The growing season for Northwestern Wisconsin is traditionally late May or early June. In all honesty, we had to look on the internet to find out when the growing season begins in Central and Southern Wisconsin. The end of April? Really? That brought some giggles… and then tears of reality; in Superior on May 11th, clad in winter gear with snow falling around us, our staff unloaded food donations from the Postal Drive.
The lack of tropical weather in Superior has not deterred Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency, Inc. (NWCSA) from developing a community garden. This is our 7th season and perhaps the most challenging in terms of planting. In fact, our garden was not officially planted until mid-June—though rain, snow, fog, sleet and cold put us at a disadvantage, we are off to a good start.
NWCSA recognizes the importance that fresh fruits and vegetables play in a person’s diet. Fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars and essential vitamins and they help boost the immune system, thereby impacting the body’s ability to naturally protect itself. However, when you are low-income, grocery shopping usually means purchasing the least expensive items you can in order to stretch your food dollar. Often these items are full of starch, calories and fat; it’s hard to maintain a healthy diet if the only thing you can afford to purchase isn’t healthy to begin with.
In 2007, with spade in hand, NWCSA began its first community garden. Through the expert assistance of the Lake Superior Master Gardeners we have been able to provide an abundance of fresh, wholesome fruits and vegetables to those who otherwise could not afford to purchase these items.
Over the years the community garden has grown fresh herbs, Swiss chard, beans, peas, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers, strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb. Last year our apple trees began producing; this year we’re trying leaf lettuce. The results of our efforts has been astonishing; last year we picked dozens of quarts of strawberries, nearly 50 quarts of raspberries and several hundred cucumbers, not to mention all the beans and peas. We produced more than 6,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables in 2012 and 36,000 pounds since 2007.
Of course, with every project come challenges. Temperature extremes, too much or too little rain, critters and a host of other issues need to be addressed as they surface. We have yet to discover the best way to prevent birds from eating all the cherries off our cherry trees, and last summer, we repeatedly (and humanely) removed baby bunnies from the carrot patch.
Often, we receive complements from neighbors and passersby on the beauty and abundance of our garden. Our success is due to staff, community volunteers and the Master Gardeners; from May until October these individuals work diligently to ensure the soil is worked, the seeds are planted and the weeds are weeded. Once the growing season is done, we turn the soil and prepare the beds and wait for spring! And wait, and wait and wait…!
I welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chief Executive Officer
Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency, Inc.