By Shannon Keirnan
Earlier this week I had the privilege of touring the Holland Community Garden.
I hadn't known about the HCG previously, and sort of fell into a tour on accident, as a friend of the family was seeking more information about starting up a community garden with their church. HCG was happy to provide her with information on the process.
Hidden behind the Community Action House building on 136th, and butting up against the production facility for New Holland Brewing Company, it's a neatly fenced little area teeming with food, herbs, and Michigan wildflowers. Started in 1999, HCG is a joint project between the Community Action House, the Holland Area Master Gardeners, and the Macatawa Resource Center.
Harvest from the garden is distributed through the Community Action House, and goes to provide food for low-income families and seniors at risk of nutritional deficiency.
Barry Anderson showed us the ropes, explaining the working of the garden with enthusiasm and a deep understanding - after all, the HCG is also a teaching venue. At risk youths, or young individuals working off community service often come to the garden as part of their service, Barry explained. However reluctant to work they may start off, most of the time, with a little respect and guidance, they come to truly enjoy their time there. Mandatory short breaks bring together people from all groups - church groups, community service workers, students, etc. - in a cozy little eating area, where they can enjoy a drink, a snack, and some conversation. Fostering this sense of accomplishment and community among young people who have otherwise not been exposed to a positive environment can make a huge impact on their lives, Barry notes.
The garden itself, while not overly large, is absolutely brimming with produce. Dill as tall as myself waved yellow heads in the breeze, giant cabbages spread out purple arms next to broccoli and cauliflower growing toward a second harvest. Green beans hung in thick clumps from a wall, and onions bigger than my fist burst from the soil, ready to be plucked. It was abundance all around, and it was quite a sight... if you thought your garden was doing well, the immaculately groomed HCG will still put it to shame.
Yet everything in the garden has to be of use, Barry points out. Pretty is nice, but only plants that serve some kind of purpose make it on the inside of the fence.
We munched on snap peas and beans as Barry showed us around, discussing the use of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and fish-based fertilizers. While not entirely organic, the garden strives to use as little chemical impact as they can. Sometimes all it takes to save a crop is a few volunteers plucking harmful insects off the leaves, he explained.
Around us, bees hummed in the air and on the flowers, hailing from a nearby hive painted in bright colors. A wren scolded us from her house amongst enormous tufts of wildflowers and local grasses, protecting her brood in the area dedicated to Michigan plants. Donated sculptures added to the pleasing aesthetic, though most everything else is utilitarian in purpose.
Rain barrels provide some of the water for the garden, though irrigation systems are built in throughout (the exception being in the newly built hoop house, which will extend the growing season to approximately 10 months out of the year). Compost bins are set up to take scraps, weeds, and other discards, and mixed with donated horse manure, and reduce overall waste. The garden is a finely tuned machine, and a pleasure to see working.
Run largely by volunteers, Barry included, the HCG is always looking for a helping hand. Individuals or groups of any kind are always welcome. Volunteers can learn about composting, bed preparation, planting, maintenance, harvesting, and many other aspects of gardening. It's a wonderful opportunity to learn, while helping out those in need in the Holland area.
Check out the HCG Facebook page for more information on ways to get involved in the HCG, or to network on how to start up a community garden in your own area!
Have a great weekend!