WATERLOO | Seeds planted at Quakerdale’s new Sonshine Garden on Friday are likely to grow into everything from herbs to beans to watermelon. But if everything goes according to plan, the plants will also yield a sense of community, responsibility and achievement.

"I think it’s good for the girls to participate and the staff to actively participate too,” said Sarah Knief, a residential counselor in Tye Cottage. "It’s also that sense of accomplishment, that you were able to do something.”

Patti Downs, the garden manager for Quakerdale’s community garden, added, "It’s teaching the girls how to love to eat vegetables as well as grow them.”

Knief said she volunteered to join the planting on Friday in part because she knew nothing about gardening and wanted to learn. She said it also helps to work with the residents -- young men also helped with the planting -- as equals.

Knief, in fact, got to learn a little more about planting from resident Chris Randall, 17, who said she learned about gardening from her grandmother. Randall was one of about a dozen youth resident volunteers helping garden.

“I like gardening, just not when people tell me what to do,” Randall said, adding that she was glad to get outside.

Randall planted squash, radishes and cucumbers during the first day of planting and plans to get cabbage in the ground to later make cabbage rolls. On Friday, she helped with hoeing and said it helped her get some of her frustrations out.

Quakerdale's Sonshine Garden is one of four locations in the Cedar Valley that received a grant from Cedar Valley Grows, a community-garden-oriented offshoot of the local foods programs at the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education that brought together stakeholders from several interested organizations.

The grant recipients were Quakerdale, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and the Northeast Iowa Food Bank in Waterloo and Meadowview Estates in Cedar Falls.

Instead of providing specific funds, the grant offers resources to help community gardens succeed at both planting food items and fostering the sense of community.

The cities have helped with tilling and will do so for the next two years. Black Hawk County’s Extension office will also offer classes and support to get the gardens started properly. The Blue Zones project has also helped out with supplies.

Debbie Crawford is Our Savior’s Lutheran Church’s community garden manager. They held a dedication for their Garden of Eatin’ on Saturday to let their neighbors know about their plans.

“It’s a new venture for us, but I think it’s a good use of our land,” Crawford said. “We’ve already got some stuff coming up, and we’re happy about that.”

Crawford said once plants are bearing fruit, they will put up a flag at the garden to let people in the neighborhood know they can pick up goodies that Sunday. She also said the garden’s hours will be posted so people can stop by to learn more or offer up their green thumbs.

While Our Savior plans to share its crops with neighbors, Quakerdale will use its first to feed the youth residents.

Both Downs and Dave Holm, Quakerdale’s volunteer coordinator, said they’d like to do raised beds next year and expand their garden. Holm added that he was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the program and have Downs’ expertise.

Political reporter at the Courier

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