Raised beds at senior center provide fresh vegetables, recreation

Published 4:01 pm Thursday, July 8, 2010

We have some vegetable plants and we want to garden with them.

Id like to add fresh vegetables to the meals we serve.

That first sentence spoken by a few of the senior citizen participants at The Meeting Place in Columbus coupled with the second sentence spoken by its nutritionist Lula McDowell, sparked an idea in Pam Dotys mind this past winter.

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Pam Doty is director of The Meeting Place, and these two ideas hatched a plan culminating in the beginnings of their New Kitchen Garden being installed this spring.

Many of the participants at The Meeting Place love to garden, notes Pam but due to various health or safety issues can no longer do so at their homes.&bsp; Yet studies show keeping active with hobbies like gardening reap huge benefits for them.&bsp; What the participants of The Meeting Place needed was a safe place to garden that did not include bending over and the risk of falling.&bsp; A visit to White Oak provided the inspiration.

I was at White Oak one day and saw the raised beds theyd installed in their kitchen garden and thought they would be perfect. says Pam.&bsp; I wasnt sure how to build them so I approached Paul Zimmerman, as I knew he had a back round in landscaping.

After researching other gardens built for senior citizens and the unique needs to be addressed, Paul came up with simple raised beds out of 6×6 square timbers. &bsp;

The most pressing needs for a garden like this comments Zimmerman, are for beds that dont require bending over to reach, are strong enough to lean on and have a frame wide enough to sit and garden from. &bsp;

The 6×6 timbers give us all that and we reinforced them on the inside with stakes to make them even stronger.

After Pam gave the green light, The Hay Rack in Landrum agreed to provide the lumber at cost and Hensons Inc. in Tryon did the same for the soil to fill the beds.

I see seniors come in every day who garden regularly and you can see the good things it does for their health, adds the Hay Racks owner Don Williams.&bsp; I felt this was something we as members of the community should get behind.

Paul and Vaughan Loeffler donated their labor and tools and over the course of a week four beds measuring 8 x 4 were installed. &bsp;

After the soil was delivered Sheriff Donald Hill loaned a Deputy and several trustees to load the soil into the raised beds.&bsp; Vaughan found some people willing to provide vegetable plants and within a few weeks the beds were planted.

We feed somewhere between 100-120 seniors a day in the county and for many of them it is the only hot meal they get, says Pam.&bsp; We plan to add more beds and expand the plantings to fruit trees, berry vines and other foods so we can provide those seniors with healthy, fresh meals.&bsp; Lynn Sprague of the Polk County Office of Agricultural Economic Development is working with Pam to develop a long range plan.

This plan, however, cannot be put into place without the help of additional volunteers. Farmers with equipment are needed to prepare land and plant. Seeds, plants and fruit trees are needed.

Volunteers will be needed to help tend the gardens when they arent enough Meeting Place participants to do so. Crops will need to be picked and Pam would like to install a walking path with perennial borders for the seniors to enjoy, the latter something a garden club may want to take on.

If you or your group is interested in volunteering to help The Meeting Place provide our seniors with both a place to garden and fresh food for their meals, please contact Pam Doty and sign up.

The 27 acre grounds of The Meeting Place combined with support from the community can make quite a difference in the lives of some of our most precious citizens.