The Community’s Garden

Growing a garden takes a little time and effort, but the payback of picking your own tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and lettuces can be huge. The seeds cost very little, the food tastes better, and there’s a certain satisfaction that comes when one is aware of all the hard work that went into a healthy, edible final product.

The Community’s Garden – located on 16th Place in Sturgeon Bay, across the street from Ministry Door County Medical Center (MDCMC) – demonstrates the many benefits of a healthy connection between people and their natural surroundings.

“The project started around two and a half years ago,” said Jennifer Fischer, MDCMC’s director of women’s and children’s health services. “Jenny Spude with UW – Extension was working on another community garden project on a different side of town.” When that project fell through, “I called her up, and we joined forces. She knows a tremendous amount about running a garden.”

The eight-acre park contains 47 community garden plots being cultivated by families, organizations and agencies located in Door County. People sign up for a 20-foot by 20-foot plot and agree to maintain it: pull the weeds and only use approved soil additives and fertilizers so that the gardens have an organic status.

One plot costs $30 for the growing season, which simply defrays the cost of the water. The nominal fee for Community’s Garden plots mean anybody can afford to have a garden.

Fischer said, “We have families, individuals…a group of friends who are growing for Feed My People. We have non-profit organizations – the Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity – the Hispanic community has a plot; there’s a nice variety of organizations that are growing for philanthropic purposes.”

The garden is more than what meets the eye, and building plans for a couple of greenhouses and an educational center are well on the way. The eight acres will eventually be home to some ponds and bogs that will help the neighborhood control its storm water.

“It will help clean up little creek and restore the surrounding wetland area,” Fischer said.
Inside one greenhouse the Community’s Garden will have an aquaponics system to raise fish – most likely tilapia and perch – and grow greens all year long. The other greenhouse will have a classroom/education center, a nursery for planting and a kitchen.

“We want to close that loop between growing food and preparing it,” Fischer said. “That last piece – teaching people how to eat it and use it in their meals – that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to people.”

MDCMC bought six plots and hired Linda Cockburn, a local organic grower, to start all of the plants. The hospital boasts 40 tomato plants, herbs, lettuces, peppers, peas, and potatoes.
“We cannot grow food to feed everyone here, but the idea is to use the food as a side dish or complement to the meal. When we feature something, we can use it as an educational tool,” Fischer said.

Ideas for hospital menu items include making an informational card on each patient’s plate every time a garden item is featured. That way people know what it is and where it came from. Fischer imagines they will use the tomatoes for sauces and dry the herbs to use for seasonings.

It’s an exciting year for the garden, full of growth and experimentation. Everyday the garden becomes more like a park, were you can walk around and see people at work in their plots, share stories, recipes and ask advice.

“We are a health care institution, and we should be shifting our focus towards wellness,” Fischer said. “We have to get a handle on all these chronic diseases, like heart disease and high blood pressure. It’s incumbent upon us as an organization. The Community’s Garden is really going to be a park – a place to go and see different methods of using the environment to make our own lives healthier, and improve the environment while we do it.”

An Evening in the Garden, A Local Harvest Gala

The Community’s Garden will host its first annual fundraiser on August 9. It’s an opportunity to come and see how the garden grows and to hear guest speaker Terese Allen, author of many books on regional foods, culinary traditions and seasonal cooking. Good, local eats will be served.
For more information or to purchase tickets, please call Jenny Fischer at 920.746.3563.