Volunteers revive Kingsland food pantry’s community garden
The fresh vegetables now being harvested from The King’s Garden for the Sharing the Harvest food pantry in Kingsland began over the winter in garages, kitchens, and laundry rooms across the Highland Lakes. Master Gardeners and other volunteers nurtured seedlings at home in anticipation of planting them this month in a newly tilled and irrigated garden plot at First Baptist Church of Kingsland.
“I started twenty pepper plants on a table next to my dryer,” said Linda Poerner of Kingsland, a volunteer at the garden. She not only hung grow lights for them, she brought in a heating pad to stimulate early sprouting. “I’ve really babied those plants. If we get a pepper off them, I’ll be the proudest mama here.”
Joining her as proud parents of the garden, which has lain fallow for the past two years, are about 20 Master Gardeners and other volunteers who have taken on the church’s fresh vegetable pantry project. Since last fall, the group has held regular work sessions to till, weed, irrigate, and plan what to grow in the 11,000-square-foot garden for the community food pantry.
“We have about 120 families we serve out of Sharing the Harvest,” said Debbie Winter, a member of First Baptist Church and the liaison between the pantry and the gardeners. “We didn’t have any fresh vegetables last year, and we did a lot of praying. Then, this gentleman stepped up.”
The gentleman in question is Kingslander Keith Atwood, a newly graduated Highland Lakes Master Gardener. An avid home gardener, he is known locally for growing more than his family can eat. When he knocked on neighbor Michele Wilkins’ door with a bag of okra in hand, he found a new calling for his bounty. Wilkins is a member of First Baptist Church and the Sharing the Harvest board.
“I told him about our space here and how it had deteriorated,” Wilkins said. “He came by and checked it out, and now all these folks are blessing us and the people who are going to get the fresh vegetables they produce.”
Many of the volunteers graduated from the same Master Gardener class as Atwood. They come from all over the Highland Lakes to dig in the dirt in Kingsland.
Mena Rueffer drives from her property north of Bertram to help. Her vision for the garden includes beautification. A wide mound of composted soil outside the gates will be turned into a rose garden under her guidance. Outlining the fenced area, she and others are cultivating plants for pollinators.
“Master Naturalists are advising us on the plants we need,” Rueffer said. “We want to become designated as a Monarch Watch way station eventually.”
MonarchWatch.org way stations provide milkweed and other nectar sources for migrating butterflies, which come through Central Texas twice a year. The garden is already designated a project of the Highland Lakes Master Gardeners Association.
Mary Ann Holt leaves her raised container garden in Smithwick three times a week to work at The King’s Garden.
“When I first drove by and saw it, with weeds up to the fence top, I thought, ‘Wow! How are we going to do that?’” she said. “But look at it now.”
She proudly points out the carefully tilled and mounded rows, all served by irrigation lines fed by well water.
Cris Northup of Buchanan Dam has made pollinators her passion project. No pollinators, no food, she noted.
“We are all passionate about providing food,” she said. “This is our community. We all benefit from helping our community. We’re ready to plant. We’re anxious to plant. We’re itching to put something in the ground and see it come up.”
By the time you read this, the final frost will have come and gone and the garden will indeed be producing food. By using succession planting, the gardeners plan to provide a variety of vegetables all season long.
“I love this whole environment and the purpose of it,” said Ingrid Hoffmeister of Burnet. “Everything we grow goes to the pantry. They give it all away.”
Volunteer Master Gardener Doug McCoy also comes in from out of town. A recent retiree, he has a garden at his home in Marble Falls.
“I joined Master Gardeners to be involved in something like this,” he said. “It’s a good learning experience. You get to be out here in the garden, work with really great people, and help people out. Keith and Hank have done a really great job with this.”
Hank Rominski is another force of nature involved in The King’s Garden. A Kingsland resident, he designed and installed the irrigation system, inventoried the storage shed equipment, and handles recruiting and publicity.
“I try to do things I think need to be done,” he said. “People that come in see something that needs to be done and they do it. That’s how we all express our creativity. It gives us ownership. I’ve volunteered in other places, and I’ve never felt the ownership I do here.”
Not everyone who helps actually has to pick up a hoe or a shovel. A church deacon who works for the Kingsland Municipal Utility District arranged for KMUD to provide compost, which the utility makes anyway. Lazy Heron Coffee House in Kingsland and Mojo’s coffee shops in Burnet and Marble Falls provide coffee grounds, which are mixed into the compost and then into the garden for richer, more productive soil.
Not to forget, either, the people who nurtured seedlings all winter in anticipation of spring.
“It’s a unique place,” Rominski said. “It’s what we strive for as Master Gardeners. It’s about volunteering, working in the soil. It’s about the people who are here working and the people we are helping. If this was a paying job, it would one of the best paying jobs I ever had.”
The King’s Garden, Sharing the Harvest, and First Baptist Church of Kingsland are all located at 3435 RR 1431 in Kingsland. Anyone interested is welcome to volunteer. Gardeners gather on location in the mornings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, usually working until about noon.
For more information on the garden, visit burnetcountyhighlandlakesmastergardener.org and look under the “Projects” drop-down menu. For more information on Sharing the Harvest, visit sharingtheharvesttx.com or call 325-388-0620.