Areka Foster, left, professional clinical counselor and art therapist, of Rossford, and Maria Viles, independent meeting planner, of Perrysburg. Gardening at Growing 2 Give, 29340 Bates Rd., Perrysburg Township.
Growing 2 Give is located on Bates Road in Perrysburg Township.
Areka Foster, professional clinical counselor and art therapist, of Rossford, and Maria Viles, independent meeting planner, of Perrysburg, are the founders of Growing 2 Give at 29340 Bates Road, Perrysburg Township.
Within sight and sound of I-75 but seeming a world away, Growing 2 Give Garden is a patch of dirt that has touched hundreds of people who have helped it grow or received its bounty.
Volunteers have ranged from school, church, scout, and civic groups to individuals and families. Donating funds and materials are, among others, the Perrysburg Country Garden Club, Perrysburg Rotary, Kuhlman Corporation, Leadership Toledo, Toledo Grows, the 577 Foundation, and more.
PHOTO GALLERY: Growing 2 Give in Perrysburg Twp.
On the receiving end (4,000 pounds of produce since 2009) are people served by the Cherry Street Mission, Perrysburg Christians United food pantry at Grace United Methodist Church, Zoar Lutheran Church’s Feed Our Families, Seagate Food Bank, and Northwestern Ohio Food Bank.
Not only is its mission appealing, its founders are too.
Maria Viles and Areka Foster are skilled at connecting with others and sharing their simple vision: providing nutritious food grown in a 100-by-100-foot square in Perrysburg Township at the edge of fallow fields.
Both avid gardeners, they were neighbors in 2008 when Viles mentioned how good it would be to plant a row for the hungry. Soon they were meeting with people who operate food banks and pantries, asking about the produce they‘d like and and when they could take deliveries.
On land owned by Foster’s relatives, they selected a spot near a fire hydrant at 29340 Bates Rd. In Spring, 2009, with family and friends, they began an unenviable month of uprooting bushes, trees, and weeds. They surrounded the initial 100-by-50-foot cleaning with donated snow fencing.
The soil, unworked for 13 years, was so hard they weren’t sure it would produce anything.
Another problem: the cost of water at the hydrant had more than tripled due to a different provider. They borrowed a trailer and a 250-gallon tank, took turns filling it up at their homes, and hauled it with a old pickup. At the garden, they hooked up a small pump to Viles’ car battery and were able to water with a hose.
They got excellent advice from Toledo Grows’ director Michael Szuberla, Vicki Gallagher of the 577 Foundation, and members of the Black Swamp Hosta and Daylily Society. They filled out paperwork and incorporated as a nonprofit.
Despite the challenges and deer jumping the fence to snack (they found deer-prevention tactics too labor intensive), they harvested 500 pounds of veggies the first year.
By the third spring, a well was installed, a generator was donated, and water sprayers were mounted on fence stakes. The generator was stolen last year but another was donated and made secure.
Because clay soil stays wet after big rains, they built raised beds from 2-by-12-inch boards and stacked cement blocks.
The learned that Cherry Street Mission, with ample refrigeration for tender vegetables, an updated kitchen, and open seven days a week, was the easiest place to deliver food. They also learned to take certain vegetables, such as collard greens, to certain food pantries but not to others, depending on local preferences.
They doubled the garden size. And they collected produce from Perrysburg and Rossford gardeners who grew excess. Last year, they donated 1,500 pounds of fresh food, including 400 pounds grown by others, making friends along the way.
They’re in the process of hiring a part-time garden manager, thanks to a grant.
Their wish list includes volunteers, tomato stakes/cages, light-weight protective garden fabric, wood chips, 2-by-12-inch boards, pantyhose (great for tying up plants), soil, aged manure and organic matter, tools, vegetable plants, bricks, and gloves.
Maria Viles prepares a raised bed for yellow squash.
Garden dimensions: 100-feet-by-100 feet with 19 large raised beds. Growing 2 Give Garden started in 2009.
When did you start gardening? Areka: As a kid, with my grandparents, who had a large garden they’d “put up” [can and freeze] for the winter. They lived through the Great Depression and always hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. I have fond memories of working with them, shucking peas, and picking raspberries.
Winter squash on left and yellow squash in raised beds.
Maria: My parents gardened in our backyard, but I didn’t start my own garden until my husband and I lived in our first home. From reading Martha Stewart Living Magazine, I learned how to start plants from seeds and then to grow beautiful flowers. I started vegetable gardening when I was awarded a plot at the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg. Vicki Gallagher at 577 really inspired me and taught me that anything is worth a try.
What do you grow? Plants that can be used by soup kitchens and food pantries: Lettuce, okra, tomatoes, peppers, greens, chard, zucchini, yellow squash, hard-shell squashes, radishes, turnips, beets, pumpkins, eggplant, cucumbers, beans, peas, kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots, watermelons and cantaloupes.
Favorite plant: Areka: I like sugar-snap peas (my kids love them too) and swiss chard because it’s pretty. In my garden at home, I love strawberries and rhubarb because they remind me of my grandparents’ garden.
Maria: I love growing sugar snap peas as well; it’s very rewarding because I always hear that people have trouble with them. My absolute favorite veggie to grow is parsnips. On Christmas Eve a few years back, I actually dug them for for Christmas dinner.
Give us a tip: Mulch, mulch, mulch (we use dried leaves). Water, water, water.
Hours spent gardening per week? 5 to 10 here, with additional hours at our home and 577 gardens..
Annual expense: It varies by year. So far, we’ve received over $7,500 in grants plus many material donations.
Challenges: The soil was hard clay when we started. As we improve it, the weeds grow faster. We’re better at controlling weeds, but they always find a way. The old adage “the right tool makes any job easier” is so true, and we have the right tools, but don’t always know how to fix them when they break. We’ve had problems maintaining lawn mowers, weed whackers, generators, etc. and often call on our husbands to help us out.
Maria and I have done much of the building and maintaining the garden with a tremendous amount of help from our husbands, many wonderful volunteers and friends.
We’re proud: That two women with a passion for gardening, a vision to help others, and an open field, have built and maintained a community garden that has donated over 4,500 pounds of fresh produce to food banks and soup kitchens over the last five years.
What do you get out of gardening? Areka: I enjoy being outdoors and working in the dirt. Some days I go to the garden for quiet and peace, other days I need a workout or a challenge, and still other days, I want to be with people laboring toward a common goal.
I also enjoy sharing the garden with kids. One junior-high group that came out witnessed the birth of mice, caught a snake, and were scared by very large bugs (spiders, grasshoppers, and beetles). It’s great to see newbies as well as experienced gardeners of all ages, come out and have fun.
Maria: Happiness. We’ve been deterred by nothing. And yes, people thought we were crazy.
Contact Tahree Lane at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6075.
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