of produce each year to the local food shelf. And the Community Garden is a social experience.

Along with spending time in his garden every day, Crotty said he enjoys chatting with other gardeners while he’s there about what’s growing and how they’re managing their plots.

“I really like what they do here,” he said. “They do a good job.”

David Allard, a first timer this year, also remembers gardening with his family as he was growing up.

“I just like growing stuff and seeing what happens,” he said. “There’s a lot of variables in growing any kind of plant, and there’s a lot to learn. That makes it fun.”

Allard spotted the Community Garden sign as he works nearby and decided in December to call. An Owatonna resident, he had gardened a little around his home but went all in with his Community Garden plot. Along with other vegetables, he’s got a few rows of corn that seem to be doing well.

When he learned Monday’s event would include a scarecrow contest, Allard brought out a scarecrow that had been stored in the attic for 30 years.

“My mother-in-law made it for us to use at a previous house,” he said. “She passed about five years ago. I wish she was here to see it.”

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