An innovative venture is in the process of establishing a well-received, practical gardening project on the Cherokee Western Iowa Tech Community College Campus.
Dr. Frank O'Neill is the WITCC science instructor for Cherokee, Denison and Le Mars, and he was instrumental in conceiving, organizing and working hard to develop the "Victory Garden" located at WITCC at 200 Victory Drive.
"One of the college's primary focuses is establishing service learning projects to better engage the students in hands-on learning," explained O'Neill. "I thought, what better way than a garden? Working with Darla (Struck, Director of the Cherokee WITCC Campus and Northern Services Area), we planned and organized the project, along with outstanding input from many others.
"Now, it's exploded into an incredibly popular project with the promise of much more to come."
O'Neill applied for several grants and was successful on most of them to help finance the up-front expenses involved. The fencing and garden plot frames were initial one-time expenses, as were the trees planted.
WITCC has installed 20 separate raised plots for gardens. These plots are 4 foot by 8 foot and have been filled with nutrient rich soil, ready to grow all kinds of produce!
There also are two in-ground plots measuring 16 feet by 40 feet for the students in the WITCC science classes to use as a lab this summer.
"We are also very proud of the 8-foot fence surrounding the entire garden project," noted Struck. "Eight feet was the height we were told by numerous sources that we needed to keep the deer out. Our first priority this year was to secure our crops."
The ultimate plan is to sell produce from the student plots and any excess from the community plots at the local Cherokee Farmers' Market, and also at the local Hy-Vee Store.
"We want to be able to offer locally grown produce to our community residents. Any money raised will be donated to the local Rotary group to help support the Backpack Buddies Food Program for children in our school district to have healthy food options on weekends," said Struck.
Already planted are broccoli, cauliflower, multiple varieties of cabbage, kohlrabi, many different types of peppers, radishes, carrots, spinach and kale. One garden plot has been totally devoted to herbs, so expect a variety of these to be ready soon.
Soon to be planted are many varieties of onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and swiss chard.
"There are still several raised beds available for persons/groups in the community to claim. They can call WITCC at 225-0238 if interested and we can get them started," added Struck.
Those interested in gardening one of the plots can "rent" a plot for a donation determined by them. Those working the plots can harvest their crops for their own use, and donate any excess to the project. Any proceeds will be fed into the Backpack Buddies Program by the Cherokee Rotary Club.
"Harvest time will tell the story for us," added O'Neill, who is highly impressed with the students and community grasping the spirit of the project. "Our goal is to raise $2,000 per year to go to the Backpack Buddies Program."
O'Neill said one of the future projects associated with Victory Garden will be erecting a playground near the garden so the kids can play while the parents work their garden plots.
"There are way too many people for me to thank, but Jim Adamson, Jenny Burroughs, and Julie French have helped us through this from Day 1. It's been wonderful working with them. And Bob Koehlmoos helped us with the fencing and trees. We couldn't have done it without his expertise and hard work."
WITCC also has available for community use rakes, shovels, and hoes. There also will be water barrels available for people to access when they come to work on their plots.
"We are really excited to get this project going, to engage our students, and give back to our community," explained Struck. "It's just one more way for WITCC to partner with a lot of citizens and civic organizations to benefit our wonderful community."