Community Garden Develops Deep, Strong Roots


Anna Radford and Joe Council both knew their shared dream of creating a community garden in Harrisburg would eventually take root.

Where the longtime friends differed was with how quickly that would happen.

Pointing to previously stalled efforts, which she attributes to a general lack of interest, Ms. Radford suggested that they keep their expectations in check and start by offering between 12 and 15 planting boxes. In contrast, her longtime friend – and fellow parishioner of the Harrisburg Presbyterian Church – pushed for the initial construction of 40 beds, convinced that fellow gardening enthusiasts like themselves would jump at the opportunity.

Lindsey Crofutt tends to her plants in the Harrisburg Community Garden.

Today, all 40 raised wooden beds, constructed from red cedar harvested from the former Quay Dairy Farm that was run by Ms. Radford’s parents, and rough cut in nearby Mount Pleasant, are rented for the 2019 season and full of growing herbs and vegetables, all of which are organically grown.

In fact, demand is so great – residents can rent a 4-foot by 8-foot bed for $35 a year, a 4-foot by 12-foot bed for $50 per annum, or a 10-foot by 10-foot bed for $75 a year – that there’s already a waiting list that’s 10 people long for the next season, which does not begin until March 1, 2020.

That demand has put the friends in an unexpected position: less than two months after officially opening on May 4, Ms. Radford and Mr. Council – with the help of garden leadership team members Brantlee Drake and Connie Brennan – are ironing out details for Phase 2. In addition to building a shelter and picnic area, that phase calls for the installation of an additional 30 beds on the roughly 16,000-square-foot property that sits just off Morehead Road and Hudson Drive, directly behind the Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

“My expectation was that we’d sell all 40, but not before we officially opened,” said Mr. Council, who has been growing his own vegetables since he was a child. “That was an unexpected surprise.”

The Ideal Site

Though they had been discussed, on and off, for the past decade, plans for a community garden only began to germinate around March 2018, Ms. Radford said. Mr. Council was the main driving force behind the initiative, and soon recruited his longtime friend.

“Joe realized that he would need some help, and he came and knocked on my door,” Ms. Radford said.

She later confessed: “It was a lot more work than either of us thought it would be.

They would spend the next several months laying out their plans, but still needed one last push to really get them going. That happened when Tim Bostick, pastor of the Harrisburg Presbyterian Church, not only offered the parish’s land for the garden free of charge, but also contributed $13,000 in “seed money” from the church to help complete the transformation of the formerly vacant land.

“We looked at several properties and soon realized that this was the best place.”

Joe Council, Harrisburg Community Garden Co-Founder

Mr. Council notes that the church property, which was already cleared and receives plenty of natural sunlight, is an ideal location for a community garden. It also sits close to the center of town, offering easy access so gardeners can swing by once or twice daily to water their vegetables and weed the beds.

“We looked at several properties and soon realized that this was the best place,” said Mr. Council, an avid gardener who can no longer grow vegetables near his home in Harrisburg because his trees have grown too tall.

The church’s seed money, meanwhile, was used to level the ground, install chain-link fencing that encloses the garden, run irrigation lines, and buy more than 100 cubic yards of soil for the vegetable beds. Several local companies, such as Markham Landscape Products, offered supplies at deeply discounted rates while others, like Asplundh tree services, donated some of the mulch that now serves as crabgrass blocker. More than 500 cubic yards of much was trucked in and currently lines the garden’s grounds.

The final push came in the form of two volunteers: Ms. Drake and Ms. Brennan. Both Ms. Radford and Mr. Council credit the two for infusing new energy into the initiative when they joined the community garden team earlier this year.

Getting Their Hands Dirty

As part of their future plans, organizers want to offer educational classes on different types of gardening, and encourage more interaction with those enthusiasts who might not yet have plots. Ms. Radford said they particularly want to attract younger children and teenagers, and encourage them to get their hands dirty.

“Too many children don’t know what it’s like to grow their own vegetables,” she said. “It’s a lot of work to be a farmer.”

“We didn’t buy our vegetables,” Mr. Council added. “We lived off what we grew.”

Even though he’s worked the soil for most of his life, Mr. Council said he’d still love to learn how to grow his own shiitake mushrooms, adding that he hopes to have someone lead a class on that very subject in the future.

Ms. Radford said they hope to partner with local Girl Scouts and have them plant an assortment of berries, including blueberries, blackberries and elderberries, along the garden’s inside perimeter. Future plans also call for partnering with a local beekeeper – bees are essential to pollination and healthy gardens – with Mr. Council noting their garden is only regularly visited by three bees. “We need to do something to help them rebound,” he said. “They’re needed around here.”

One way of accomplishing that is be eliminating their reliance on pesticides, fungicides and other poisons – all of which are prohibited on garden grounds. Plot holders must agree to adhere to a strict set of rules that are listed and explained in detail on the Harrisburg Community Garden website.

Still, the primary goal of the garden is to build a community that is committed to eating healthy, growing food organically, and, perhaps more important, sharing different ideas and educating others who share the same interest. 

And that seems to be happening at a rate much faster than anyone could have anticipated.

A Family Affair

Tending to vegetables is now a family affair for the Crofutt clan – thanks to the Harrisburg Community Garden.

A cupcake squash.

Lindsey Crofutt rents a 4-foot by 12-foot bed in which she’s cultivating sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and cupcake squash. It sits directly adjacent to an identically sized bed containing assorted peppers, as well as eggplant, tomatoes and squash, that’s tended to by her father, Franklin.

“It’s a great way to meet new people and learn about the different ways of gardening,” said Lindsey while she and her mother, Vicki Crofutt, inspected their adjacent beds one recent evening.

It was actually Vicki Crofutt, who saw an advertisement for the new community garden online, who encouraged her daughter and husband to plant their vegetables there. “He actually wanted one of those big ones,” she said, pointing to a nearby 10-foot by 10-foot bed, “but it was already gone.”

Lindsey Crofutt credits organizers for offering a great location and a fantastic deal, explaining that she and her fellow gardeners all received complimentary mulch and soil to fill their raised beds, and also has access to public water. A portion of the dues collected goes to pay the garden’s water bill; other money will be used to buy various supplies as they are needed.

“Basically, you pay a one-time annual fee and get all of these amenities,” Lindsey said.

Connie Brennan, Brantlee Drake, Joe Council and Anna Radford.

The Harrisburg Community Garden relies on donations to help fund its operation. Those interested in making a contribution are encouraged to visit the organization’s website, www.harrisburgcommunitygarden.org, and click on the “Payment” tab.