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Volunteers Enjoy Fresh Produce, Give Back with Fenton Community Garden

Free vegetables available for people who need them on Wednesdays 4-6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to noon.

When she became a member of the two years ago, Keri Lay, of was a beginning gardener. She learned the basics from others who had more experience, finding out how to grow plants from seeds and seedlings, how far apart to plant things, how often to water and simple ways to keep out weeds, Lay said.

A fellow gardener also advised her on the use of a hoe. Using this tool saves one's back and hands, she added.

"The weeds were a lot better," Lay said. "We didn't know any of that."

She and her husband, Michael Lay, have learned a lot and are enjoying the benefits of their own salsa, salads, zucchini breads and more.

"It's nice and organic, especially when you are pregnant,"said Keri Lay, who is expecting the couple's first child. "It's so nice to enjoy gardening and put so much work into it and be able to enjoy the food."

Michael Lay is as involved in the community garden as she is, Lay said. "He loves to take care of the plants, too, and clean up around here. He took out some railroad ties recently."

This year, the Lays and other members of the are growing vegetables, flowers and herbs in around 46 plots. They help tend the community plots, which are used to grow food for people in need, for two hours per month, said Bert Richards, one of the charter members. Volunteering can include weeding, mowing, watering and/or assisting at produce giveaways.

Ricky Wilkerson, of Argentine Township, mans the hose. Using his wheelchair, he waters plants and fills barrels with water for the other gardeners. Like Richards, Wilkerson and his wife, Diana Wilkerson, joined the Fenton Community Garden when it began in 2009.

"It's fellowship," said Ricky Wilkerson. "Food brings people together, and we've got a lot of food out here, that's for sure."

The gardeners have picnics sometimes, and the Wilkersons are enjoying the fruits of their work at home as well. Ricky Wilkerson said he likes the hot cayenne peppers they grow.

"I like to cry," he said. "We've got plenty of tomatoes to help chase them down."

Diana Wilkerson said they don't have room at home to grow much more than some herbs. Renting a plot from the community garden on an annual basis gives them space to raise more produce. She likes her yams and acorn squash best, along with herbs such as stevia, a natural sweetener that can be used instead of sugar.

She has a neighbor who is from Africa, Wilkerson said, and he didn't like U.S. coffee until she gave his wife some stevia to add to it, Diana Wilkerson said. The neighbor declared the coffee was "delicious," and told them that stevia is what people put in their coffees in Africa. She bought her stevia plants from Wolverine Greenhouse on Lahring Road, Wilkerson added.

Her yams didn't do well this year, though, she said.

But the key is to try again a different way, Richards added. She learned a lot from other members of the Fenton Community Garden.

"I was a beginning gardener," she said. "I learned everything through trial and error and asking more experienced gardeners."

The Fenton Community Garden members meet regularly and have speakers and seminars. Through these, Richards said she learned organic gardening (no non-organic pesticides or fertilizers are allowed), recycling and composting, cooking and canning vegetables and natural methods of pest control.

The "pick and squish technique" is popular among gardeners there, she said. Or, there are organic recipes online that tell how to mix hot sauce and other ingredients to keep rabbits and other animals and insects away.

Diana Wilkerson said a jar of cayenne peppers can be purchased to nourish flower bulbs and keep pests away from them. A gardener puts the peppers in the ground with the bulbs.

"You learn a lot of cute little tricks and tips," she said. "My kids know how to hunt, fish and grow, so I say, 'When I die, I know you know how to feed yourselves.'"

As August marches on, the Fenton Community Garden is in full bloom, with free produce available to those who need it on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. On Wednesday, the selection included crisp green beans, yellow squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, green peppers and beets.

To receive produce, visit the Fenton Community Garden on Oak Park Drive, off North Road, on Wednesdays between 4 and 6 p.m. or on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

More information can be found on Facebook at "The Fenton Community Garden." The land for the garden is owned by the city of Fenton. This year, gardeners paid $40 per plot to use the land. Tilling is available for an extra fee, Richards said.

For her, gardening is a Zen experience that includes quiet, relaxation, renewal and being able to produce something from nothing.

And, "I love the idea of giving back to the community with the big plot," she said.

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