As the Waupaca Community Garden heads into its fifth growing season, the volunteers behind it continue to work at making it a sustainable venture.
“We’re trying to make this a long-term project,” said Pat Phair, an English teacher at Waupaca High School who helps head the garden. “Each year, little by little, we add things.”
The approximately two-acre vegetable garden provides fresh produce for area food pantries, senior nutrition sites and more.
In 2010, the garden produced 9,823.75 pounds of produce, which was then given free of charge to 16 charitable food outlets in the area.
Last year, the Waupaca Area Food Pantry received 2,006 pounds of produce from the garden, while the Bread Basket received 1,398 pounds, the Waupaca Senior Nutrition Site received 768 pounds, the Iola Senior Nutrition Site received 833 pounds and the displaced veterans program on the campus of the Wisconsin Veterans Home received 826 pounds.
The garden is located on the grounds of Waupaca High School, near the practice soccer fields.
Money that is raised or donated for the garden is used to purchase bedding plants, seeds, tilling equipment, fertilizers, gasoline, capital improvement items and to pay the salaries of garden employees.
Phair said the garden’s operating budget is about $5,500 and that two at-risk students have been hired to work at the garden this summer. That is in addition to the garden’s regular staff.
A $6,000 grant from the Waupaca Community Foundation for this year makes it possible to hire staff for the garden, he said. Additionally, hundreds of people volunteer at the garden from May 1 until Oct. 1.
During the last four years, the garden has grown to become the largest supplier of fresh produce to area charitable food outlets.
Connie Abert, of the Waupaca County University of Wisconsin Extension office, said the community garden is an example of one reason why more area residents have access to healthy foods.
She said that in the 2009 county health rankings, 40 percent of Waupaca County residents had access to healthy foods, with that number improving to 60 percent in the 2010 health rankings.
“Fresh fruit and vegetables is one of the pieces to better health,” Abert said.
In the Waupaca area, there is a need for fresh produce. According to Phair, more than 40 percent of the students in the Waupaca School District are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and in the last two years, the client load at the Waupaca Area Food Pantry has increased by close to 50 percent.
In recent years, expansion of the community garden has included the planting of 22 apple trees, with plans to add another 20 this year.
“We’re also doing more instruction,” he said.
Shelia Kroseberg is a family and consumer science teacher at Waupaca Middle School who has received a grant that will help to pay for middle school students to be bused to the high school at different times before the end of this school year to work in the garden.
This year, the Waupaca Community Garden is also seeking grant dollars to purchase a used or new tiller that would help increase the garden’s planting area.
Phair said they continue to plant more perennials in the garden, such as asparagus.
Flowers are also grown at the community garden. “We give bunches away. The seniors especially love them. We grow them just to give away,” he said.
The newest venture for the garden is to work with area restaurants, delivering excess produce to them.
“Last year, we experimented with one, and it was very successful. This year, we’re adding two,” Phair said.
The local restaurant that they experimented with in 2010 was T.W. Martin’s Public House of Waupaca.
The pub used everything it received from the garden and in return, gave a donation to the community garden.
Phair said it is another way to make the garden a sustainable effort. Restaurants that are part of this venture will then be able to put a sign in their window or something on their menu saying, “Waupaca Community Garden supporter.”
He said, “It started because we have excess (produce) at certain times. Our commitment is still the same – to give to all the customers that we can handle on a regular basis. The donations help. Plus, it’s great community relations and a learning experience for everyone.”
Those interested in helping out this year at the garden may contact Phair at 715-258-9498 or Terry Kramer at 715-258-2035.