By Lou Ryan
The Kutztown Community Garden located at the Pa. German Cultural Heritage Center provides land for students, faculty and the Kutztown community to grow organic vegetables and herbs. Anyone can sign up for a 150-square-foot plot with a $50 donation for the season, which helps cover maintenance costs.
Kutztown University alumnae Robyn Jasko and Colleen Underwood co-manage the garden.
“We want to make sure that anybody who wants to grow food has access to land to grow it,” said Underwood.
The growing season officially ended Oct. 31, but as of this year plot holders can borrow cold frames to put over colder weather items. According to Underwood, some lettuces last through December and hardier greens such as Swiss chard and kale may even last through the winter.
When the season is over, Jasko and Underwood do a fall cleanup, which includes storing irrigation hoses and securing all tools and cages before winter comes.
The 2014 season starts April 30. Sign-ups will be available in February or March, and are offered to current plot holders first. For $50, plot holders get an area of land and a welcome packet that includes rules, information on where to buy starters and seeds and a bale of straw.
The garden started in 2009 as a test site for Jasko’s website Grow Indie, where she posts grow guides and recipes to make food gardening more accessible for everyone. With local community help, she turned a fenced-off field into a half-acre plot where she tested over 300 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers from eight organic seed companies. She also used the site to try new methods for organic pest control and intensive gardening.
Volunteers were able to take home a share of the harvest each week.
“It became a work-CSA of sorts,” said Jasko.
The volunteers’ enthusiasm led Jasko and Underwood to open part of the space as a community garden.
The garden originally offered 15 plots, but has expanded every year. This year it offered 30 plots and still had a waiting list. Jasko hopes to expand more next year.
Most plots are held by Kutztown residents, though according to Underwood, a few are held by students. Most plot holders live in apartments or do not have their own land to grow on, so the community garden gives them an opportunity to grow their own food.
Plot holders share stories when working together at the garden, and swap what they have grown at potlucks held there.
“We’ve gotten to observe people becoming friends by being garden neighbors,” said Underwood.
Homegrown food provides higher personal food security because growers control what happens to it, and can grow safe, organic, GMO-free vegetables. They also have control over what they grow; many plot holders grow heirloom varieties that grocery stores do not sell.
Vegetables grown this season included a hot pepper called “sunrise scorpion” and a bean variety called “dragon tongue,” according to Underwood. There were also more common vegetables in the garden such as sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and peppers.
Jasko and Underwood are on site each weekend during the growing season to answer any questions growers may have. Jasko’s book “Homesweet Homegrown” is also recommended to those looking for tips on growing, making and storing their food.
Jasko hopes to work more with the university in coming years.
“We’d love to offer workshops and demos to connect students with where their food comes from,” she said in an email.
Though space is limited, everyone in Kutztown is encouraged to sign up or help out at the garden. Students can share a plot, which decreases the cost and labor and provides an opportunity to work together and have fresh produce all summer.
Anyone interested in helping with fall cleanup should email Underwood at email@example.com.