MARQUETTE - Few people grow their own food on a traditional farm, but one way of creating a homegrown diet is growing in Marquette County - community gardens.
"I think every year there's going to be more and more interest," said Ellen Weingarten, president of the Marquette Community Gardens. "People are interested in saving money and finding ways to help themselves."
The Marquette Community Garden began in 2003 when local resident Jim McCommons and members of the Marquette Breakfast Rotary Club approached the city about putting in a garden on property between the Park Cemetery and the Fit Strip. The property had previously been used as a children's garden, but was no longer being cultivated.
Marquette Community Gardens members work in May to get the Park Cemetery garden ready for planting. In addition to providing fresh produce, community gardens are giving residents a connection to the land they otherwise wouldn’t have. (Photo by Ellen Weingarten)
"The next thing you know, they had formed a group," Weingarten said.
The group originally put in 33 beds, but has since expanded the garden twice and added a second location at Presque Isle Park, bringing the total number of beds to 73.
Members pay between $15 and $20 per season, which gives them use of a bed, water and some tools. Members must provide their own plants and it is preferred that gardeners use organic fertilizers. In addition, members are asked to help out on several volunteer days throughout the season to help with the upkeep of the garden properties.
"Individually, the benefits are ... these are generally all people who don't have space to plant where they live," Weingarten said. "They can have a place to grow vegetables."
Other businesses and organizations within Marquette have also started their own gardens, including the Lake Superior Village and the Marquette-Alger Regional Education Services Agency office.
Located in the former Parkview Elementary School, MARESA employees have transformed what was once a green space in the building's courtyard into a building garden, giving employees a place to plant and work after hours or on breaks.
"It's brought the staff together," said Weingarten, who works in the building. "It's really a cool thing to see."
Municipalities outside Marquette have also had community gardens popping up, including in K.I. Sawyer and Ishpeming where residents are working through their first community gardening seasons.
Planned with 20 beds, the Sawyer garden had all but one bed taken for this summer's season, said Donna Tryan, one of the project's organizers.
"For our first year, that was really good," she said.
The garden not only provides a place for local residents to garden, but also a place for kids to try out gardening. Students from the Gwinn schools were able to work in a large bed set aside for them, recently donating some of the vegetables they raised to the Gwinn Senior Center, which helped them with the original planting.
Tryan said the garden project had received a great deal of community support, from donations to volunteers showing up to cut the grass around the garden.
"There's a lot of really good things happening out here," Tryan said. "Our goals are to bring people together. It's for beautification. It's for giving to the community."
The Sawyer garden has applied for grants for two hoop houses and hopes to expand in coming years, Tryan said.
Weingarten said there has also been interest shown from residents of Chocolay Township in starting a garden in that community.
"This year I've really seen an uptick," she said, regarding the number of gardens in the area.
Weingarten said she expects to see increased community outreach from the Marquette gardens, which already donate to local food banks and other organizations.
Beyond green benefits like producing food without harmful chemicals or other negative environmental effects, community gardens can connect people to their food, helping local residents learn about the work it takes to produce what they eat.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.