A loosely organized group of community members is once again seeking to meet a need members have identified in the Madison area.
With the support of St. John Lutheran Church, MAST members are creating a community garden with the goal of distributing produce free to those in need. Formed in 2017, Madison Area Stands Together (MAST) strives to empower people to effect positive change in the community.
"Last spring, I had an idea it would be nice to have a community garden for those who don't have a garden of their own," said Loretta Chandler, one of the volunteers who was helping to plant the garden earlier this week.
The City of Madison does have community garden plots for rent on S.W. Fourth Street. However, these are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are quickly reserved each year. MAST members were concerned that some families could not afford the modest rental fee charged by the city and the expense of planting the produce. Too, some might not have the experience and knowledge to be successful in their efforts.
With last year's spring flooding and wet year, the garden project was postponed. However, a spot was identified for the plot. St. John Lutheran owns a lot south of the church which the church council agreed to let MAST use for the garden.
This spring, a 40X40-foot plot was tilled and volunteers planted a variety of vegetables: potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and squash. They are driven by a simple goal.
"The passion behind this is to strengthen the community," Chandler said.
MAST members aren't sure what to expect from the endeavor.
"It's the first year, so we'll see where it goes," said Lynn Ryan. "It's a huge experiment."
They do hope they will be joined by other community organizations in caring for the garden. This hope is based on their vision for the garden -- that community members will benefit from the efforts of community members.
"We're hoping to have enough volunteers so people will have a week of responsibility for weeding and watering," Chandler said.
Thus far, one group has stepped up to help MAST -- Cub Scout Troop 255. The troop took responsibility for preparing the plot for planting, and scout leader Casualene Meyer and Cub Scout Devrah Meyer helped with the planting.
"After July 1, when we begin meeting in person as a troop again -- if things are stable -- our troop will take a service turn," Casualene Meyer said.
MAST members have no way of knowing how many families will be served through their efforts -- in part, because they don't know what the growing season will bring, but also because they don't know how much produce families will choose to take.
"Some might come and get some to eat fresh. Some might come and get some to can," said Val Parsley. "We're hoping people will feel comfortable using the produce."
Details for distribution will be available when the produce is ready to harvest.
At present, MAST is seeking volunteers for this community project. Groups and individuals who wish to volunteer can contact Chandler at 505-977-9909, Ryan at 605-270-1811, or Parsley at 605-270-2417.