Fenton — A community passion for gardening has led to providing hundreds of families with fresh vegetables around Genesee County.
Tucked away off North Road on Oak Park Drive is the Fenton Community Garden. It has two sections — private rented lots on the left and the community garden on the right that grows food to be donated.
Janet Macksood, president of the garden, said the city was gracious enough to donate the space for the area.
“It’s a great community,” she said. Plots, which are 20- x10-feet, cost $40 a year to rent, which includes a water hookup. Most people start with one plot and realize they want more space. Macksood said they have 35 plots, and they’re nearly full for this summer.
Renters take care of their own space and they’re required to tend to space in the community garden as well. The money generated from the plots is put into the community garden.
Macksood said “100 percent” of the food grown in the community garden is donated to families in Genesee County, but, “What we found was it wasn’t enough.”
Before the pandemic, they regularly gave food to approximately 50 families. That number is now more than 100. They plan to expand the community garden next year. They added 30 more tomato plants for 80 total, and they have around 30 zucchini plants, 40 pepper plants and more vegetables. They also have medicinal herbs, donated by Rebecca Culley-Healey, owner of Hawthorne & Violet, as well as a sunflower patch and a pumpkin patch.
They donate to places such as St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, St. Jude’s Episcopal Church, Dauner House, Whaley Center, Fenton First Presbyterian Church, The Freedom Center, The Rock and a few nursing homes.
One organization they partner with, Holy Redeemer, has a large Hispanic population they help, so the Fenton Community Garden grew hot peppers for them.
“We’re trying to also fit the needs of the community,” she said.
The Fenton Community Garden is always looking for more places to donate, more sponsorships and more volunteers.
High school students often volunteer there in spring and fall to get school credits, and they also partner with a local church that does recovery programs for people who struggle with addiction, and those people will volunteer at the garden.
Macksood said they receive a lot of community support. Pete Healey, who joined the garden this year, donated the mulch and installed wood planks around some of the plots. He’s growing a variety of vegetables.
This past year, the frost came late and the garden lost 50 percent of the crops. Carlson’s in Fenton Township donated tomatoes, beans and squash. Bordines and Hills in Swartz Creek offered them discounts, and Johnson’s Farm also gave them discounts for compost to help replenish the soil.
“We’ve got fabulous soil out here. We try to get everything local,” she said.
Rabbits and other animals are a major issue.
“We have this gorgeous plot, it gets full sun all day long and it’s the perfect spot, but the deer and the rabbits and the groundhogs, they own this place,” she said. Weeds also pose a problem, and they use different methods to prevent them, including laying down cardboard boxes, hay and other material.
They don’t use any pesticides or fertilizers. “We keep it 100-percent organic,” Macksood said.
Last year, they had an issue with low pollination, so they added more flowerbeds to attract more bees. They’re considering adding a beehive.
They’re planning to use the garden for picnics, events and classes like yoga.
Macksood said it’s a good place for meditation. When she comes to the garden, she can clear her mind, pull weeds and get her frustrations out.
“You get your hands in the dirt, you’re doing something good. The most beneficial is at the end of the season when we donate the food. You never thought that a tomato can make a difference in someone’s life and it does,” she said. Macksood, who has four plots, keeps some of the food and also gives it to a friend who’s a single mom with four boys, and to a friend who has elderly parents and a father who has Alzheimer’s.
Harvest will begin in mid-July, and Macksood said they planted crops in stages to extend the season hopefully through October.
“We have plenty. Let’s hope they all continue to grow,” she said.