Produce ready for harvesting at MAST garden

THE SQUASH is blooming at the community garden maintained by MAST volunteers south of St. John Lutheran Church. Beginning on July 9, community members can stop by to pick up available produce from volunteers.

The squash is blooming and tomatoes hang in clusters at the community garden a group of community volunteers established to benefit others. Radishes and leafy salad lettuce are ready to harvest, and the zucchini is just days away from being ready for all of its many uses.

The garden is one of the projects undertaken this year by Madison Area Stands Together (MAST), an informal group that works to empower people and to generate positive change in the community. Their Facebook page indicates, "We use our voices in political and social action, and dedicate ourselves to our core values of inclusion, respect, compassion and justice."

Beginning on July 9, volunteers will be at the garden, located one block south of St. John Lutheran Church near Grant Avenue, from 3-6 p.m. to distribute produce that is ready to harvest.

"I think our expectations have been exceeded with the produce flourishing despite the wildlife," volunteer Lynn Ryan said.

Rabbits and deer have been snacking on the plants which are being cared for by volunteers, but garden organizers are choosing not to use chemicals to address the problem, preferring instead to try other remedies. On Thursday afternoon, nylons filled with dog hair were being hung on some of the chicken wire and tomato frames with the hope that the twin scents of human sweat and dog hair would be a deterrent.

"We're staying natural," Val Parsley explained. "I think that's important when you don't know who your consumer will be."

Currently, radishes and lettuce are ready for harvest. In coming weeks, other produce will be ready. Among the vegetables planted are a variety of tomatoes, green beans, onions, sweet peppers, green peppers and jalapeno peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and squash. While volunteers purchased many of the plants, some were donated by Gayle Cole of The Garden Spot.

"We've had a lot of people volunteer with stuff," Loretta Chandler said.

When the wildlife problem became apparent, a call for assistance on Facebook resulted in stakes, chicken wire and domes to place over the peppers. In addition, tomato cages were donated to hold up the vining plants.

MAST volunteers would welcome the assistance of other service groups in town. To date, one Scout troop and the Lions have stepped up; each will care for the garden for one week.

"We're doing fine, but we want to widen the circle so more people have the opportunity to help," Chandler said.

The produce will be distributed at no charge to those who stop by the garden during the identified hours. MAST members chose to be open on Thursday afternoons to coincide with the hours when the Clothing Room at St. John Lutheran Church will be open to accept donations and to take orders from shoppers.

"Every week something else will be available," Parsley said, noting that the garden is not like a grocery store with everything available simultaneously. So that the vegetables are as fresh as possible, volunteers will harvest those that are ready when people stop by.

Individuals and organizations interested in volunteering or seeking to know more about the community garden can call Loretta Chandler, 505-977-9909; Casualene Meyer, 605-270-4251; Lynn Ryan, 605-270-1811; or Val Parsley, 605-270-2417.