Families growing food at community garden

Monday, May 6, 2002

LABEL: First of its kind in county

By Sam Blackwell ~ Southeast Missourian

When Cape Girardeau police officer Dan Seger saw four people trying to tear up the ground at Ranney Park last week, he stopped his patrol car to help.

Seger got behind the tiller and turned the soil for the first Cape Girardeau Community Garden.

Sponsored by the East Missouri Action Agency Inc., the project is intended to help families provide themselves with extra food for the winter. Before the vegetables and fruit are harvested in the summer, the University of Missouri Extension Service will teach the families how to can the food.

Eighteen families have signed up to participate. They will work according to a schedule that sets different days for everyone to plant, weed and water.

With the help of Seger and guided by master gardener Robert Harris Jr., the community gardeners planted tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers last week. Watermelon and cantaloupe will go in when the time comes.

The garden is near the intersection of Ranney Street and Highway 74 in south Cape Girardeau. It is the first of its kind in the county, says Julie Weinkein, community service representative for the East Missouri Action Agency. It is a response to a survey of people the agency serves.

"People needed help with their food," Weinkein said. "With the money they did have they didn't have enough money to purchase food."

Most of the people who were eager to work in the community garden are older, Weinkein said. "The main reason is, their income is so low. One of the things they give up to purchase their medicine is their food."

Pat Cox, one of the community gardeners, always has a garden of her own and likes the work. "To me it's peace of mind," she says. "I forget all my worries."

Cox's household includes two 12-year-olds, two 13-year-olds and a 17-year-old, all of whom are going to work in the community garden. "They love gardening," she says. "We also love to fish. If we go in the garden and dig worms, we're killing two birds with one stone."

Mary Morris, a member of the agency board, also is a community gardener. She got Cox and others in the neighborhood involved. "Something I always wanted to do is work in the community," she says. "It's something I love to do. It makes you feel like you've done something that's worthwhile."

She also is an experienced gardener. She will have a garden of her own as well as participate in the community garden. "It's for the community," she said. "I'm working hard to get the people interested in it." She worked hardest on getting seniors involved.

"They love growing a garden, and it gives them something to do rather than stay home," she said.

Donated land

The 75-by-100-foot plot was donated by the city of Cape Girardeau. The America the Beautiful Fund, an organization that supports community volunteer projects aimed at improving the quality of life and saving the natural and historic environment, provided the seeds. The Boys and Girls Club has committed to providing labor, as have some basketball and baseball teams, Weinkein said.

Seger said he decided to stop because it appeared the gardeners could use a bit of help and because, as a patrolman in that area of town for six years, he could use some help, too.

"It's good to have good people on your side," he said. "And it was an opportunity to meet some people I haven't met."

He didn't quite know what he was getting himself into, though, when he volunteered to do the tilling.

"Somebody has spread manure all over the ground," he said.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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