Volunteers Helping Potosi Community Garden Blossom



June 17, 2010 – Community gardens in Potosi and Farmington, Mo., are taking root this summer, but more volunteers are needed to weed, water and prep the grounds, according to Derek Politte, garden mentor, Potosi resident and founder of Politte Electric.

Politte volunteered in February to assist several Potosi High School students and their teacher, George Gross, who were in the early stages of launching a community garden, a competitive project between both Farmington and Potosi schools.  Politte said he had little garden knowledge then, but since has studied, read, researched and rolled up his sleeves to support this project. 

“Derek has taken the project and run with it,” said Gina Harper, training coordinator for the gardens’ co sponsor, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Southeast Missouri State University.

Politte originally volunteered to mentor the Potosi high school students through the process of writing a business plan for the sustainability of the garden – a process to research the soil, the types of plants needed, the distribution avenues, volunteers and ultimately, the pricing and sale of the fresh vegetables in late summer and fall.   However, once he became involved in the garden research, he decided to continue mentoring through the planting and growing season, Harper said.

“Derek’s commitment to this project has been phenomenal and more than we could have possibly hoped for in a business mentor,” she said. “I bet he’s already volunteered hundreds of hours and will have a hundred more before the garden is finished this fall.  It is heartwarming to see a local small business owner giving back to his community.”

Politte said he has established a rotating volunteer schedule for the students and community members.

“There is always work to be done,” he said.  “It seems like we just finish weeding, and it’s time to start all over again.  And now we’ve found a few pests, so I’ve had to do some research on non-toxic ways to destroy them.  I want to make sure the students have the best produce possible when it’s time to sell it at all the Farmer’s Market or to donate it to those in need.”

The Potosi garden includes more than 100 tomato plants, okra, beans, cabbage, cucumbers and potatoes, and more plants will be added soon, Politte said.  The Potosi garden is located on Jefferson Street near the Potosi High School on donated land by resident Debby Bust.  Politte said he’s very grateful to Janey Radford and the East Missouri Action Agency (EMAA) for providing the equipment, supplies, seedlings and plants to make the garden a success. 

The garden at Farmington High School is still in its infancy, according to teacher Marty Yount.  He said several setbacks have occurred, but the hope is to plant some late-summer or fall-ready vegetables soon.  The Farmington garden is located behind the high school on Black Knight Road by the tennis courts.  Raised herb beds are located near Liberty Street and should also be planted shortly, Yount said.

Also contributing to the community gardens is the Mineral Area College (MAC) Horticulture Club, directed by Chad Follis.  Follis and his students volunteered to grow seeds in the MAC greenhouse this spring for the EMAA. Hundreds of those seedlings were given away to the public and to students at the “Seeds of Success” entrepreneurship showcase in May.  At “Seeds of Success,” Farmington and Potosi high school students presented their business plan ideas, discussed the progress of the gardens, and noted garden strategies for the summer and fall.  The response was overwhelming from those who were able to take home free seedlings.

Each spring, MAC horticulture students grow seeds as a class project, and now Follis says he will work with EMAA each year to get the plants in the hands of those who want and need them the most.

In addition to the partnership with the high schools and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the EMAA has started community gardens in all eight counties that it serves.  In St. Francois County, the EMAA partnered with other agencies, including the Department of Corrections Board of Probation and Parole (P & P). Last year, the P&P donated more than 2,300 pounds of fresh produce to the local food pantries. This year, with the EMAA’s financial assistance, the garden has expanded to include fruit trees, a pumpkin patch and is expected produce more than last year’s garden.  “We purchased a heavy duty scale to help keep track of output and to distribute produce equitably,” said Radford, community development specialist with EMAA.

Washington County’s garden at EMAA Head Start in Mineral Point is also growing well, Radford said.

“Families have individual plots at this site and it has been interesting to see what they decided to plant and how it is all growing together in their square plots,” Radford said. “The families here are doing a good job of helping each other keep their plots watered and cared for. They have really captured the spirit of what we are trying to do.”

Radford continued to say that each of the EMAA gardens are different because of how they were planned, how they were planted and who partnered and volunteered.  Everything was decided upon at the local level by the individuals who are doing all the work, she said. 

“I think this will prove to be a key to the gardens’ success,” Radford said. “These projects go beyond altering the eating habits of low-income families. They also work to improve self-sufficiency, change lifestyles and perspectives, increase self-worth, and create community awareness as we join people from all corners of our community, all to achieve a common goal.”

Funding for garden projects has been received from the EMAA through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The ARRA funding also has allowed the EMAA to sponsor gardens in all eight counties in their service region. For information about gardens in other counties or to volunteer at any garden, please contact Radford at the EMAA office in Park Hills, Mo., at (573) 431-5191 ext 1401.