Amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, some people have returned to land.
Whether it’s a way to keep their hands busy, connect with nature, or sustain their own food supply, the idea of starting a small victory garden is growing in popularity as nurseries and seed companies are reportedly experiencing historical levels of demand for their produce.
But when some find that their terrain or home yards don’t provide ideal conditions for gardening, they turn to Manhattan Community Park. With land provided by the city government and Riley County, the UFM Community Learning Center oversees two locations in southern Manhattan, one on Ninth Street and Riley Lane and another at 1435 Collins Lane.
UFM started a community garden with 60 plots on Riley Lane in 1974 through a grant. It was grown with the help of the Manhattan city government, volunteers, local nurseries and other donations and grants. Later, the Collins Lane location, which is open to anyone in Riley County and not just Manhattan residents, was added in 2012. Howie Garbage and Recycling Services and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation also assisted in that effort.
Darin Marti, park coordinator at the Collins Lane site, said by 2020, the park started with 45 plots open out of nearly 300. After their first registration for the season, they had about 20 left, but the park council decided to adopt the rest out.
“As time went on, more and more people contacted us asking for plots, and we ended up with a waiting list last year because we adopted the plots,” said Marti. “This year no plots have been adopted, and we still have a few waiting lists.”
Marti says having a waiting list isn’t uncommon, but if the park is ever expanded – the right discussion may be years into the future – officials may need to wait and see if the waiting list is trending and not. just a reaction to a pandemic.
Dean Zoller, park coordinator for the Riley Lane site, said some plots usually open up during the summer because people realize how much work it takes to maintain them or get busy with other life responsibilities.
Plot rental fees, which range from $ 16 to $ 64 and are deductible for low-income earners, cover the use of equipment, so people can borrow a wide variety of tools. Marti said the community only needed to bring seeds to start, but this year the garden already exists because the garden bought part of it with COVID-19 assistance funds.
In return for a plot, gardeners are also expected to spend several hours doing general maintenance work that benefits the site as a whole.
This can include laying wood chips in the main line, chopping, processing, installing and removing hoses, weeding and much more. The council used to set group work days but with the prevention of COVID-19, it has allowed people to work on assignments on their own time. Marti said that change has been one of the advantages that make things easier for everyone and may remain after the pandemic. While board members say they hope to one day bring back social events and group activities, they have no plans to do so at least in the near future.
Erin Bishop, secretary of the garden council, says being able to go out and work on her garden still feels like a way to connect with other people when personal connections are hard to come by. Since gardening did not require being physically close to other people, he was able to chat with his plot neighbors.
“I’m very grateful to be able to garden,” Bishop said. “I was in my garden thinking, ‘How can I survive this last year mentally without my garden?’ … It was like an opportunity to feel like I had a community going on in the middle of a (early days) pandemic you didn’t know; it’s so new and scary. “
He says many people are open to helping others with gardening tips, and he’s learned a lot from his neighbors over the years. In addition, they often leave extra seeds, tools, or vegetables for others.
The council this year also started giving seminars and training sessions on how to grow and care for certain plants and crops, which have helped the community, Marti and Zoller said.
“I did one about growing beets and turnips, and I couldn’t think what to say,” says Zoller, “but people have a lot of unsure questions about beet seeds. It was a small group of about 10 people, but we were busy for 45 minutes. “
Bishop says most people garden for functional purposes, although some do it as a hobby. At the Collins Lane site, for example, there are people who keep daylilies and butterfly gardens.
The trio said there were also people from international backgrounds who would plant a variety of crops or produce that do not normally grow in the area, which was interesting to see and try.
“Some of them are students, some are permanent residents now who garden here, and they grow things they can’t buy so we get a chance to see what other people eat,” Zoller said.
“Food is both personal and cultural,” Bishop added. “It’s very personal to our identity, and it’s a beautiful place in our community that lets people have the opportunity – wherever they live – to grow what is important to them.”
The group said that while it can be challenging at times, gardening your own food is a rewarding activity, and also provides an outlet for physical activity, community interaction, and a way to enjoy the outdoors. Marti says nothing tastes better than eating what you grow yourself.
“It tastes a lot better when you eat tomatoes that are ripe from the vine,” says Marti.
With a waiting list, new gardeners can expect to register on a plot of land during the next registration cycle, which is early 2022.