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How does your garden grow?

Community garden volunteers, Candy Couture and Deedi Talbott, work in the garden. Photo by Jim Erickson.1 / 2
Thirty-five raised-bed garden plots make up the Marek Fuller Community Gardens. After his passing, Fuller’s family made a sizeable donation to the garden project that now bears his name. Photo by Jim Erickson2 / 2

Just over three years ago, the rich brown patchwork of raised garden beds next to the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency office was little more than a dream. This year, however, they’re expected to yield a bountiful harvest of fresh, organic produce for the gardeners who tend them and the Two Harbors Area Food Shelf.

Volunteers say that all 35 beds will be in use by novice green-thumbers and experienced gardeners alike. A troop of local Girl Scouts is working toward merit badges by planting and tending a plot, a couple of local churches will be growing a variety of veggies, too, as will three master gardeners who provide technical support and myriad other skills to the success of the gardens.

The Marek Fuller Community Gardens represent the work and generosity of many, including its namesake, who passed away in the winter of the garden’s first year.

“He was a big supporter of local foods,” said THAFS volunteer, Jan O’Donnell of Fuller, “and his family gave a large donation in his name after he died.” Other businesses and organizations have come forward, too, providing a variety of goods, services and equipment to support the operation, as have area garden enthusiasts who’ve donated seeds and starter plants. Community Garden volunteers, Candy Couture and Deedi Talbott say that a wide variety of vegetables and herbs will be grown this year.

Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, beans –green, purple, yellow, string,” listed Talbott, her voice trailing away as she and Couture enthusiastically shared details about the garden, each picking up the thread of conversation where the other left off.

“This means so much to me,” Couture added, “just growing your own vegetables, being out in the sun and donating back to the community…” also trailing off with a smile.

The women say that they have over 80 years of gardening experience between them, developing their gardening skills at the elbows of elder relatives. Now, with greater appreciation for those early lessons, the two are growing produce by the peck.

“If you had grandparents who had a garden, you were out there!” said Couture,” and then you didn’t like to garden because you had to pick rocks and weeds, but then when you got older…” Talbott nodded. Both women’s enthusiasm for the project is evident as they outline upcoming improvements and plans. There will be a new critter-resistant composter, a handcrafted tool shed, a load of topsoil to enrich the growing capacity of the garden beds and much more.

The gardens are an opportunity for people to gather, socialize, share their ideas and grow their

own foods. Some do so because the harvest contributes to the variety of foods they can enjoy throughout the year, some grow their own because it helps them keep food costs down at a time when anemic-looking tomatoes can cost almost

$3 per pound. Still others combine these reasons with their desire to help the community and grow veggies for the food shelf, too. Both the scouts and churches plan to donate their produce, as do the master gardeners. Each grower is asked to consider growing a row to donate. It’s strictly optional, but much appreciated by food shelf patrons.

“Candy and Deedi show up early and harvest on Thursdays,” said O’Donnell. Everything is taken inside to be washed and readied for distribution, “and it goes out the door as fast as it comes in!”

It’s not easy growing food in northern Minnesota, with its chilly spring, hungry deer and heavy soil. But these hurdles don’t deter Talbott and Couture or the other gardeners. The women stood surveying the beds, some newly-planted with small green starters. Both gardeners and plants seemed unperturbed by the drizzling rain and muddy ground.

“It’s going to be beautiful when everything starts coming up,” Couture mused.