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Central Midwest Gardening: Cultivate Food and Friends at Community Gardens

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

A community garden is more than a place to grow crops: Gardeners working side by side learn from each other and harvest friendships too.

Kristopher's happy face shines among the sunflowers.
Our plot is near apartment houses and a hotel.

This year my friend Kristopher and I are sharing a small community garden plot. Sharing space is ideal because both of us lack sunlight in our own yards.

We split our first cherry tomato recently and realized that we're part of something much bigger than our own little garden: We have joined a community of gardeners.

This plot contains several kinds of lettuce and herbs.

Our garden is part of Kansas City Community Gardens, the city's oldest and largest local community gardening organization. It helps anyone who wants to grow his or her own food in the backyard or in a community plot and assists with dozens of schoolyard gardens around town. You can rent a tiller, take seed starting and vegetable gardening workshops, and buy plants and seeds of varieties chosen for their performance in our climate and conditions. Membership is priced low, and it is open to anyone.

A healthy Swiss chard plant thrives in the community garden.

In 30 years KCCG gardeners have raised plenty of produce, but growing your own food has rewards beyond the dinner table, says Ben Sharda, the organization's director and a great gardener. A harvest of peas, peppers, tomatoes, onions or corn also comes with a sense of satisfaction, which is one of the great pleasures of gardening. "We live in a service economy and we're not really producers anymore," Ben says. "But if you can grow something, it's like being a craftsman."

Ben measures KCCG's success not in dollars or in pounds of produce but one person at a time. "When I see someone who tells me about their garden and their garden is doing well, that makes me feel we are being successful," he says.

It is tomato season, with a community of celebrants.

The raised-bed garden I share with Kristopher is just 4 x 12 feet. It's big enough for six tomato plants, four peppers and a row of cheerful zinnias and basil. Our neighbors are growing tomatoes too, and there are plots thick with beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, cabbage, kale, chard and herbs of all kinds. The squash is coming along. Fennel, dill and oregano are blooming.

I love keeping up with all the gardens and gardeners while I pull a few weeds and I'm learning a lot from my community gardening neighbors. My tomatoes may not be the first to ripen, but it doesn't matter. Just the other day when I was there, the birds were singing, and the sunflowers were shining like little suns.

What about you? Are there community gardens where you live? Do you have a plot? What are you growing?

See more Midwest Gardening Articles.