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Henderson Community Garden Produces Great First Year

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The inception of the Henderson Community Garden this year is best described as providential.

It began when Nichole Wetjen was in the city office expressing interest in a large-scale garden project for the community. While she originally had pictured the project in retirement, she couldn’t escape the idea of doing it sooner. ​​”This was something that God had put into my heart to do at this time, not when I was planning, but when He planned,” she explained.   

Upon hearing Nichole in the office, Aubrey Saltus revealed that she held a shared desire. As the Chamber Director at the time, Aubrey also had a culinary background and a desire for people to better understand their food. A serendipitous call shortly thereafter from the Four Corners Health Department disclosed that there were funds from a Healthy Henderson Grant that needed to be utilized quickly. The parameters of the grant perfectly fit for the establishment of a community garden.

From there, planning meetings were held for any interested community members. While the leaders of the garden group had great passion for the project, they knew it wasn’t something any of them could handle alone. Around 10 people gathered to learn more information and share ideas. Kendra Switzer was among the group bringing 15+ years of her own gardening experience. Following the meeting, she went home bursting with ideas and immediately sketched a potential plan.

Aubrey Saltus, Nichole Wetjen, and Kendra Switzer led the first year of the Henderson Community Garden.

The location for the garden, near the golf course driving range, was selected because of the space availability. Grace Children’s Home was generous to share the land as it aligns with their mission as well. For those who worked in the garden, it provided a quiet, serene area. 

Throughout the growing season, the garden produced carrots, potatoes, green and jalapeño peppers, green beans, lettuce, sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, green and purple cabbage, and broccoli. Additional ideas for next year have included okra, radishes, kohlrabbi, and herbs.

Explaining the operational logistics, Kendra described, “We had distribution times on Tuesday from 4-6 p.m. and Friday from 8-9 a.m. When green bean season started, we used Facebook to notify volunteers of the times of picking and the help needed. We also opened up the distribution time to match the times we were there. The garden was divided up into four plots so people were able to sign up to water, hoe a plot, or pull weeds in the walk path.”

But produce definitely wasn’t the only growing done in the garden this summer. Relationships were built across generations and social circles. Aubrey commented, “The conversations flow easier when you have something to do with your hands.” People from all walks of life were welcomed into the garden creating strong community bonds of care. In fact, about 25 different volunteers made their way through the garden this summer. Kendra also remarked on the opportunity it gives families to instill a strong work ethic in their children and teach them about food sources.

Nichole reflected, “When I go to the garden from this past spring to now, I am amazed each time. I thank God for this amazing gift that is happening in Henderson. It is not one person but many who have made this possible. The people who are well-known in town to people who just moved here have made this possible. It is a joy to be able to know that someone is enjoying fresh veggies who would not be able to. It is a joy to know that the garden season (planting to cleaning) has made people smile and hearts full that used to have gardens, and are no longer able to have one.”

Heartland students working in the garden

Another group who particularly benefited from the garden was the Family Consumer Science class at Heartland. The class simply walked straight down the street to harvest vegetables and even cook with them. When planting season returns next year, the intention is to have students assist in that work.

For the first year of the garden, the crops grew wonderfully. The volunteers are glad, however, that next year will be less labor intensive with the area already established. They also plan to increase the size of the garden and add a sitting area. In a time of unstable supply chains, the garden propels Henderson towards greater self-sustainability.

If there was a message that the operators of the garden would like residents to know for next year, it is that the Henderson Community Garden is for you! While volunteers are welcomed, nothing is expected in return for the produce you acquire. It is their joy to share the produce with whoever will enjoy it.

Steeped in a generous community, however, many individuals have expressed a desire to give donations to the project. This will now be available by making checks payable to the Henderson Community Foundation and designating the memo to the Henderson Community Garden. The mailing address is PO Box 116.

While the inaugural year of the Henderson Community Garden concludes, you can already plan to join the 2022 season. Be sure to follow along on the Facebook page for updates and information.

(All pictures were courtesy photos)

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