January 25, 2022

Community garden sprouts up in downtown Newton

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A longtime aspiration of Jasper County Conservation Board director Keri Van Zante and naturalists Katie Cantu and Chrissy Rea — planting in a community garden — finally is becoming a reality, and just in time for the organization’s 50th anniversary this year. The plot of land to be used in the project (named the Square Foot Community Garden) is located in a vacant lot directly across from the County Annex Building and next to Book Trader Tan America.

Because the property is city owned, “I had to go to a city council meeting to get their approval and we signed a contract with them,” Rea said, noting that the contract is valid for one year from the time of the meeting held in October 2011. If the garden’s success doesn’t surpass the hopes of the JCCB or the city, there is the possibility the city could take the land back after the first year.

In the meantime, construction on the garden beds soon will be getting under way with the help of Newton Senior High School Senior and Boy Scout Sean Healy as part of his Eagle Scout project. According to Rea, supplies will be purchased April 7, with work to begin April 14. The dimensions of the beds will be 10 feet long, 4 feet wide and 8 inches tall.

“There will also be one 2 feet tall so it’ll be handicap accessible,” she said. “He’s (Healy) just building three beds, and I think we’re going to build two more.”

Once the beds are in place, a method known as square foot gardening will be utilized for plants to absorb the proper nutrients and grow to their full potential.

“Square Foot Gardening is a book that’s out ... and essentially it talks about using small spaces for high yield,” Rea said of the book authored by Mel Bartholomew and the inspiration for the project’s name. “Garden beds will be partitioned into square foot sections and planted according to his instructions on what will produce the highest yield. It’s kind of a cool concept, like you can plant peppers one per square foot and beans you can plant nine per square foot.”

Produce grown includes tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beans and peas, with plans to hopefully plant corn, potatoes, onions and perhaps leafy greens such as spinach. The vegetables will not be sold; rather, food will be distributed into the community through General Assistance with any excess going to food pantries.

Rea plans to tend and maintain the garden with possible help from residents at Progress Industries and through other local avenues.

“Juvenile offenders will be putting in some hours helping me, and I’ll be holding public programs so hopefully the work will be done in conjunction with education,” she said.

Costs of the community garden are being covered by a local grant.

“I wrote a grant to Theisen’s to be able to do the community garden and they gave us $1,500,” Rea said. “So far we’ve spent some money on getting seeds started, testing the soil, a little bit of construction on the sign.”

For avid gardeners interested in helping with the project, Rea suggests the plant-a-row method.

“People who are already gardening can plant an extra row or donate their extra produce,” she said.

For more information, contact the JCCB at (641) 792-9780.

Amy Gronauer can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 426 or via email at agronauer@newtondailynews.com.