Field of dreams: community garden blossoms in second year

When community garden organizer David Barton learned that he would undergo a major heart operation in April he wondered if the community garden he started with only a handful of volunteers last year would come together without his physical help.

Barton, who is still recovering from a heart valve replacement, is under strict medical orders not to perform any “heavy work” or “repetitive tasks” until July — that includes the plowing, planting and other hard work that goes into bringing the garden back to life in the spring months.

Eva Wagner and Leeann Savage receive instruction from Lovell Community Garden organizer David Barton during the volunteer planting day on Saturday.
David Peck photo

In desperation, he posted an announcement on the Lovell Community Garden Facebook page asking for help. After a few weeks of no response, he and his wife Leonora literally prayed for help.

“I said to God, if this is going to happen, I need your help to make it happen,” said Barton. “We need your help, so that we can grow this food to help who need it.”

Within days, and as if by divine intervention, the phone began ringing with calls regarding everything from donations of items to make tasks easier to offers to help with those tasks.

“I went from thinking we weren’t going to be able to do this at all this year to having it not only happen, but happen even bigger and better than before,” said Barton. “It’s amazing how God works. It makes my heart go pitter-pat to think about it.”

So far 23 volunteers have rolled up their sleeves to help with the project. Of those 23, 20 are new this year. Fifteen showed up last weekend alone to help with planting and other tasks, including laying down a weed barrier donated by MTI, planting tomato plants donated by Alvin Emmett’s Greenhouse Gardens and other starts provided by the Lovell High School Chapter of the FFA.

“We had starter plants come out of the blue and seeds came out of the blue and people show up to help,” said Barton. “It was totally amazing.”

According to Barton, the garden yielded around 550 pounds of produce last year. The food was distributed to those in need through the local food bank, the North Big Horn Senior Citizens Center, Rose City West and directly to anyone, just for the asking.

Barton also distributed food at the Lovell Farmer’s Market on a “take what you need and donate what you can” basis. He said often people donated more than the produce would normally sell for, and those generous donations helped offset some of the costs of maintaining the garden.

Barton noted that this year’s garden is greatly improved with an irrigation system, weed barrier, mulch and many more seeds and starts planted than the previous year. He estimates the garden could potentially yield around 1,000 pounds of produce due to those improvements, especially if weather conditions are right.

He said three extra rows were put in just for pumpkins and squash this year and he hopes it will provide a pumpkin patch for local children in the fall. He said garden organizers plan to host a children’s event for decorating orange, red and blue pumpkins that will be harvested from the patch sometime around Halloween.

Volunteers plant the community garden near the senior citizens center in Lovell Saturday during a special event at the site.
Courtesy Photo

The Lovell Community Garden is located off Great Western Avenue on Rose City West property. Volunteers are sought to help with its ongoing maintenance activities. According to Barton, any help is greatly appreciated whether it’s for “a half hour or a half day.”

“I’m really grateful for all those who have come forward to help,” said Barton. “It literally would not have happened this year without their help.”

Barton said he is especially grateful to Nancy Kastning, an Americorps/VISTA volunteer working through Lovell Inc., who helped coordinate the volunteer effort while he was recovering from his surgery, including getting the Lovell High School FFA chapter involved.

The Lovell Community Garden is a grass roots effort, sponsored by the North Big Horn Hospital district. The goal of the project is for half of the produce from the garden to be distributed to those in need through free produce stands and local groups and the other half to be offered to people who perform work in the garden.

Educational programs on nutrition, healthy eating and other topics will be presented throughout the year in conjunction with garden activities. Barton is a registered nurse and clinical educator for the hospital district.

For more information, contact Barton at 254-1325.

By Patti Carpenter