If all goes as planned, the city will be home to a new community garden as early as the spring of 2017.
Tuesday morning, Lincoln County Health Department director Shelley Hersil, accompanied by Dan Marzu-Agricultural Development educator of Marathon and Lincoln Counties-and master gardeners Jo VanLieshout and Lynn Zentner of ‘Live Sustainable Lincoln County’, met to discuss the much anticipated project.
Live Sustainable, Lincoln County is a non-profit organization that works to help people lead more environmentally friendly, fair and economical lives for the good of their families, their community and the planet. VanLieshout is the treasurer of the local organization and Zentner is the organizational secretary.
“There has been an interest in forming a community garden in Merrill for quite some time.” Hersil explained. “We discovered the availability of grant funds through the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health with the Wisconsin Partnership fund. This is the first-time mini-grants have been offered for health departments who make healthy foods and nutrition a priority.”
Much to their excitement, the wheels of fate spun rather quickly as the group first began exploring the project this past February, submitted the grant application in April and in July, the group was informed their application had been approved. “We were pretty amazed by how quickly things came together!” adds VanLieshout.
“We were excited to get started being there has never really been infrastructure for a garden in Merrill,” Zenter adds. “There was an attempt at forming a garden some years back, but it failed due to lack of quality soil and funding.”
The grant consists of $50,000 and will be paid in the form of reimbursements for costs associated with development of the garden-underway at the intersection of E.6th Street and Memorial Drive- thanks to an agreement with Pine Crest Nursing Home.
Grant funding will remain intact until September of 2017.
In addition to funding a garden in Merrill, funding will also be used to assist in maintaining Grace Lutheran Garden and Kinship Garden of Tomahawk.
“That is one of the many benefits of the grant funds,” Hersil adds. “The funds are meant to assist in the development of gardens in the entire county, but they can also be applied toward other initiatives such as education. An example of the educational aspect will be efforts in our communities to help Lincoln County residents prepare and preserve food from their gardens. Another educational initiative we have planned is for ‘Live Sustainable Lincoln County’ and master gardener volunteers, to host educational workshops with demo-gardens throughout the season.”
As Hersil further explains, other targets of grant funding will include; mentoring nursing home residents and low-income families to increase knowledge of preserving and preparing food, cooking classes throughout the county and classes for Tomahawk head start parents, as well as kinship of Tomahawk families, which will be spearheaded by the Lincoln County UW-Extension office.
When grant funds were made available on October 1st, the group wasted no time in getting to work.
The first order of business as Zenter explains, was to accept proposals and award a bid for soil. That bid was awarded to Hsu Growing Supply of Wausau. “The first load of soil came in on the 1st and was laid in preparation for ‘permaculture.’
According to Marzu, permaculture is an innovative method of gardening.
“Permaculture is a gardening concept consisting of no-till soil development, requiring organic matter to be added periodically.”
As Zenter further explains, upon completion in 2017, the new garden will span 100’ x 100’ and will be guarded by a 6-8 ft fence to protect against mother nature’s unwelcome guests. The garden will feature two-entry gates, a tool shed, composting area, and an irrigation system. “We plan to plant not only vegetables, but plants for pollinators too! As the first half of the garden opens in the spring, the second half of the garden will begin development. We have plans to add raised beds and beds for people with disabilities.”
As the group agrees, the goal of the garden is simple but will require a community effort.
“We aim to provide Lincoln county residents access to healthy nutrition, either by attending workshops or accessing the garden.”
Volunteers interested in participating in the development of the community garden, or those interested in more information are asked the contact the Lincoln County UW-Extension office at (715) 539-1072